Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Brogan MacDonald, Ramboll

This new series profiles the members of edie's 30 Under 30 - a nomination-based community of 30 hugely talented young sustainability and energy professionals who have already achieved great things or are showing fantastic promise. Up next, Brogan MacDonald, head of sustainability in Ramboll's building structures team.

Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Brogan MacDonald, Ramboll

Brogan was previously named as one of the Top 50 Women in Engineering

More than just a list, edie’s annual 30 Under 30 initiative shines a spotlight on talented sustainability and net-zero professionals – aged under 30 – who are delivering on efforts to build a better future and showing fantastic promise for their future potential.

After a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, the initiative has returned for 2023-4, with the new class having been announced last September.

In this weekly series, we will be sharing their stories and successes beyond the group, giving edie readers insight into the minds of those who will be leading the charge in creating the low-carbon, resource-efficient economies of the future.

Our next profile interview is with Brogan MacDonald, head of sustainability within the building structures team of architecture, engineering and consultancy giant Ramboll.

How I got to where I am now:

“I am a bit of an ‘unconventional’ engineer. Nobody in my family was an engineer and maths and science were never my favourite subjects at school.

“But I loved problem-solving and this, combined with my passion for design, led me to study studying Structural Engineering with Architectural Design, and then a Masters in Engineering.

“I started my career at Ramboll as a graduate engineer in the building structures team. This is when I learned how significant my professional carbon footprint was – with buildings responsible for 40% of global CO2 emissions, 50% of natural resources extracted and construction and demolition responsible for 62% of UK waste. I found my calling to address and improve the incredibly wasteful and carbon-emitting industry in construction.

“Structural engineers specify an extraordinary amount of concrete and steel. Not only are these materials extremely carbon intensive, but the extraction of iron and aggregates has negative consequences for biodiversity and human health.

My structural engineering work in existing and heritage buildings was the catalyst to my career in sustainability. While developing my technical skills in adapting historic buildings, sustainability was my ‘side job’ – I was always striving to do better things; use less materials, use lowe- carbon alternatives or reclaimed materials. My passion led to my current role today, where I lead 220 structural engineers and technicians to reduce the environmental impact of their designs.”

My biggest career achievement to date has been:

“In 2020, I was named among the Top 50 Women in Engineering which was themed on Sustainability. Only a few months later, I won the Women in Construction and Engineering Awards category for Best Young Woman Engineer (<35 years old).

“ I was only 25 at the time and had only been working at Ramboll for a couple of years. I was up against some incredible engineers who I really admired. This was the pivotal moment where I knew that my career was going to be in sustainable engineering.”

The biggest challenge I have encountered has been:

“Completing summer placements in engineering and construction while at university. I completed three, and the first two were by far the hardest.

“I was a fresh 19/20 year old with a spring in my step and ready to learn about real life engineering projects. Little did I realise that the learning I would be doing was actually about developing resilience and self-preservation. Working as the only woman on a site of 100+ men was extremely challenging. Gaining respect as a young student can be hard anyway, but adding to that the poor behavior and culture that often exists in construction towards women was a recipe for some hard learning. I look back now very grateful for this early challenge as it put me in great stead for work.”

If I had to describe my generation in a word or phrase, I would say:

“We don’t want to do things better, we want to do better things.”

A successful 2024 for me looks like:

“Developing and delivering projects to cut embodied carbon. We have set some very ambitious targets for reducing our embodied carbon emissions in our designs – 30% by 2023, and 50% by 2050. As a result, I’ve been developing a carbon calculation tool that is mandated from this Spring for all our design projects.

“I’m also working closely with our corporate partnerships, SteelZero and ConcreteZero, to support and implement our strategy for specification of lower-emission materials.

“Additionally, I am keen to encourage the conversation around nature and regenerative design. How can we go from an industry that wants to ‘do less bad’ to one that ‘does more good’?”

Outside of my career, I enjoy:

“Art. On weekends, you can often find me painting a canvas, DIYing furniture or making cards.

“ I also love reading and cooking – especially a long and complicated meal on a Sunday with a glass of red in hand and Desert Island Dishes playing in the background.

“I also love hiking and I’m learning to love being in nature regardless of the weather.”

My  ‘Mission Possible’ message for business leaders is:

“We need to look beyond carbon and start to focus our attention on nature.

“We are now in a triple planetary crisis – climate change, resource depletion and biodiversity loss. Most businesses are giving sufficient attention to  climate change – but what is the circular economy and biodiversity strategy? A sustainability strategy must focus on ‘doing more good’ considering both people and nature. If it’s just looking at lessening harm – it isn’t working hard enough.”

My key piece of advice for any young professionals entering my profession today is:

“You make your own destiny. Every choice you make in your career can get you closer to where you want to be. Trust that your ambition and passion will get you there. Trust your gut and listen to your heart.

“And specifically, to a woman in engineering – don’t let the feeling of being alone defeat you. Rise above the negative energy. Use it as fuel to fight for a more inclusive industry.

“This job can be like full-time activism. You will have moments of giving up, and you will have moments where you feel like you can change the world. It’s normal, so be kind to yourself. You are already fighting the good fight.”

The full 30 Under 30 Class of 2023 membership is detailed here

To stay in the loop for the next round of annual nominations for the 30 Under 30, email [email protected].

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