Environmental Engineer Carol Ng joined SUEZ as Project Manager in 2015 and quickly discovered a love of waste management. We caught up with her to talk about her journey into a traditionally male-dominated arena, and the landmark Australian Paper Energy from Waste project she’s working on.
You’re clearly passionate about what you do. Did you always know you wanted to get into environmental engineering?
I went to an all-girls school in Sydney and no one ever spoke about the opportunities of working in engineering. In fact, I didn’t even know what engineering really was until Year 11 when I started researching university courses for myself.
When I looked into it though, engineering seemed like a great way to indulge my interest in science and physics by doing something practical – it was the practicality that really attracted me.
What was it about the environmental aspect that appealed so much?
My interest in the environment harks back to when I was a very young child, going on bushwalks with my dad, being part of the wonder of nature. Without sounding cheesy, I liked the idea of a career that had a positive impact on the environment. Environmental Engineering seemed like a great way to do something practical and meaningful.
You’ve been working on waste programs with SUEZ, including our $600m Maryvale Mill Energy from Waste project. What is it that gets you excited about waste?
When I first started with SUEZ, I worked on landfill projects which was a real eye opener for me. It’s easy to overlook the engineering side of landfills. When you put something in your bin you’re probably not thinking in terms of the scientific, engineering and technical controls SUEZ has to put in place minimise the environmental impact from your rubbish. But it’s a very complex operation, and one that ignited that passion in me for waste management.
A large part of my work these days is to develop Energy from Waste projects, which is really an additional layer of engineering. It gets very complex when you’re looking at technologies to recover energy from the waste stream in a controlled manner.
The Australian Paper project would see around 650,000 tonnes of waste diverted from landfill, saving 535,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per annum. For customers wanting to move away from gas or coal, Energy from Waste is such a natural fit in terms of infrastructure, technology and sustainability – that’s exciting!
How do you think we can encourage more women to work in engineering?
I think we need to encourage an interest from an early age and getting them excited about STEM subjects in school. We should be talking about engineering as an option for women. When I look back, it’s incredible that I didn’t know what engineering really involves until I was in Year 11. It just wasn’t considered something girls would be interested in back then.
The theme for International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter. What advice would you give to organisations looking to improve gender balance in their workforce?
I think it’s really about providing a workplace culture of respect and collaboration. It can be daunting being the only female in a meeting, but if you know your colleagues and company respect you as a professional, you’ll be more comfortable.
I hope to see more gender balance in engineering in the future. I love being part of the good work SUEZ does to help our planet and, while waste might not sound exciting, there’s a lot more to it that meets the eye.