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International Women’s Day: Claudia Carter Interview

Professor Claudia Carter, BCU Professor of Environmental Governance and Planning in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and The Built Environment, shares her passion on the environment, how women should be shaping the agenda and the role businesses play in adopting realistic yet ambitious net-zero goals.
Claudia carter

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International Women’s Day: Claudia Carter Interview

Professor Claudia Carter, BCU Professor of Environmental Governance and Planning in the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and The Built Environment, shares her passion on the environment, how women should be shaping the agenda and the role businesses play in adopting realistic yet ambitious net-zero goals.
Claudia carter

What did you do before joining BCU?

In 1993 I completed a MA degree in Geography at Aberdeen University and then did my interdisciplinary MSc in Environmental Management at the University of Stirling. My first academic job was as a research associate and project manager at the University of Cambridge working on interdisciplinary European projects about integrating meaningfully the environment into policy making. I then went on to hold various project management and post-doc level research positions at government-funded applied research organisations in Scotland and England.

Where does your passion for the environment come from?

I grew up in southern Germany and have always loved the outdoors. I was a keen member of the local Scouts group and went on many hikes with them which gave me a real passion for and connection with the environment. In the 1980s environmental and social awareness were already high and the German Green Party was founded and have been very influential in their efforts to reconcile ecological, social and economic sustainability. Seeing and partaking in early action on many environmental issues such as avoiding nasty chemicals whenever possible, water conservation and recycling have provided important strands for a behavioural role model – things which today we may take for granted.

When did you join BCU?

I joined BCU in January 2011 and started teaching cross-disciplinary modules and also continued my inter- and transdisciplinary research which was then still unusual. It’s so important when looking at issues to do with the built and natural environment to work with a wide range of professionals and the public to be able to examine problems from different perspectives, not just a scientific angle, and across different scales, as it leads to different insights, outcomes and actions. That also explains why I’m such a fan of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) approaches and methods.

Tell us about an average day.

My work consists of four parts and sometimes all are part of my working day but usually I focus on two at a time. – 1. Research projects and bid-writing related work both at BCU and internationally. 2. Teaching and related admin on the planning, built environment and architecture courses and being the Programme Director for the MA Planning Built Environments. I teach both under- and postgraduate students and supervise a number of PhD students. 3. Professional commitments such as being an elected member on the Royal Town Planning Institute’s West Midlands Regional Planning Activity Committee and conducting peer-reviews for journals, book publishers and national research funding bodies; I also support BCU-wide endeavours such as the departmental Athena Swan application, action plan and monitoring as well as staff and student recruitment events and processes. 4. Reading and writing; also regularly engaging with continuous professional development, be that online or via workshops and conferences. I’m particularly proud to have over the past few years organically grown into a leadership role informing and developing our academic STEAM portfolio at BCU.

What role do women play in the environmental debate?

In academia women have struggled in the past to make their voices heard as they were too often seen as secretaries, task managers or deputy-leads. The situation is a lot better now, although the built environment sector is still very male dominated, in planning there is a much better balance. I have seen many female students and colleagues setting themselves a high bar for their work and achievements and they really give their all on top of family and other commitments. Women often have better soft skills which can help create a safe and collaborative atmosphere and this in turn helps in getting people to think about complex 21st century problems from different perspectives. That’s also why the A in STEAM is so important as it brings a new dimension to the debate and much better critical thinking.

What would you recommend to any girl or woman who is interested in pursuing an academic career in the environment?

You need to have a real passion for the subject and be curious. Read about it, go to events and learn about the issues but come up with your own viewpoint. Test your ideas with friends and family or a wider set of people with different interests to see their reaction. Planning and the built environment are obviously governed by a lot of policies and legislation but there is still room for different ways of working and interpreting the rules and guidance. Learn to be sometimes out of your comfort zone and engage genuinely with the thorny issues at work, in society and personally – this will help building critical awareness and confidence in thinking and can help us move from a competitive society to one based on collaboration.

The government have set a net zero target by 2050. Is it enough and what role should business play in delivering it?

The target is too little, too late but it is better than nothing. By 2050 we are likely to see a 1.5 to 2 degree rise in global average temperatures, and we are already seeing the early impacts of that from heavier and more frequent floods and storms to droughts and wildfires. Big business, like the oil and gas industry, does plan ahead on a long timescale – unlike election cycle influenced governments – but they too often keep quiet about the scale of the problems. When it comes to SMEs they have fewer resources and less influence but still have a critical role to play. Rather than mandatory environmental reporting which can become a tick box exercise, I’d like to see every business adopt realistic but ambitious goals and steps towards meeting the target.

How should businesses go about adopting realistic but ambitious net zero goals?

Business needs long term stability and certainty so it can invest. That’s why governments are so important in setting the regulatory and policy framework – the Environment Act 2021 is a good start but it’s extremely concerning that we’ve seen both main political parties drop environmental commitments from green investment recently to housing building standard regulations several years ago. This way we lose time and make matters worse for society, business and the environment! Despite this there is a lot of help and support available to businesses who want to become more sustainable such as the excellent Business Services offered by BCU.

Interested in learning more about Climate Literacy?

Learn more from Claudia on applying environmental practices to your business in our next series of Climate Literacy Bootcamps.

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