“Nobody wilfully goes out of their way to damage the environment” – Jill Butler-Rennie

ContentPathway Interviews Leave a Comment

Hi Jill, thanks for being interviewed to celebrate the two year anniversary of Content Pathway. As you may have seen, last year I interviewed Yoshioka Tatsuya, the founder of Peace Boat. He talked to me about how peace, environmentalism and sharing knowledge are all interlinked. Can you start by telling us who you are and what you do?

I’m Jill Butler-Rennie, an Environmental engineer in the Oil and Gas industry since leaving University. I’ve worked in various roles, in Operations, as a Consultant, and within Engineering Contractors. Over the last 18 months, I’ve been working freelance and focusing on delivering environmental training to the offshore workforce from operations and drilling, or anyone who needs environmental training.


This all goes hand-in-hand with the E-Reps Network, an online and offline resource for environmental representatives and the annual Forum event. It’s a full-time role and it’s going very well because it’s pragmatic and interesting for attendees, as I’ve done these jobs before and understand things from their perspective.


The oil & gas industry isn’t exactly famous for its progressive environmental ideas, so how do you turn apathy into support on a personal level, or does it exist already?

A lot of these people care very much, it’s actually a highly regulated industry and everything is risk assessed. Nothing goes into the atmosphere or sea without an assessment. These assessments are very dynamic and go on throughout the year because of a changing environment and seasonal conditions. Everything is continually evaluated and reviewed to minimise risk. In addition to the regulations, we also recognise the behavioural issues around compliance and the industry does everything it can to address this. The calculated risk is often not as bad as the perceived risk.


Tell me about the E-Reps network, it’s free to be a member of, right? And what benefits does being a member give you?

It’s an open resource rather than a membership, for instance, if an offshore Green Team has found an environmental campaign to be successful and they have presentation materials that could prove useful to other, they can share these in our resource library. There’s a growing amount of information to download, including resources from our annual conferences. We have groups on various social media sites for interested people to engage and network in. If people have questions, for example about approved chemicals or waste management,  they can post questions there and get a quick response.


If I were to come to an E-Reps event, what would I experience?

It’s unique in that the audience is 90% offshore workers and the whole thing is geared towards them. Being in the events business, I am very conscious to make sure the day is designed around their needs, not around what I want. You’ll find workshops, talks, supplier stalls, presentations and the technology showcase.


Guys who attend can see new technologies and advances in all areas, and as it is a not-for-profit event, it means I can be very competitive with exhibition rates, and we’ve seen smaller companies who can’t get into the big events win their first big contracts.

There’s no pressure, it’s a relaxed and fun atmosphere. Last year the E-reps Forum was held at a football stadium, with beer and pies. It’s not a formal event, we aren’t expecting people to wear suits. It’s all about learning and encouraging engagement between suppliers, end users and development professionals.


Protecting the natural world is something very close to my heart, would you say that it’s something close to yours? Did you enter this career path consciously to do progressive work on the environment’s behalf?

At 6 years old I wanted to be a Marine Biologist, so I did that. At 18, I studied this field, and then I did post-graduate qualifications to increase my practical knowledge and employability. I’m from the Northeast of England, where we know about shipyards and the offshore industry. As I was growing up in the 1980’s, a lot of shipyard workers went to offshore sector, including the parents of many of my friends.


I didn’t know the nuts and bolts when I first started, but I knew there was more to environmental management than permits and compliance. If I didn’t feel passionate about my work I simply couldn’t deliver training to groups of oilies who need to reciprocate the professional interest.


If you weren’t doing what you do now, do you think you’d be educating people in some other way?

I’d be a university lecturer teaching Marine Biology. The only reason I’m not is that I didn’t hand in my PhD thesis!


Going back to oil and gas. You probably have a good idea of what goes through the minds of oil and gas companies. Do they sit around and say ‘Look, our drilling and extracting is not good for the environment, Greenpeace and other conservation groups might get on our back. What can we do to keep the peace?’

Before any big job, there’s a detailed environmental impact assessment, including stakeholder engagement,  that considers all of those interest groups, as well as local groups who might be affected. This is top of the list for any big project, and it’s hard to dispel the notion that this isn’t important to the industry, as it really is.


I’m curious about the psychological side of things, as I don’t think that I could work in this industry due to my personal beliefs. So, when oil and gas professionals come to you for training, do they ever express their concerns about the negative effects that their work might be having? Or do they try to plead ignorance?

I have very strong briefs too, but every time someone gets in a car or turns on a light, they have to accept that this is necessary. We can’t have developments and energy without having an impact on the environment. Everything we do has an impact, but this world is so highly regulated. These guys come and listen to me for two days, they are thrilled, interested and engaged, they really want to minimise their impact.

wilfully environment jill butler rennie


A lot of people are surprised when I say I’m a supporter of nuclear energy. I believe the best way to transition away from fossil fuels is to jump from fossil, to nuclear, to renewable, as nuclear will give us the platform necessary to build the renewable infrastructure. What are your thoughts on energy evolutions and the phasing out of fossil fuels?

The way forward has to be an energy mix, looking at and expanding alternatives. Until we can guarantee those alternative energies will support us, fossil fuels will continue to play a role. If the nuclear energy industry is as good as it says it, the public needs to be educated about the pros and cons, not just the negative risks, with fear-mongering stories like Chernobyl.


Everyone in these energy sectors has a role to educate the public and the workforce. It can be done, but it takes time. People are very conscious that an incident in a nuclear plant would affect them. With the offshore industry, the majority of people don’t see the effects of a disaster on their doorstep, so they find it hard to connect with. We made this video of what an oil disaster in Aberdeen city centre would look like:


What’s coming up in your calendar that you’re excited for?

I’m very excited at the amount of training planned for this year. Oil prices have gone up, which means that a lot of budget controls have been relaxed a little bit, and so this is the busiest year of training for 5 or 6 years.


October 3rd we have the annual E-Reps Forum, and each year we have an environmental celebrity come along. Three years ago we had Chris Packham from the Really Wild Show.

I’m also running a series of ‘Lunch and Learns’, bi-monthly talks on a current or relevant topic, with a specialist expert to talk for an hour. This is to create more regular and smaller events for people to get together, like suppliers and environmental specialists. It starts this month in Aberdeen.


Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or to add?

Somebody wrote on LinkedIn recently that you have to be passionate about what you’re talking about to get people to believe in it, and in you. Somebody said that they went to one training and the trainer just clocked in to do the training, spoke and then left. They weren’t engaged, but they said that with my training, it was completely different, it was so personable and relatable.


When people aren’t passionate you can see right through them, they aren’t engaged with the topic and it makes it tough for the audience to learn from.

Do you want to read more interviews?

Interview with Frederik van Deurs and Martin Andreas Petersen, GREENTECH CHALLENGE

Interview with Yoshioka Tatsuya, founder of Peace Boat

Interview with Wiebe Wakker, the first man to drive across the world in an electric vehicle

Interview with Jill Butler-Rennie, an off-shore environmental expert


Do you want to learn more about me and Content Pathway?

Follow the Joseph Kennedy – Environmental Copywriter page on Facebook.

Connect with me on LinkedIn by following this link.


Newsletter Signup Form

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *