COP26, Environment, People Spotlight, Sustainability, United Kingdom

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting an associate director from our Environmental Solutions team in Birmingham, United Kingdom and providing an insight into their inspiration and work.

Having led our ecology team in Birmingham, Vikki Smith has been involved with various major projects working with AECOM’s key strategic clients, including High Speed Two (HS2). Last year, Vikki supported COP26 with Network Rail’s Green Train events to showcase their sustainability strategy and social value framework whilst also highlighting how zero carbon trains are fundamental to the future of our railways. Most recently, Vikki has become involved with the Natural Capital Laboratory, a five-year project in Scotland to restore 100 acres of forest and re-introduce lost species.

What inspired you to join the industry?

I started out in a career in law, specialising in commercial dispute resolution. However, after 15 years I was ready for change, but still craved a dynamic role with an opportunity to make a difference. A friend of mine is an ecologist and asked if I was interested in coming to work on HS2, the largest infrastructure project in Europe and the most important economic and social regeneration project in decades – I jumped at the chance! I joined AECOM as a project coordinator in our ecology team and have worked my way up from there. I am continually inspired by the opportunity to collaborate, innovate and deliver benefits to the environment and communities on all our projects.

AECOM is a great fit for anyone who relishes a challenge and is looking to work on landmark projects. There’s freedom at AECOM to explore opportunities and identify projects you want to be involved in. I’m grateful that I am empowered to collaborate with others across the business to innovate and proactively pursue and develop new opportunities as well.

What is your favourite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

I have been privileged to work on several amazing projects and have enjoyed each and every one for various reasons, but especially after attending COP26 last year, the challenges around climate change and biodiversity are more apparent than ever. As well as my ongoing involvement and interest in decarbonisation and achieving net zero on rail projects, I am also privileged to work on our Natural Capital Laboratory project in partnership with the Lifescape Project.

The Natural Capital Laboratory is a live outdoor experiment, monitoring both environmental and social change to better appreciate the environment as an asset and the benefits it can provide. Located in the Scottish Highlands, the five-year project aims to restore 100 acres of forest and reintroduce native species. As part of this, we are collecting data, trialling innovative approaches and technologies, such as remote sensing and AI, to measure the changes and quantify the associated value.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

My involvement at COP26 was a unique and high-profile opportunity to showcase rail’s sustainability credentials to the world and the role it can play in meeting zero carbon goals. One particular highlight was to be onboard the first emission-free train to cross the iconic Forth Bridge.

During the events, I also got to engage with a variety of stakeholders, international guests, members of public including many children, to see their reactions to the very real prospect of emission-free travel for the future. To know that solutions for net zero ambitions are achievable now and to be part of implementing them for communities is so inspiring and rewarding.

Working with the Natural Capital Laboratory is another incredible opportunity to work with the landowners, academics and other parties in developing new technologies to enable a clearer understanding of the social, environmental and economic benefits provided by the natural environment, and the value they generate to both business and society. We have showcased the site using VR footage and as a way to inspire the next generation.

The project has received global attention and offers a number of exciting opportunities including the ambition for a global network of connected sites around the world with the aim of developing new solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises, starting with the Natural Capital Laboratory in Australia.

To be involved in these sorts of projects and opportunities where the impact could be felt globally and across so many communities is truly beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Share a piece of career advice

Be interested and curious, speak to people, ask questions, build relationships across the business, with clients and with other parties. Even after five years here at AECOM, I continue to be amazed and inspired by the people I work with and the projects we are involved in. I always say to people, look up – it’s important to horizon scan and be aware of the bigger picture. As a global company, one of the many reasons to work at AECOM is the wealth of opportunity locally and almost anywhere in the world – explore, be open to opportunities and see where they take you!

Originally published Nov 16, 2022

Author: Vikki Smith