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Insights Engineering and Sustainability

As part of our #PeopleDriveResults campaign, this week we have caught up with Sarah Jane Stewart, our Global Head of Sustainability, based in the UK.

image of Sarah smiling

Tell us a little about who you are and what do you do?

My name is Sarah Jane Stewart and I am Global Head of Sustainability for AtkinsRéalis . I’ve been working in the construction industry for 30 years as a designer and have worked for the Company for the past six years. I am a chartered mechanical engineer specializing in the design of low- carbon infrastructure and renewable energy systems.

In the early part of my career, I worked on many pan-European research and development projects for the EU incorporating, solar energy, biomass, passive design, ground source heat pumps and various energy efficiency measures. I’ve continued to specialize in reducing energy consumption throughout my career. My current role involves establishing high-level targets for sustainability for the Company, with the leadership team in agreement, and reporting our progress in the annual sustainability and climate reports.

What inspired you to take an active interest in energy?

When I was in school, we did a lot of experiments with wave tanks in physics class. Because I spent a lot of time on beaches as a kid watching waves and storms, I was really interested in the energy of waves and natural systems. When I was an engineering student at Strathclyde University, I specialized in energy modelling, computer-aided design and renewable energy systems, including wind, wave, hydro and solar energy. My courses were part engineering and part architecture. I also got very interested in architecture and urban design, using passive design techniques in buildings. I studied how to ventilate, cool and heat buildings using passive design techniques such as natural ventilation, super insulation and how to use concrete as thermal mass. Adding renewable energy systems to all of these energy-reducing measures can help achieve net zero carbon emissions.

What kind of energy projects have you been involved in professionally?

I have worked on several low-carbon infrastructure design projects mostly in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, including low-carbon hospitals, school offices, university campuses and museums. Almost all of the projects I have worked on incorporated passive design measures and/or renewable energy systems. I have also worked on major urban design and master planning projects to develop low-carbon cities and neighborhoods.

Throughout my career I have also specialized in designing for health—reducing water consumption, creating healthy cities and neighborhoods, reducing raw material usage in infrastructure—and moving to circular economy principles as well, developing walking, cycling and other active travel networks. Most of the projects I have worked on have had the support of very good ecology teams. I have worked closely with them and the landscape designers to increase biodiversity and protect existing ecological plant life and animal life.

What do you think the biggest change to the energy sector will be in our lifetime?

Decarbonization of transport networks is starting to happen now. Rail, metro, cars, HGVs, taxis are all starting to decarbonize which will dramatically reduce pollution in cities and rural areas. However, in order to combat climate change, the source of the power for our transportation systems also has to decarbonize, meaning decommissioning fossil fuel power generation and building new net zero carbon power stations.

Everyone has their favourite form of energy production, what’s yours?

My favorite form of energy is wave and tidal energy. I have always been fascinated by it because it is  constant and always there. We don’t need to dig anything up to make wave and tidal energy work. Every year new technologies become available making this form of energy generation more efficient and cost effective, like how wind energy and floating wind turbines have been developed in recent years.

Just for fun… You get to design your own spaceship. What fuel source do you use?

I like spending time outdoors and in nature so the thought of being stuck on a spaceship eating food out of a microwave doesn’t do it for me. I would probably prefer to buy myself an electric sea plane like the ones flying in Seattle, Victoria and Shetland. I would charge it at my tidal and wave energy charging point on the Isle of Barra and use it to travel around the western isles of Scotland and the Cairngorm mountain range to photograph basking sharks, dolphins and any other cool wildlife I see

Find your next engineering role with AtkinsRéalis

If Sarah's story has inspired you to think about exploring new career opportunities, we can help. As a renowned engineering firm, we have vacancies across the globe, in range of markets. And with sustainability at the heart of everything we do, you can be sure that you'll play a key role in helping us build a better future. Browse our latest civil engineering vacancies, electrical engineering career opportunities, or explore all roles to see how you can make a difference with us.