Fiona Mountfort, environmental manager

Fiona_Mountfort.jpgFiona Mountfort is a trailblazer – a woman who has raised a major construction company’s environmental performance to the extent that she was an invited speaker at last year’s Contractors’

Federation conference and is due to address a soil-erosion conference in Auckland in June.

Mountfort’s success has been the result of a two-way effort: her hard work and constant focus on what was required “to get it right” environmentally, and the support and encouragement of her employer, Drury-based HEB Construction.

After gaining a parks, recreation and tourism management degree at Lincoln University (and being only two papers short of a degree in resource studies), Mountfort worked for

Environment Bay of Plenty as a compliance officer, which brought her into contact with earthworks contractors.

“I could see they often got it wrong or didn’t comply [with environmental requirements] because they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. They were relying on what the engineer told them,” she says.

Mountfort liked what she saw of one contractor, HEB, and the work of its environment consultant, Lisa Sutherland, whom she came to regard as an excellent role model. So she asked to join the company and did so in August 2005, initially as health and safety manager then as environmental manager. Her task, helped considerably by the knowledge gained in her previous job, was to widen the company’s focus on construction to include environmental performance. 

“A lot of how I’ve come to be in this industry is I’ve liked what it’s about, I’ve liked the people and I’ve asked to do every job I’ve done,” she says.

“I’ve gone after what I’ve wanted, I guess. I’ve improved HEB’s environmental performance, but not single-handedly. I’ve had very little restriction, I’ve had support, I’ve had encouragement, I’ve had an excellent culture base.

“HEB went along with the flow. It wasn’t a corporate company that had a whole lot of approvals processes to go through. We based our changes on working with the guys on the ground.”

Mountfort says she knew she wouldn’t fix everything overnight. “I probably didn’t feel the change for two years and then all of a sudden one day I sat back and went, Hah, I can really see where this hard work we’ve been putting in is paying off.”

But there is always room for improvement. Challenges include keeping pace with HEB’s rapid growth and therefore more projects, and concentrating on sustainability and educating staff.

Perhaps inevitably, Mountfort has poured so much of herself into making a success of her demanding job that at 35 she is now taking stock of her work-life balance. She wouldn’t work for any construction company other than HEB, but if she were to move to another job it would be that of environmental consultant.

That said, Mountfort is fulsome in her praise for the mentoring she has received from Noeline Hodgins, formerly HEB compliance manager and now human resources and organisation manager, and for the backing the company has given her.

“HEB have been absolutely supportive and encouraging and worked with me in every way possible to grow my career.  They’ve given me the space to be able to grow my role and through that the company’s environmental performance has become better and better over time.

“When issues have arisen I’ve been able to sit down with them, we’ve talked through things and have re-negotiated how things work.  There has been excellent senior management buy-in.

“I would say from a female’s perspective, within the company I haven’t seen and I haven’t personally experienced any differentiation between the genders. HEB is an excellent employer.”

Next: Tania Wolfenden, health & safety manager

Contractor Vol.33  No.4  May 2009
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