Wild Geese: Roger Strevens, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, Oslo
Customers need to know their carbon footprint
Growing up on a dairy farm 10 miles outside Athlone, the only thing Roger Strevens ever really knew about Scandinavia was the Vikings.
But all that changed some years later when, at a kayak training camp in Spain, a Norwegian girl caught his eye.
Fast forward a few years and Strevens (36) is now based in Oslo where he holds the position of vice-president, global head of environment at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, a major shipping company.
The company transports cars, trucks, combine harvesters and just about any other machine on wheels and it is part of Strevens’s job to keep the environmental impact of such an operation low.
Recently he was back in his alma mater, Trinity College Dublin, for their first “global graduate forum”. He still credits the “rock solid education” he got there for helping him on his way to a successful career.
After graduating in 2000 with a degree in mechanical engineering, he went to work for what was then Jones Environmental, a company based in Citywest, Dublin, whose speciality was water treatment facilities for towns and cities. He learned “a hell of a lot” in his four years there but being “a relatively footloose young fella” didn’t want to stay on for ever.
He was at the time a member of the Irish flatwater kayak racing squad and had met the Norwegian girl while training in Seville.
Smitten, he decided to strike out for Scandinavia, where he settled with his future wife, Hege, a radiologist, in Norway in 2004.
“Norway is a fantastic place,” he says. “I find that there’s actually a lot in common between the people here and in Ireland, perhaps because of the shared history.
“Norwegians are a lot more reserved on the face of things than the Irish are, but you very quickly get past that.”
He says a good measure of a country is its people’s sense of humour.
“And here they have the same sort of quirky, silly sense of humour that you find in Ireland and I thought, ‘Yeah, these people are all right’.”
Kayaking was his initial focus and he worked a bit-part job for a year or so but “if you’ve been employed from the shoulders up for years and suddenly you’re employed from the shoulders down, it can get very frustrating. You need something which challenges you.”
He got the heads up about a vacancy at Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics from a member of his kayak club.
“I was really ready when the opportunity came knocking around the end of 2005,” he recalls. He applied for the job and got it.
“They created an environmental product management role and I worked through various levels in that, bringing environmental solutions for ships to market and championing new products.
“Of all shipping companies, WWL would be at the very top of the pile in terms of environmental performance,” he says, adding that the family who own it believe in doing more than the regulatory minimum.
“Part of the reason for that is that regulations have a tendency to get tighter all the time and, by being ahead of the regulations, you figure out the best way to be compliant.”
Strevens helped develop methods to remove oil from water, improve combustion and deal with ballast water. The experience gave him a good knowledge of the industry and the environmental challenges it faces.
He rose through the ranks and, after six years, became vice-president, global head of environment.
As regulations become increasingly strict, Strevens says there are lots of commercial opportunities in environmental auditing. Furthermore, the financial sector now pays close attention to a company’s compliance record. They see it as a health indicator, he says.
“If [companies] are performing well environmentally, they’re probably performing pretty well overall, they’re probably pretty well run.”
So his job is two-pronged. “One is strategic, trying to figure out the best ways to be compliant because we basically know what targets we’ve got. Then the second part is how to make green from green.
“That takes ingenuity but it can also “create a lot of value,” he says.
“For example, customers increasingly have to know what their carbon footprint is. If you can tell them what the carbon footprint of their outbound logistics is, you help them. We can do that and we can do it according to recognised standards and audited results.”
It is all quite removed from his boyhood on the farm in Westmeath, and he still has a “huge affection and sentimental attachment” to Ireland. He goes back about three times a year with the children to see their grandmother but Norway is home for the foreseeable future.
“I’m 10 years into a life sentence in Norway,” he jokes, “It’s a global world so you never know for sure but certainly it’s home at the moment, without any question, and I’m very happy here.”