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Bye, Q

Quentin Leiper completes his year as president of the ICE this week.

The statistics of ICE president Quentin Leiper's year are impressive.

He's been to 190 dinners and lunches, made 135 speeches (and there are still seven or eight to go before he steps down), travelled 68,747 miles, (requiring 4.63 new trees to offset his carbon footprint), has spoken directly to more than 18,000 people and is 240 minutes behind on his clarinet practice.

He knows these figures precisely because, since he took up office in November 2006, Leiper has meticulously logged the details and the statistics of his year on a rather large spreadsheet – a process which he says, , he is very glad to have started.

And if you really want the full details of Leiper's activities over the past year then there are 60,000 words to read on his presidential blog – a daily he's kept up to date on the ICE website.

But for all this activity – and for the record, this interview is meeting number 565 – what does he actually see as his main achievements during his year in office?

"I'm hoping that (my year as president) has made people more aware of the sustainability agenda," he says, reflecting on his challenge to "turn the industry on to sustainability" as he put it 12 months ago.

"And I'm hoping also that people now realise that we ought to work a lot harder in mentoring and stretching our young engineers," he adds with reference to a second major theme to empower young engineers.

The two themes – sustainability and young engineers – sit hand in hand, he says, not least since it is the passion of young undergraduates and graduate engineers that are really leading the charge in the sustainability area.

But he points out that sustainable practice has to go beyond the passion.

"The message I've been giving is the business benefit of adopting this sustainable approach," he says. "That is what I've been trying to demonstrate to people – that there is a sound commercial reason for doing something, as well as a reason for the heart."

He set himself the presidential goal of delivering real results – not just talk – and his hope was that people would at least by now be saying: "He's made a difference to the sustainability agenda."

Perhaps they are – perhaps he has – but even he accepts that it is difficult to measure whether he has actually achieved his goal. While there are changes and impacts that have been visible, such as the major consultant that has decided to embed sustainable thinking into its core strategy as a result of talking to Leiper, much is anecdotal.

"I know that a small number (of firms) have (put sustainability at the top of their agenda) but I can't say that a large number have," he says. "Was that a disappointment? Well I don't know. But I've had a great deal of good response from all the people that I've met."

Leiper says that the challenge laid down in every one of his speeches has been around the understanding of our own carbon footprint – are we measuring it and are we taking steps to reduce it?

"But I still think that only 2% of the market has picked up sustainability as an issue that needs to be addressed," he says. "It's dismal really when you think how long these ideas have been around. But if you see it as a business opportunity rather than as a threat then you'll be more likely to do it."

Leiper sees fully embracing sustainability as crucial if the industry is to deliver both in terms of boosting efficiency but also to ensure that the demands of the new generation of engineers are met. And he points out that these are very demanding.

"They are very enthusiastic and very optimistic," he says of the graduates and undergraduates that he's met during his year in office. "The danger is that with all these people coming out with high aspirations about environmental performance or sustainability performance that actually as an industry we don't deliver it."

Over the year, Leiper has mentored his 13 "Telford apprentice" graduate engineers and is struck by how much drive they all had to really help the industry to change. But he is also aware that it remains hard for them to bring their good ideas into the profession.

"What a great time this is to be a graduate – with all the big projects coming through," he says.

"There are great career prospects and better financial prospects, but we are also building in a better way."

Leiper has also been working hard to remind the outside world of the great work that is now going on and to support and promote the work of civil engineers, a role that he says remains absolutely vital.

"You are the front end of a marketing force of 77,000," he says. "So part of the (president's) job is to talk up civil engineering and raise the profile, because the public actually understands very little of what civil engineers do."

Thomas Telford's 25th anniversary, he says, was a fantastic opportunity to do this and having travelled around the UK looking at and taking part in the activities that this anniversary has spawned, Leiper is convinced of the huge impact that it has had."It would have been nice if we had got him on TV," he says, comparing the Telford celebrations to that of the IK Brunel bicentenary the year before.

"But the Telford events have happened all over the UK. Virtually everywhere that I've been there has been something to celebrate about Telford."

The opportunity to celebrate and reward good engineering over the year was very important to Leiper.

Having introduced the Spirit of Telford Awards last year, he has so far given out 31 medals to deserving souls. And as 35 were made at the start of the year, presumably there are a few more unsuspecting recipients out there.

"The awards ceremony was one of the highlights of my year as president," he explains. "Just to be able to celebrate so many fantastic people was fantastic."

Yet for all the excitement, now that his presidential year draws to a close Leiper says he is actually looking forward to returning full time to Carillion, "getting back into the business to get my finger back on the pulse of what's happening".

Q'S Stats
Speeches made

People spoken to directly

Miles travelled

Trees needed to offset
his carbon footprint

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