Celebrating women in anaerobic digestion

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are sharing the stories of some of the women in the Eco Verde Energy (EVE) team who keep our plants running safely and efficiently and keep our customers happy.

This year has been a huge year for our ladies with three nominations at the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association Awards. Health, Safety, Environment & Quality Assistant, Dorothy Gough, has been nominated for the AD Rising Star Award, Area Manager, Alison Dring, for the Women in Biogas Award and EVE’s female-led finance team for the Best Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Support Services Award.

We spoke to Alison, Dorothy and Senior Management Accountant, Sharon Ryan, about their experiences working in AD to inspire more women to enter the world of renewable energy.

Did you always see yourself having a career in renewable energy?

Sharon: Before I worked for EVE, I worked for St. John Ambulance for eight years. I much preferred working for a charity to working in industry. Although EVE isn’t a charity, we’re playing an important part in reducing carbon emissions and making the world a cleaner place which is something I feel very passionate about.

Dorothy: I’ve always been interested in the environment and studied Environment, Economics and Ecology at university. As part of my degree, I worked at Siemens Gamesa as a Health, Safety and Environment Intern and that really sparked an interest for me in health and safety in the renewables sector.

Alison: I was born and bred on a farm but fell into renewables in a roundabout way. We used to send the waste from our beef cattle to a mushroom farm to be composted into mushroom substrate. That ignited a passion for repurposing things for grander schemes.

What is the most fulfilling part of your role?

Sharon: It sounds like a cliché but every day is different because each of our plants is different. I also love dealing with people, even if it’s at arm’s length through an email or a phone call. We work with so many wonderful people from the EVE team to our clients and it’s great to see the impact our work has. Although accounts might not float everyone’s boat, paying invoices on time and maintaining adequate cash flow keeps everything running smoothly.

Dorothy: The best part of my job is the variety. Every week there is a different agenda, with different things to see and problems to solve. Even though I only started at EVE eight months ago, I’ve been given various projects that I can get my teeth into, like developing an integrated management system for the ISO standards, and analysing the Health, Safety, Environment, & Quality (HSEQ) statistics to establish KPIs for each of the sites. It’s been great to get stuck in and feel like I’m making an impact and ensuring that everyone is completing their jobs safely.

Alison: The most fulfilling part of my job is taking something broken and putting it right. I’m often used as a troubleshooter on the more demanding sites. I’m a no-nonsense kind of person and I always get to the truth of the matter, no matter how hard that is. I love a challenge and I always find that you learn more from finding a solution to a problem.

How does it feel to be a woman in renewables?

Sharon: Even though some people might see renewables as a bit of a “boys club”, most of the EVE finance team are women. Although I’m not on-site with the role I have, I do feel that it’s important for women to go into jobs that might not be expected of them. We’re just as capable as the boys – we just need to show them that!

Dorothy: It was quite a struggle when I first started because some people didn’t take me seriously due to my age. The more I’ve seen people and been able to demonstrate my expertise, the easier it’s been to be seen as more of an equal and now I don’t feel there’s a problem being a woman in AD. At EVE, there are a lot of women who work on-site which has helped normalised it.

Alison: I’ve found that if you’re a woman, you have to be at the top of your game and you have to stay there. If you make a mistake, it often becomes something that you’re known for, rather than a “learning experience” that can be put in the past. I’m lucky that EVE supports all their staff, but I know it’s not the same everywhere.

What advice would you give to young women who want a career in anaerobic digestion?

Sharon: Go with what you love and there shouldn’t be any ceilings. I’m lucky to work in accounts which has plenty of transferrable skills but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t started your career in renewable energy or anaerobic digestion. You can always learn. Keep an open mind and never take any industry off the cards because of the perception some may have.

Dorothy: It can be daunting when applying for jobs because you might not always be able to understand what the role is purely from the job title. Seeing a job advert for an Anaerobic Digestion Plant Operator might put some people, especially women, off from applying but it’s important to do some research and read around so you know what the role is – regardless of the title.

Alison: Take every opportunity which comes along, learn new skills and never limit your ambitions. The AD sector is a huge, growing industry with lots of variety. If you’re interested in a career in AD, there’s something out there for you.

How does it feel to be nominated for an ADBA award?

Sharon: The whole finance team were so pleased to be nominated for the ADBA award. Over the two and half years that EVE has existed, we’ve had some really tough times. Creating a new company, putting new processes in place and taking over plants are all difficult so getting some recognition of the hard work that we’ve put in has given us a boost.

Dorothy: I am over the moon to be nominated. Even though I’ve been here for such a short time, it’s been wonderful to be recognised as an “AD Rising Star” as it shows that my hard work is being recognised. It is such a huge achievement to have been shortlisted and it has given me confidence that the work I am doing is making a positive impact to both EVE and the climate.

Alison: I would love to win the award for the ladies in the UK. I mainly try to stay under the radar but if I did win I would use it to push all women forward in the industry. Currently, the industry isn’t promoted as it should be – there are no higher education establishments that hold an AD-specific course. If I won, I would use my position to go into schools, colleges, and universities to fly the flag for AD. There’s so much scope for women in AD – maybe they just need a figurehead to lead the way.

Alison Dring, Dorothy Gough, Sharon Ryan