Last week I went along to an event at the very grand Edinburgh City Chambers that was, for me anyway, a lot of fun. I’m not sure the other participants found it as enjoyable. I had been asked to be a judge in a Regional heat of the Environmental Placement Programme run by the Business Environment Partnership. The programme is a scheme whereby businesses and organisations get help with environmental projects by hiring, at a very reasonable cost, a placement student. The placements last around eight weeks during which time the student can be put to work on a range of initiatives including carbon reduction, energy efficiency, water use and waste management.
The benefits for businesses are significant as they get to reap the rewards of the hard work of the students who can highlight issues that existing staff might not have time to investigate. The students also benefit as they get a taste for working in a real “business” environment and get to try out some of the theory in practice.
In our role as judges my co-judge and I were expected to choose just one person out of the eight candidates to go forward to the national final which is taking place on 10 September at Edinburgh Zoo. The overall winner will be presented their award by none other than first minister Alex Salmond.
I certainly felt a degree of pressure when considering who to put through. The work by all students was of a very high quality and the projects diverse, which made selecting one above the others a difficult process. Fortunately we had been sent a report in advance of the heats which had been written by both the students and the organisation they worked for which gave an idea of the aims of the project and the outcomes achieved. However the report was insufficient to select a winner in advance, so the activities during the heat would be crucial in determining the winner.
On the day itself we started by looking at posters in the main hall which the students had produced to summarise their projects. This certainly gave some insight into the skills of laminating! From there we moved into smaller rooms in the Chambers where we sat round a board table and watched a 4 minute presentation by each of the candidates and got to ask questions at the end of each. Myself and the other judge were frantically scribbling notes during the presentations, flicking through the reports we had already been given and trying to assess the presentation and the project according to various criteria on the scoring sheet. The answers to our questions gave a lot of further insight into how successful they had been and, in some cases, decided their fate. I felt nervous questioning them as I didn’t want to undermine the work they had done or knock their confidence. After all for many of them this was the first time they had presented to a large group or had to justify and promote their own work. At the same time I needed to be sure they really understood the issues they raised. For example if they talked about “engaging with management” I needed to know how management had responded. Had their efforts made a difference?
Once the presentations were over the candidates and their mentors moved back to the main hall and we discussed each in turn. Through a process of elimination we whittled the list down to two outstanding candidates. One had worked in the private sector and the other for the public sector. One had dealt with a broad spectrum of carbon reducing measures and the other a cycling scheme. Both had achieved a great deal and had brought forward measures that would be likely to make a difference to their organisations’ environmental impact. In the end we went with the cycling project which we decided had been a marginally greater achievement due to the fact the person had taken four of the organisation’s offices from having no coherent cycling policy to the brink of receiving a recognised award for the cycling schemes our candidate had set up. Not just that but they had communicated the new policies effectively to staff in all the offices and had therefore overcome the barriers of engaging with staff in all the offices concerned.
Will they win in the final? Who knows. To see the winners (once posted) and find out more information about the BEP EPP please visit this page.