People of ESB is a 12-part series documenting the lives of ESB staff across our various business units. This month, we meet Geoff Hamilton, Senior Ecologist in ESB’s Engineering and Major Projects business division. Geoff’s environmental specialism means he is involved with many aspects of ESB’s operations and projects across Ireland and the UK. Geoff grew up with a love of nature and considers himself very fortunate to have followed a career that contributes to the protection of biodiversity and allows him to share his enthusiasm for the subject with others.
What's your role in ESB?
As Senior Ecologist, based in the Planning and Environment Team in Civil, Environmental and Renewable Engineering, my role predominantly involves assessing the potential ecological impact of various ESB development projects, existing infrastructure and ongoing activities. I am frequently engaged with active projects and strategic considerations covering the full remit of the ESB Group, across Networks, Group Property and Generation & Trading.
My work typically involves a diverse blend of site surveys, report preparation and consultation with other parties, both internal to ESB and with external stakeholders. In addition, I regularly act in an advisory capacity to my ESB colleagues regarding the company's requirements relating to EU and Irish biodiversity legislation.
How long have you worked in this role?
I started with ESB at the beginning of 2015, when I joined the Civil and Environmental Engineering department of ESB International. I’ve been very lucky to work with a great team since my arrival. In my six years with the company, I’ve been privileged to work on some extremely interesting projects that have taken me all over the country.
In my time with ESB, the significance of ecological issues in project development in Ireland has progressively increased, often as a consequence of planning case law. By having a team of ecology specialists in-house, ESB recognises the importance of this and is well-placed to adapt and respond to legislative and policy change.
What were your expectations when joining ESB?
ESB is obviously one of the most recognisable and reputable brands in the country and I knew I’d be getting to work with other specialists with a great depth of knowledge and experience. I envisaged that the company’s diverse assets and project portfolio would mean I’d never be bored at work and I have been happily proven right!
What has surprised your most about working in ESB?
It’s been great to see how enthusiastic so many of my colleagues across the company are about biodiversity, not just regarding ESB projects and assets, but also in their home lives. For example, I will often get messages from people telling me about actions they are taking on in their gardens or communities and looking for advice.
How has Covid-19 affected your day-to-day?
As a rural Kildare dweller, not having the regular commute into Dublin has been a revelation; I get more time with my family and without question I’m more productive in my day-to-day work. I expect my personal carbon footprint is also much reduced.
Describe yourself in three words?
Inquisitive, Independent and Adaptable.
What have you learned since Covid and working from home?
While we’ve all had to adapt to a new way of working, I think we’ve been very fortunate to have access to an IT system where working remotely has been relatively painless and has facilitated new ways of collaborating. Before working from home, I had an unfortunate routine of regularly printing out reports to review and mark-up, but I have since managed to wean myself off this habit and do my reviewing online, which is definitely a good thing.
During the respective lockdowns and geographic restrictions, I got a real opportunity to explore my townland and its surroundings. I was rewarded on several occasions with some great wildlife encounters including kingfishers, pine martens and long-eared owls, proving that you don’t have to go far to find exciting biodiversity. It is very apparent how important getting into the outdoors and reconnecting with nature has been for many people’s mental health during the pandemic, so hopefully that isn’t forgotten.
What are you most looking forward to in the rest of 2021, and beyond?
I have recently been involved directly with the Environment and Sustainability Team to develop ESB’s contribution to the delivery of the objectives of the National Biodiversity Action Plan, including taking inventory of biodiversity on lands under the management of ESB. This is hopefully going to open up a range of opportunities over the coming years for various biodiversity enhancement projects at ESB sites. Another target we are aiming for is increased communication with staff across the ESB group on biodiversity topics of interest. I recently presented at a virtual Lunch and Learn session, outlining ESB’s commitments as a key partner of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan; this had a great response, so I’m really excited about driving this engagement further.
What advice would you give a graduate starting their career in ESB?
Never be afraid to ask questions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time with ESB, it’s that your colleagues are always willing to help and even if they don’t know the answer, chances are they know someone who does.
Does your work align with ESB's purpose and values?
Without question. ESB’s values are caring, courageous, trusted and driven – These can just as easily be applied to anyone working in the fields of biodiversity and conservation. ESB’s purpose is to create a brighter future for the customers and communities it serves and it will do this by leading the transition to reliable, affordable, low-carbon energy. It’s now widely recognised that climate change and biodiversity are deeply interconnected; while biodiversity can be negatively impacted by climate change, it can also make an important contribution to both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Consequently, conserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is critical to addressing climate change. It’s in this space that ESB’s decarbonising objectives and my own aspirations align.
For people who want to join your field of work, what three things should they know?
The very first thing I say to anyone interested in pursuing a career like mine is “the first job of an ecologist is to encourage everyone else to think like an ecologist”; when you have other people on a project thinking about potential impacts to biodiversity, it can often avoid complications down the line.
Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can to undertake training in specialist survey techniques. These don’t always have be paid-for training courses, for example, contributing as a volunteer to various national species surveys like the annual Daubenton’s Bat Waterways Survey is a great introduction to this kind of work.
Finally, get as much experience as you can working with other disciplines, particularly engineers and contractors; understanding how projects are designed and seeing how they are practically developed at construction stage will really allow you to develop your skills in identifying where ecological impacts can occur and how they can most effectively be mitigated against.
Facebook: ESB Careers