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Chemical plant

Sustainability Manager

Mike Pitts

I help businesses and chemists learn effective recycling and sustainable processes.

00:16 My name is Dr Mike Pitts, I work for the Chemistry Innovation, and my job title is Sustainability Manager.

00:25 My job’s to try to get chemists to understand the opportunities around sustainability,

00:30 so sustainability problems that we have as a society, and other downstream industries

00:35 that need chemistry to see, to find out what their sustainability issues are and solve them using technology.

00:43 The way you do that is to get out and talk to a lot of people,

00:46 networking, I need to know a lot of industrial chemists, sustainability managers in big companies,

00:50 and small companies, academics who are real leaders in this field so I understand

00:55 and know what’s going on in technology but also where the problems are.

00:58 Everything’s made of chemistry, made of chemicals, so you need chemistry to help solve those problems.

01:06 Chemistry’s vital to the future of sustainability, I mean most of our issues with material and

01:14 we have a very, you know we have a consumer society, we have a throwaway society, we use a lot of stuff

01:19 and what we need to do is use that stuff more efficiently.

01:22 And that’s basically about managing molecules and atoms and that’s what chemists do.

01:26 You can’t be a sustainable nation without good chemistry,

01:29 and we need more good chemists who think the right way.

01:34 To do my job well I need, yeah, you need interpersonal skills, a laptop and a mobile ‘phone really.

01:41 You’re on the road and you’re out seeing people, a lot of it does get kept in your brain,

01:46 I’ve got a great team in the office who back me up in terms of keeping in touch with everyone,

01:51 keeping a record of all the things you’ve seen is important.

01:57 Well I did chemistry at university, because that was the subject I enjoyed most at school,

02:03 no two ways about it, I did do a sandwich year then.

02:05 So I did do a sandwich year, so I did a year, my third year, it was in industry,

02:10 where I worked for a big pharma[ceutical] company.

02:13 And the one thing that came back with me from the end of that year was that I wanted to do a PhD

02:18 because the people who were higher paid and higher up the ladder all had PhDs.

02:23 And when I did do a PhD it was a lot of fun, it’s probably the best fun I’ve had in my career.

02:27 Three years, it’s your own work, it’s your own piece of science,

02:33 and it was quite successful, we got some good publications out of it,

02:35 so I really enjoyed that.

02:38 From then, to do the kind of job I do you have to have some kind of industrial experience,

02:44 you have to have that experience of going out

02:46 and actually developing commercial products, so I worked for several different small technology companies,

02:51 developing applications of catalyst technology,

02:56 for sort of, for making pharmaceutical products basically,

02:59 so quite complicated molecules and better ways of making them using chemistry,

03:04 catalysis, and some microwave technology I got quite involved in using microwaves,

03:09 and what we call flow chemistry doing things in flow rather than in big buckets,

03:12 so that we, it’s safer and quicker and can be cleaner.

03:17 So from there, once I had some success at doing that, a role like this is easier,

03:21 because you can, you’ve got that experience of taking something through from an idea

03:25 in a lab to an actual commercial product.

03:30 One of the best ways to grow is to get out there and talk about the issues and the problems

03:34 we’re there to solve and being able to present clearly

03:41 and concisely about it all is important.

03:46 I applied to become a chartered chemist when I was doing my post-doctoral work,

03:52 when I was living in Austria working in the University of Vienna,

03:55 and that was to demonstrate that I had developed as a person,

03:59 the continued professional development component of that really helps you demonstrate

04:03 that you’re doing more than just doing the science and developing other skills,

04:09 so that when I came back that helped me with my employability.

04:12 I had no problem getting a job when I came back to the UK and I’ve had no problem moving since.

04:19 Meeting new people is a lot of fun, hearing about great science, 

04:23 yeah, and whenever you get a success, we can start a new project off

04:27 you know is going to deliver something really good.

04:31 A lot of the time we’re working with relatively mature science, so something

04:35 an academic has taken to a point where it’s proven that it works,

04:39 and now it’s taking it through to where we can use it commercially,

04:42 to that kind of level, and when you see some of those projects get started,

04:46 get the funding in, millions of pounds next to that project,

04:50 and that enables groups to do work that they really want to do, and that’s fantastic, that’s the real buzz.

04:56 And when people come back time and again, to say ‘can you help us?’, you know you’re doing a good job.

“You can't be a sustainable nation without good chemistry and we need more good chemists who think the right way. ”

How did I get started?

Chemistry was the subject I enjoyed most at school, so I did it at university. After an industrial year at a big pharmaceutical company I realised I wanted to do a PhD as everyone better paid and higher up the ladder had one. My PhD was the most fun I've had in my career.

Career progression

To do my job you really need experience. I've worked for some smaller companies before this role, and I'm a chartered chemist which has really helped with my employability too.

Skills used

Communication, Data Handling and Research, IT and Technology, Recording, Team Worker, Interpersonal Skills, Logical Thinker

“We're a consumer society, we use a lot of stuff and we need to use that stuff more efficiently. That's basically managing molecules and atoms, and that's what chemists do. ”