CBCC member interview – Tomas Sys, Principal Consultant, Ramboll Environ

On his tough beginnings in the UK, today’s global environmental challenges and risks, and why all of us need to take action now before we have nothing to leave to future generation.

What brought you to the UK?

My British wife! We met in Switzerland, six months before the iron curtain came down. When we got married, we had to decide on which side of ‘la Manche’ we would make our new home. The decision then, in the early 1990s, fell on the UK. The first years were rather challenging - we moved around the UK as I was looking for a job before settling down just outside of London in the mid 90s.

 Can you briefly summarise your career?

All of my education had been in the former Czechoslovakia where I started my professional career before moving to the UK. With my education and training in geology and hydrogeology, I was unsurprisingly looking for work in a similar sector. The first job opportunity came within the newly created environmental services sector. It felt like a natural progression, as environmental contamination risk is driven by geology and hydrogeology though environmental risk management and consulting has evolved significantly since. I stayed loyal to the profession and worked on projects in 40 countries. I very much enjoy the variety of my work - no two projects are the same. In addition, I got the opportunity to visit many countries around the world, and some where one wouldn’t go as a tourist.

What does Ramboll Environ do?

It is a globally recognised environmental, health, safety and sustainability consultancy that earned its reputation for technical and scientific excellence, innovation and client service. Advances in science and technology and evolving regulatory, legal and social pressures create increasingly complex challenges for our clients but also present numerous opportunities. We are part of Ramboll, a multi-disciplinary consultancy that employs 13,000 engineers, scientists, designers and management consultants around the world. Personally, I work with the Due Diligence team focussing on business acquisitions and divestitures. We support multinational clients, many of them Private equity or global oil & gas or manufacturing companies.

What are the biggest global environmental challenges nowadays?

This can mean different things to different people, dependent on where one lives. I can think of three key ones applicable to us in Europe, two of which are amongst the top three impacts according the World Economic Forum report 2016:

The highest systemic global risk in the report is failure of climate change mitigation. With 2016 being the hottest year on record, civilisation cannot ignore the warning signs any longer and joint action is required without delay, if we are to protect the planet for future generations. Lack of action may lead to loss of biodiversity, extreme weather events, etc. It is astonishing that some governments still question the evidence available.

Second is water scarcity – the third highest systemic global risk listed in the report. The available forecast suggests that demand for water will rise by 50% by 2030 unless changes are implemented. Failure to do so may lead to failing crops and food shortages to the point that the world may not be able to feed its population, yet measuring and managing water is not as simple as measuring carbon emissions.

Finally, product safety – there is a concern that technology is outpacing regulations in some areas. For example, nanoparticles (size 1-100 nm) are today found in some consumer products from cosmetics to clothing and considerable discussion is being held as to whether these products are being properly assessed and regulated, and whether consumers are suitably informed. Although many nanomaterials are safe, others might bring new hazards. The size of these particles may lead to significantly enhanced absorption across the normal physiological barriers. Whilst numerous applications of nanotechnology are safe and beneficial, there is continued discussion about potential adverse effects and how best to manage or regulate these without losing advantages these technologies often bring.

What does the term ‘sustainable future’ mean to you?

It certainly does not mean ‘hugging trees’ or any kind of environmental extremism. I believe that both businesses and consumers have to consider their environmental footprint – using non-renewable resources wisely, producing food locally, minimising waste and recycling, energy conservation, renewable energy generation and designing products with end-of-life recyclability in mind. There are numerous examples of consumers increasingly making their purchase decisions based on product’s ‘green’ credentials (distance food ‘travels’ before reaching shops, energy and water used both during product manufacturing and operation, recyclability, etc.). This in turn focuses the mind of businesses which realise that long-term business value creation needs implementation of sound environmental and social principles and the communication of that information (sustainability reporting) to stakeholders and consumers. For example, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) currently have more than 1,400 signatories in more than 50 countries representing US$59 trillion of assets.

What gets you out of bed every morning?

A concern whether I will be able to get to work, given how unreliable trains are these days. No, seriously, it is the variety of projects we work on. We could be assessing a brewery portfolio one week, airports the following week and oil terminals or mines thereafter. This variety accompanied with the asset location (spanning from developed jurisdictions to emerging markets with environmental regulations at their infancy) and routinely incomplete information data set make for a very interesting blend of challenges, both regulatory and cultural. It is my role to add value through correctly identifying those and helping the client successfully navigate around them. Work never gets stereotypical, keeps me on my toes and that is what I enjoy.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

I completed projects around the world, sometimes at -45º C but it is very hard to talk about individual achievements of an environmental consultant as the profession is largely a team discipline. In fact, a single individual cannot deliver a typical due diligence project on a business portfolio regardless whether it is in one country or cross-border. Team effort, with faultless contribution from every member of the project team, is required to be successful. Measuring achievements by the enterprise value of transactions we advise on can also be misleading as such information is not always disclosed and often smaller projects can present more complex challenges.  

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In an ideal world, I would like to stay with Ramboll Environ and help it to grow. The environmental sector continues to gain in prominence and I believe in this company and enjoy working with my colleagues. We help our clients tackle their environmental challenges and opportunities. Whilst my particular focus is on business acquisitions and divestitures, the work is applicable and adaptable right across all business sectors and asset classes and, as mentioned, the challenges are getting bigger and more complex.

The opinions expressed in this article are the interviewee's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ramboll Environ.

If you wish to contact Tomas, please connect with him on LinkedIn

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee


We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed!

Please email tereza@cbcc.org.uk if you are interested.

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