Tom Fleming meets a champion of the environment, clarinets and steam trains.
When we met, this passionate, enthusiastic and rather eccentric 49-year-old was in the midst of preparing his speech to be delivered to the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management at Staffordshire University that night.
The next evening Alastair Moseley was playing a piano recital for the CIWEM at the Reform club in London with all music relating to the environment. By day he is UK Water Sector director for leading engineering firm WSP.
What is immediately clear is that music and the environment obviously play a huge part in his life. “Music came first naturally as both my parents are musicians,” he said. “Mom is a pianist and my dad sings. When I was four years old, and without any parental pressure at all, I fell in love with the piano and started to learn. I can still remember the first piece I perfected, namely The Parade of the Tin Soldiers! The clarinet came into play when I was seven.”
So why didn’t this highly talented musician turn professional? “My parents were realistic about the tough lifestyle that budding performers did not enjoy. In the 1950s the outlook was bleak and although I don’t believe that the UK does enough to encourage young musicians in the present day, it was even worse then. I was good at sciences at school and my parents gently persuaded me that music could always be a hobby but that a career using the sciences would hold me in better stead.”
Instead of music, the career he chose was in engineering. “I like making processes work and if they don’t work I like finding out why. Civil Engineering was a suggestion by one of my teachers and I went for it.”
Fifteen years ago he started to specialise in the areas of water and the environment and both are now key passions. Indeed facts such as only three per cent of water on this planet is drinkable and only half of that is accessible should make everybody sit up and reassess the water situation both at home and in the workplace.
Alastair represents a team of 170 water and environment specialists within WSP, a company that was lauded as Sustainable Consultant of the Year last year by a leading property journal. The consultancy is one of the world’s fastest-growing design, engineering and management consultancies that specialises in property, transport and environmental projects, Alastair’s skills fit perfectly with its goal to create built and natural environments for the future.
His role is to bring together all the water skills within the business and harness them to work with local authorities, water companies, developers, industry – in fact anybody who comes into contact with regular supplies of water – to improve the efficiency of water supplies and sewerage systems.
He comes out with another thought provoking statement. “The way most homes use water in the UK is by switching on a tap when water collected in a rain barrel would be just as much fit for purpose. The ripple effect of using water out of the tap is immense. All water has to be treated, cleaned and pumped which has a significant effect on carbon emissions”.
At home himself Alastair is married to Cathy who works as a music teacher in Bromsgrove. They have three children, all of whom have inherited their parents’ love of music. Charlotte, aged 16, plays five instruments, Emily aged 14 plays three instruments and Ben, aged 11 is a marvel on the cello and piano.
This talented family live close to the Lickey Incline – no coincidence for Alastair when searching for a home as this well known beauty spot was once the scene of powerful steam engines pushing passenger and freight trains up one of the steepest railway lines in the UK and remains an informative and historic site for the history of the railway. “I inherited my passion for steam engines from my dad but have yet to convince other members of the family to do the same!” he said.
The more serious role of national President of CIWEM is to be well respected. The Institution is a community forum where people from all disciplines in business and industry come together to discuss water and environmental issues. Its common aim is to provide sustainable solutions to meet the needs of our developing towns and cities.
Alastair has very strong views on what he wants his legacy from the one year post to be – which is to help strengthen the school curriculum on water and the environment.
“I would love CIWEM to be recognised by schools in the same way that it is already recognised by most universities in the UK where, for the last 15 years, we have been invited to scrutinise their environmental courses to ensure that they are relevant to today’s world which is growing at 70 million per annum. That’s a lot of people.”
Alastair is working with a number of people in the professional education sector and taking advice on where CIWEM can target its efforts most effectively. He has also recently returned from a fact finding mission to Holland where environmental education is a key curricular subject already.
There is already a great swell of activity in this area especially by the government who wants every school to be a sustainable school by 2020. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) launched their Sustainable Schools Framework in 2006 when it set out long-term aspirations for schools to mainstream learning about sustainable development issues and sustainable practices into everyday school life. Part of this is the Eco-Schools framework which operates in 46 countries linking more than 40,000 schools.
Children are the driving force behind Eco-Schools – they lead the eco-committee and help carry out an audit to assess the environmental performance of their school. Through consultation with the rest of the school and the wider community it is the pupils that decide which environmental themes they want to address and how they are going to do it.
“I am a huge champion of the Eco-Schools programme which makes tackling sustainable issues easy for all schools, whether they are children’s centres, nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools or schools with special status. It would be ideal for CIWEM to become part of the process.”
Alastair has managed to combine his love of music with that of his passions of water and the environment in a musical extravaganza that is a rallying call for greater environmental awareness, and a call to action for individuals and businesses alike.
On Sunday April 26 the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra together with the City of Birmingham Choir will perform at The Environment Prom to be held at the Symphony Hall. Proceeds from the Prom will be distributed to the local Birmingham Community Foundation that helps more than 900 community related projects each year, CIWEM and Water Aid.
Alastair said: “This will be a fantastic event for hundreds to enjoy. As well as the world premiere of the celebrated ‘Ballads for a Living Planet’, flags should be at the ready for favourites such as ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Pomp and Circumstance’.
“In my year as President of what is the only chartered institution to represent all aspects of the management and protection of the environment, I wanted to do something arresting and I believe combining the skills of the wonderful BPO and CIWEM to stage this Prom is the perfect way to do it.”