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STEPHANIE COULLON: IT’S NOT JUST A MATTER OF GRADE, BUT OF TASTE. DO WHAT YOU LIKE!


Hello to the SciGi family. My name is Stephanie Coullon and I am an Environmental Engineer at the French Building Federation. My role is to help building companies to integrate the environment in their daily work. I work in the office, but I also meet a lot of different players (building companies, architects, government representatives, journalists, environmental associations, etc). Occasionally I also travel to construction sites to better understand the issues at stake in the field. For example, when I work on waste management, I visit recycling facilities and construction sites to see how waste is sorted and I can also meet start-ups active in the field.

For example, when I work on waste management, I visit recycling facilities and construction sites to see how waste is sorted and I can also meet start-ups active in the field. A federation is a grouping of all the companies of a same sector, both to have a certain power of influence, and at the same time to bring advice to the companies of the sector. The building federation groups together more than 50,000 companies, both the biggest ones such as Bouygues, Vinci, etc. and the smallest ones, in particular all the building craftsmen. For my part, I mainly advise small and medium-sized companies because, given their size, they do not have resources dedicated to environmental issues.

My activities are extremely diverse: I contribute to the setting up of recycling or waste recovery channels, but I also help companies to limit their nuisances on building sites (noise, dust), to preserve the quality of the indoor air during the works… etc. I help companies to understand how to build a building to make it more environmentally friendly (carbon impact, source of materials, energy consumption…). To do this, I develop tools, but also training services for companies in the sector. I also have a lobbying activity: I keep an eye on the laws and legal texts in preparation that affect these companies; I am in contact with politicians, members of parliament…this combines the technical side with the public relations aspect.

I have been in this position for 8 years, and surprisingly, while the sector is quite traditional, with a certain inertia -slow development- , I notice that things are changing: on the one hand, the sector is getting younger, and on the other hand, there is an awareness of environmental issues and innovations driven in part by regulatory changes.

I really like this job. And yet, the choice of my path was a difficult one. In my family, no one had studied science, so I didn’t have a family model, my parents were both literary. So that I almost went into business to be in a less unknown land. The most difficult thing for me was to choose a major in my senior year. But in the end, I listened to myself: I liked biology, so I turned to a bio/maths/physics preparatory school even though I never felt very comfortable in math, but biology really caught my attention.

So, if I had one piece of advice to give: really listen to yourself, more than the advice you get here or elsewhere. Follow your instinct. It’s not just about grades, but about taste. Do what you like!

I passed the competitive exams and joined AgroParisTech (in Paris area). In this school, you learn all the life sciences, not just agronomy. I chose the environmental engineering specialization (waste management, water, soil, etc.). During my studies, I did a 6-month break in Canada, and 6 months in Peru for internships. It was exciting to discover other cultures, and I love traveling!

Once I graduated, I could work in any sector of activity that presents environmental risks. So I landed, somewhat by chance, in the quarry sector (extraction of construction materials); these sites have restauration obligations at the end of their exploitation, with strong stakes on biodiversity. After three and a half years “upstream” of construction, I arrived in the building sector.

I have always worked in an essentially male environment; the bosses of building companies are often men; and in the technical direction of the building federation there are not many female engineers…but the work is pleasant because diversity is recognized as an asset. Especially since one of the roles of the federation is also to promote the building trades among women. At the same time, the work/life balance is satisfactory from my point of view; I am a mother of 2 little boys !

Nevertheless, I have always had the impression that as a woman (and especially as a young woman!) I had to prove myself a little more and have to work harder to be heard and credible. But now, I have experience, people know me, and I have learned to get past that. And mentalities are evolving in the right direction. There are sexist remarks that people don’t dare make anymore.

So if I had any advice on this point, develop self-confidence. The rest will follow!

If you are interested in this sector, do not hesitate to contact me!

Written by Emmanuelle P.

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