The local leader

In five years as Crawley Borough Council's environmental manager, Anya Ledwith is proud of all that she has achieved. But she couldn't have done it alone, she tells Tom Idle

So, what’s your background?

Before I came to Crawley I worked for an environmental charity. I’ve always had the environmental bug and from an an early age I’ve been a committed environmentalist.

What was your degree in?

Geography. They didn’t do environmental sciences back then. I also have an MSc in Environmental Management and Auditing.

Do you feel under pressure in your role at Crawley Borough Council?

There is certainly pressure on us to deliver. But to a certain extent, the pressure we have is self-inflicted by a desire to do so much. We see so many opportunities and we have to resist the urge to do everything now. But of course we have scheduled work programmes which we have to deliver, in addition to reactive or short-notice projects.

So, are the more ambitious targets set by yourselves then?
The targets surround the EMAS scheme, so we have the objectives and targets arising from this. These are generated by our review of council activities. As well as direct impacts, we also deal with service delivery, so there are elements of government-imposed targets too.

Was it your decision to implement the EMAS management system?

No, that was before I arrived. The council was particularly interested in the reporting element of EMAS. Through Local Agenda 21, we were often going out to speak to businesses, members of the public and organisations to talk about environmental improvement and they would quite often say to the council, ‘I see what you’re saying, but what are you doing?’

So putting in EMAS and then reporting on it allowed us to show we practiced what we preached.

How does Crawley compare with other local authorities when it comes to its environmental performance?

A lot of councils promote environmental management. But there aren’t that many that have EMAS. I think we were only the 12th council to get EMAS verification back in 2004.

But that’s not to say other councils aren’t doing environmental work, just that they may not have bought it together under a formalised system or gone through the verification process.

Is it expensive to adopt a management system?

There is a cost to getting the external auditors in, but it’s not a huge cost.

So, that’s the reason why councils aren’t implementing a formal management system, then?

I wouldn’t say it’s a reason for not putting an EMS [environmental management system] in place. But it could be a reason for not going through the final verification.

What is the hardest part of your job?

One element that is hard is to not jump at every single opportunity immediately. You can’t do everything now well, we have to schedule in work to make sure it’s done effectively, even if it takes a longer time to fulfill.

We have a lot of commitment here internally for EMAS. I would say that at the beginning of the process it was a challenge getting that commitment going and then maintaining the momentum.

What does your team consist of?

There are three of us. I head up the team and I’m mainly internally focused. I have a climate change and energy efficiency officer, who addresses domestic fuel poverty and climate change issues. He is just starting a major climate change campaign called ‘Putting you in the Picture’.

How many people live in Crawley’s catchment area?

Crawley has a compact catchment area, with about 100,000 population. It’s an important business hub in the region too, which includes Gatwick airport.

And how does the council help these local businesses?

Well, that brings in the third member of my team. The environment officer raises environmental awareness externally, with particular focus on business advice.

Through the Green Business Programme, we provide advice for environmental improvements and cost savings, concentrating on waste, transport, energy and water. We carry out site visits and deliver seminars and technical workshops.

Then there are the Crawley Green Business Awards, where we raise the profile of those companies that have been performing well.

So, does the local authority have a responsibility to make sure local businesses are aware of what’s going on?

Yes, partly because we’re a regulator in some areas, such as environmental health, food, licensing, etc. But we’re also putting ourselves out there as community leaders, providing high quality advice.

Has the environmental performance of business improved in the last five years?

We’ve definitely seen an improvement in the standard of entries to the Awards. In the past, companies would say that they, say, recycle paper – which was great at the time.

But if you think about a large company and what their significant impacts are – it’ll probably be the transport of their 500 staff coming to one site, the materials that they are using and disposing of, the energy they consume in their air conditioned offices. We now expect better commitment as the environmental movement has moved on far more.

Any companies worth a mention?

Ceres Power, a local fuel cell company, won the award last year. What was particularly impressive was not only the fact that they were an organisation developing an environmental technology, but the way they looked at their environmental management across their company – the products they were using, how their staff travel, how they managed their energy and water consumption, etc.

Are they a big company?

They’ve now got 50 staff and they are really looking for growth at the moment. What they found is that by entering the awards, it not only demonstrated to their own staff the excellent work they are doing internally, but they are able to demonstrate to their suppliers and their future customers. Their environmental award is a big plus-point as they look to grow.

What one piece of environmental legislation would you like to see passed?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, it’s a requirement for companies to have a health and safety policy. I would like to see some sort of legislation that requires all organisations to have an environmental policy.

Out of the changes you have made, what has had the biggest impact?

What we’re particularly proud of is what we’ve achieved at our depots and our other sites, such as the theatre, the leisure centres, etc. It’s been great to see how well environmental improvement has been embraced by the people running those sites. We’ve looked around at our fuel storage, waste management and how we handle our chemicals, etc. and really put those right. What we see now is really good, clean, well-run depots.

How do you go about educating staff?

We have a formalised training programme which we used to do as a taught course, face-to-face. That took a heck of a lot of time, so we’ve now come up with an e-learning training package which was designed by one of my ‘green champions’ who works in the IT department. She thought it would be a great way of engaging with people.

What do you hope to be remembered for?

The council’s mission is to be a First Rate Authority. I think our EMAS successes help us achieve this.

So, what has been the key to your success?

The key has been engaging with all staff, so they understand their contribution and why it’s important.

How will your role change over the next five years?

The ideal is to get environmental management so embedded into the organisation that they don’t need this current post. I think it will become a much wider role. At the moment my remit is fairly narrow and I would like to see the role far more joined-up with other issues, such as health and safety and other sustainability issues. Or it could change to a consultant position, providing the expert advice and letting existing managers drive the process themselves.

Have you got any advice for our readers?

It’s about getting other people on board. You can’t do this alone. You shouldn’t do this alone. And it won’t be as effective if you do it alone. Your colleagues are the key to your success.

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