Mark Simonds: Rothesay Netherwood School (2008), Environment Manager- Transport For London

Posted: 11 April 2023

Mark Simonds (pictured second from the left, next to King Constantine) is a 2008 graduate of Rothesay Netherwood School in New Brunswick, Canada, who developed a strong spirit of environmentalism during his time at school. Mark credits his Round Square and wider RNS experiences with giving him the tools to adapt and prosper on his life and work journey which now sees him living in the UK, with a Romanian Canadian partner, and working on environmental projects.

Mark’s family has a long history in Southern New Brunswick. His antecedents arrived from the UK in the late 1700’s and his father’s people were involved with the founding of the city of St. John.

“We come from a long line of Irish and Scottish immigrants and Southern New Brunswick was an insular community with not a lot of diversity when my siblings and I were growing up. Most people were Caucasian with British lineage. When I arrived at RNS, I found a pocket of multiculturalism with students from all over, Mexico, South America, Asia.”

Mark was part of the RNS delegation that attended the Round Square International Conference hosted by Gordonstoun School in 2006 and several of those experiences still resonate with him. He remembers long conversations with students from Daly College in Indore on the pre-conference tour of the UK and has vivid memories of visiting Abbotsholme School.

“I still remember many of the things I learned on that trip. There were so many people my age but with completely different life experiences. I remember being in a Baraza breakout group and one of the girls spoke about how her culture objectivized her, and how her opportunities were limited because of her gender. Understanding other people’s realities gave me a clearer understanding of my own identity and the privilege I enjoyed.”

Mark also remembers standing in front of the whole Conference and making a presentation on RNS which had just been officially inducted as a Round Square School. It was an experience he can still vividly recall, standing in front of his peers and wanting to shine a spotlight on the quality of RNS and the benefits they were already seeing on campus from taking part in Round Square. The conference served to reinforce to Mark that stepping outside your comfort zone and seizing opportunity is a crucial part of learning. Even if it means rappelling down a vertical cliff on the seaside, he said with a smile as he recalled other memories from the conference.

Mark also credits RNS with equipping him to be more resilient and teaching him the importance of framing success or the lack thereof in the right manner. Like many young Canadians, Mark loved the game of hockey. After graduating from RNS in 2008, he didn’t go straight to university. Instead, he attended a couple of hockey training camps hoping eventually to make the big leagues.

“I wish someone had given me a bigger dose of realism” he says with a smile.

He was cut from camp and played at the lower tier of Junior hockey before finding the fortitude to move on and attend St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, an institution close to his heart he says while wearing his Grandfather’s X-ring. He started in engineering, but then switched to a general science degree majoring in chemistry. Upon graduating, Mark found that he had a growing interest in the environment and credits his life at RNS with providing the catalyst. His mother was a teacher at RNS, so the family lived on the beautiful 200-acre hilltop campus looking down on the Kennebecasis River.

“Growing up on campus was really special. I treated it as my personal jungle gym. I was always running around on the trails and spending time on and by the water. We skated and cross-country skied, played all kinds of sports year-round, and did winter camping.”

After graduation, Mark considered the law and went as far as taking his LSAT’s. He moved to Ontario where his parents were then living as he contemplated his future and there he met and fell in love with Viana, whose family were Romanian immigrants. “I had some goals, but life got in the way” Mark said. Viana was moving to the UK to pursue a law degree; Mark went with her and soon realized that a career related to the environment was what he sought.

“I’ve always had this philosophy that ultimately, we humans must have a symbiotic relationship with nature. Because of consumption and the way we use resources, this relationship is getting out of balance.”

While Mark’s first exposure to nature had been growing up on the shores of the beautiful Kennebecasis River, a stone’s throw from the Bay of Fundy replete with its pods of huge humpback whales and the world’s greatest tidal range, he now found himself in the urban environment of central London.

However environmental issues were still a big part of his work and Mark got his first experience working in land planning on the controversial third runway at the UK’s largest airport, Heathrow. He then capitalised on an opportunity to work as a consultant for Environmental Resources Management on Hs2, the high-speed rail link between London and the Midlands which is the biggest engineering project currently underway in Europe. Mark began working with landowners, helping them to understand the impact of the project on their property and how Hs2 would protect ancient woodland or sites of special scientific interest. This gave him insight into understanding the legislative context which governs the delivery of these massive, environmentally impactful projects. He also learned about the value of taking stringent measures to protect threatened areas and the importance of trying to be a good neighbour to those whose property and livelihoods were being affected and who had misgivings about what the future might hold. Mark considers compassion, the most Hahnian of values, to be an important ingredient in building these relationships.

For the past three years, Mark has worked for Transport for London (TfL). TfL is a huge organization that manages London’s rail, underground, road, taxi and river networks. Aligning himself with mentors on the environmental side of major infrastructure projects he is now an Environment Manager in the Sustainability and Corporate Environment team.

“I’m working on our long-term energy strategy and other decarbonization initiatives. The UK government has set a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and TfL has committed to achieving net-zero operational carbon emissions by 2030. Currently, I’m leading packages of work which focus on ways in which we can phase out fossil fuel-based assets across our whole operational space.”

Another aspect of Mark’s job is to find reliable sources of renewable energy, and he’s in a hurry. “Basically, from now through to 2030 we are trying to source 50% of our energy needs from renewable sources like offshore wind farms and solar installations.”

Mark’s work with the environment complements the interests and lifestyle that he first developed on the RNS campus and Mark and Viana have recently indulged their love of nature with a trip to Norway where they witnessed the world’s biggest reindeer migration. “It was August, and we were staying in a log cabin, and it snowed!” Mark laughs. The couple have also been lucky to visit many parts of Europe and North Africa. “I still need to be outside for part of everyday. Going for long walks in nature is an essential part of good mental health.”

When asked what advice he would have for his younger self Mark talks about not being afraid to throw yourself into things even if they turn out not to be quite the right fit.

“It’s good to have goals and plans to help you achieve them, but sometimes life just gets in the way, and you have to follow your heart and your intuition.”

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