What is it like to be an environmental researcher?

Nathalie Swinnen, a passionate environmental project manager at Research & Innovation (R&I) Lyon Environmental Solutions, researcher talks about her experiences within the Group, the skills one needs to be an environmental researcher!

Can you describe your role at Solvay?

I work in the research environment team of Lyon but I’m based at the Brussels Campus. I’ve been working for Solvay for almost 30 years now. I started in catalysis and then moved into an environment role in research covering topics linked to water waste. My job has developed throughout the years at Industrial HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) and my role today is on one hand to provide a technical support in projects so our sites comply with environmental regulations, and on the other hand, to provide R&I with a vision regarding the value of water, including the circularity of water.

The main part of this role is being the communications link between the colleagues on industrial sites, in GBUs & the Industrial Function, and our suppliers to be able to pinpoint the existing needs and find the best solution available in the best way possible and in a timely manner.

In what ways do you support the Industrial function?

In industrial production processes, water is needed but it gets polluted and cannot be sent back to the environment without treatment. Most solutions do already exist, however they often need to be validated by testing, and this is where R&I can bring its lab expertise. Also, new technologies still emerge regularly that can be evaluated through collaborative projects.

Our solutions have to be simple, easy to implement, and robust. It’s also possible that I provide local assistance to make sure that the solutions are well implemented.

We always have to look ahead and anticipate what can happen or go wrong. Our team of researchers — which includes 16 people of which 12 are dedicated to water — works very closely with internal “customers”- the GBUs.

What’s the challenge in environmental research?

The fact that we don’t know where we’re going to end up…we are researchers so we explore different possibilities and outcomes, and then we have to choose the right elements to make the right choices to reach our objectives. We also have to have everyone on the same page.

What is a must-have skill to be an environmental researcher?

Being open-minded is essential. Environment is not a discipline. It’s an expertise covering different disciplines, so we have to be able to interact with technical specialists in microbiology, chemistry and physics on one side, and on the other, we have to interact with others in construction, mechanical and corrosion functions, to name a few.

These internal or external discussions with specialists help raise the right questions, identify customer needs and find the best solution available.

You also have to have soft skills to work in an international environment so that you are able to place yourself in different teams.