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A Day in the Life of an Environmental Engineer

For this edition of ‘A Day in the Life’, we spoke with Steve Buck of E2Designlab to find out what a typical day in his life as an Environmental Engineer looks like.

Steve is an environmental consultant who works across engineering, urban design and ecology to enable the creation of resilient, liveable and sustainable cities. He takes a holistic approach to his work with influences from Scandinavian urban design and sustainable water management from completing part of his studies at Lund University (Sweden), the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), the Danish Hydraulic Institute (DHI), and receiving training in ‘cloudburst management’ in Copenhagen. Steve is currently the vice-chair of Young Engineers Australia (VIC).

Here’s a typical day for Steve:

5:30am

Peeling back my eyelids I hit off my alarm, being careful to not also hit my bedside cactus (this has happened before…). I lay for 10 minutes in bed, waking up to the day by scanning the latest news headlines on the ABC. I do enjoy keeping up to date with local and world news. It also makes great conversation in the office. I leave my warm bed and shiver as I throw on some gym clothes and stare at my wild hair in the mirror. I’m a person that needs 8 hours of sleep to be on top of my game, and I’ve managed to get 6.5 hrs. But that’s what you get when you skip your bedtime to watch Game of Thrones. I make a mental note that I’m going to need some decent coffee today.

With a splash of water in the face, I’m off to the gym

7:30am

I’ve finished an intensive group workout class. These are great when you have zero motivation to push yourself which is perfect for me on a dark, cold winter morning. I finish the rest of my water bottle and jump onto my bike and ride to work. My bike is a vintage fixie bike which I found on Gumtree. I’ve spent several weeks restoring it to its former glory. It took more work than I expected but I’m quite proud of the result.

My ride takes about 25 minutes. Half of it is along a busy road where I need to be careful of many things, but at this time of the morning, it’s a lot quieter and safer. The other half of the trip is along the Yarra River and this is one of my favourite parts of the day. Peddling along the water’s edge I pass by the botanical gardens and hear the birds waking up to the day. Further on I see a series of rowers gliding along the meandering river and up above the horizon I see Melbourne’s glistening skyline. I catch a glimpse of a hot air balloon rising to catch the sunrise. Magical.

8:00am

I arrive at work and lock my bike in our basement bike storage facility. I take the elevator up to the 9th floor and arrive at an empty office. I enjoy being the first to arrive and experience the peace it is before the busy day begins. Most of our office starts the day between 8:30 am and 9:00 am. I take a shower and dress from a set of clothes I prepared and transported earlier from our office closet. I next make breakfast and a well-deserved coffee in our office kitchen.

8:30am

Eating breakfast at my desk, I check my calendar and emails and start planning my day. I’m most productive before lunch so I assign my most important tasks for the morning and the less challenging ones for the afternoon. For today I must make some headway with the conceptual design of two constructed stormwater treatment and harvesting wetlands for a growth area in Melbourne’s North. This piece of work is part of a much larger Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) Master Plan for a northern council. I have been working on this project for several months and I am excited to wrap it up soon with the assembly of a report.

10:30am

On Mondays, we have a company resourcing meeting between the Melbourne and Brisbane office. In this meeting we all update each other with what we are working on, any project support needs, upcoming proposals, business development initiatives, and anything else that needs discussing. I’m working on three projects at the moment and I explain to the team how they are progressing. Last week I attended and presented at a 3-day stormwater conference in Marysville and so I’m under the pump to catch up on my deliverables.

11:30am

As I sit down to continue my earlier work a colleague asks if I can support him in some soil moisture modelling for a new national guideline we have recently won. As this project has a tight deadline, I put aside my task and support him with the activity. We have a very collaborative and flexible workplace culture in our office. I also do enjoy mentoring our younger staff and seeing them develop.

12:20pm

I quickly head down and grab a French baguette from one of my favourite sandwiches places in Degraves St (Waffle On, the owners are delightful!) and start heading to a client’s office to co-facilitate a workshop. One of my other projects is to perform an assessment on the current organisational capacity of several City Councils to transition to a new form of sustainable water management. To get there I have organised to get a lift with an attendee from Docklands, so quickly munch down my roll and jump out of my office and on to the 76 tram to Docklands.

12:50pm

I meet up with my co-facilitator and the attendee and have a quick chat before we all jump into the car and wind our way out of Melbourne’s CBD and into the Eastern suburbs. It’s a shame I can’t take a train to this City Council (it’s not well connected). As a company, we do try to take the most sustainable transportation options where we can. Taking the train also allows me to use the travel time to get a few more things done on my laptop. To pass the travel time we talk about our recent travel adventures. I had recently been to Switzerland and Poland, so I had many interesting stories to tell!

2:00pm

We arrive right on time at the client’s office and we quickly check in and set up our presentation in the supplied conference room. I’m beginning to get a little nervous but remind myself the correct (positive) term to use is ‘excited’. Once all the attendees were seated, we began the workshop and I presented my section of the presentation. My co-facilitator and I took turns taking minutes of the discussions that were had.

4:00pm

The workshop wraps up and we are all a bit exhausted. It was a productive engagement and we collected a lot of very good data as a result. I’ll be going through this data tomorrow to finalise the analysis of this City Council.  We say our goodbyes and jump back into the car and head to Docklands, where I then catch a connecting tram back to my office. I almost fall asleep in the back of the car on the way back. It’s been a busy day and I’m feeling the effects of the late night I had. SHAME!

5:30pm

Back at the office I drop off my things and brief some of my colleagues on how the workshop went. I grab a chocolate biscuit as a small afternoon treat/sugar rush to keep me going. We normally have a bowl full of fruit available in the kitchen, but it rapidly emptied this week. No guilt trip to be had!

Normally after work I have a busy schedule. I’m either attending a meeting with one of two industry committees I’m on, joining an industry talk or seminar within the city, networking, or catching up with a friend for dinner or a drink. I’m a keen bean for self-development so I am always on the lookout for opportunities to develop and to stay up to date with the industry. But tonight, my calendar is empty which I am very happy about. I change back into my cycling gear and leave the office to cycle home.

6:30pm

On my way home I pass by one of our stormwater harvesting projects which are currently getting constructed. It’s very exciting to see something that was once only a set of drawings become something real in front of your eyes. I walk around the site and take some photos to share with my colleague’s tomorrow. The client has put up some very informative screens for the community to read about the project. I’m quite impressed by that.

7:00pm

I arrive home and put my bicycle in the garage and head upstairs to my shared apartment. I’m the only one home which is nice after a long day. I head off to have a warm shower and change into some warm clothes. I heat up some leftovers from last night and veg out with my social media on the couch. My housemates soon arrive and we exchange stories about our day over a glass of wine. Later I call some of my family members to catch up on our weekend activities. I went for a hike through the Werribee Gorge on Saturday and was keen to tell them what it was like.

9:00pm

I start getting ready for bed and preparing for the next day by placing out some clothes for the gym and to cycle to work. I’m going to heated Yoga tomorrow night, so I pack an extra towel. It’s very intense so I typically shower at the gym before coming home.

10:00pm

I check my social media once more before going to sleep.

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