Isabel McAllister
Experienced People

Isabel McAllister

Director of Sustainability

Sustainability, UK

After studying two degrees, Isabel knew she wanted a career in applied science and preferably in the built environment. With almost 20 years’ experience, Isabel is now Director of Sustainability at Mace, leading a high performing team that finds new and innovative ways to meet and exceed client challenges.

Tell us about your career and how it led you to Mace?

After I left school, I went to live in France and worked as an au pair and holiday rep. I then came home and studied environmental science and French at university and spent four months in Canada and one more year in France. Despite rocking the lab coat look, I realised that laboratory science wasn’t for me so I did a Master's in European Environmental Policy and Regulation.

I had the opportunity to write three dissertations in five years and each of them was applied and worked with industry. From that, I was able to figure out that applied science and the impact of pollution on people was what really interested me. I wanted a career that allowed me to actively address pollution and working in the built environment was the best way to address that challenge.

So I started working in 1998, coincidentally when sustainable building and construction was becoming better understood and was a growing market. I was really lucky in that I got to work on some mega projects as a client adviser and wrote a lot of policy and regulation. I then became an expert in costing green buildings – this was when Mace found me.

Why construction?
It’s amazing to be able to see a product and leave such a long-lasting legacy wherever you work. It’s also all about the amazing people you get to work with.
Why Mace?
I wanted to move to Mace because I was offered a blank sheet of paper role and I had the support of the Mace Group Board to develop and deliver a full programme of activity. We’ve achieved a massive amount but as Mace sits in a very influential space, there is so much opportunity to do a lot more. We need to leverage on our recent successes to achieve our goals outlined in our business strategy.
What has been your favourite achievement at Mace?
Difficult to say but certainly my role with the Mace Foundation has proved to be incredibly rewarding – setting it up and seeing though some of the partnerships we have with charities like Teenage Cancer Trust and London Wildlife Trust.

“I am always mindful that sustainability isn’t everyone’s day job so as a team we focus on finding a hook for everyone so that we can bring them along on the journey.”

What skills do you need to be good at your job?

Enthusiasm, energy and empathy. I am always mindful that sustainability isn’t everyone’s day job so as a team we focus on finding a hook for everyone so that we can bring them along on the journey.

Commercial knowledge is also incredibly helpful. I need to recognise which programmes of activity need investment and where we might expect to see commercial returns.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into what you do?
The most important thing is to experience the greatest diversity of environment or role that you can – understand what it’s like to be an investor, designer, contractor or occupier by finding opportunities for yourself. This enables you to become a highly effective adviser rather than a specialist who may have quite a linear perspective.
What do you see as the big trend for your specialism in the next five years?
Linking commercial value to wellbeing, green space, brand and reputation. I think that this area of activity is clarifying now and more and more organisations are able to demonstrate a business case. The time for academic speculation is past and it’s now about business gain.
If you hadn’t got into this line of work what do you think you might be doing?
I’m a failed medic! I did a mature student access course in my 20s and took the exams but I failed the final exam by 1%. On the bright side, serendipity intervened and my career is better than I ever could have imagined and I’m very happy I’ve ended up where I am now!