After graduating from Imperial, Iain Purves (MEng Mechanical Engineering 2010) was motivated to seek a career centred around social justice.

Now working as Head of Resource Recovery at Loowatt, a company striving to improve global sanitation, Iain’s passion for social justice has blended well with his interests in environmental sustainability and human health. Outside of work, Iain enjoys music and art.  

Iain has shared his story as a speaker for The Great Exhibition Road Festival event: ‘Innovating for a Greener Future’, panelled alongside fellow alumni Flora Weil and Ryan Mario Yasin. 

What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?

In class I acquired a strong analytical foundation for solving difficult problems.

What extra-curricular activities were you involved in?

Outside of class I was a member and President of Imperial College Juggling Society. I was also a member and Social Secretary of Imperial College Choir. Some of my fondest Imperial memories revolve around the choir.

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

I enjoyed the foundational engineering courses with as many creative modules as I could fit in – including Design, Art and Creativity, Design via The Royal College of Art, Music Technology, and Music and Western Civilisation, which were available to me at the time.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

I was inspired seeing complex engineering problems being worked on within the department and having exposure to leading experts in the field.

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

The Great Hall where we practised in choir.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now.

I am Head of Resource Recovery at Loowatt, working on creating an affordable, sustainable, and desirable waterless toilet system suitable for the over-two billion people in the world without access to safe sanitation. My job centres around waste processing machinery design, energy recovery, nutrient recovery, materials recovery, and circular economy topics.

How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?

The foundational engineering knowledge I gained at Imperial has paid off in multiple practical ways so far - particularly with regard to approaching calculations of all types needed for the design of equipment, processes, and systems.

What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

Some highlights include receiving The Observer Ethical Award 2013, speaking at FSM2 conference, and working in field in Madagascar and the Philippines.

There haven’t been too many lowlights, but I have had to personally process tonnes of Loowatt’s human waste…

What inspired you to drive forward work in sustainability?

My initial motivations were more about social justice than the environment itself. However, I’m now a passionate environmentalist and live a vegan lifestyle. I feel very lucky to be able to work in sanitation, which touches on social justice, health, as well environmental issues.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about climate change and global warming, in your opinion?

That renewable energy and new technology is necessarily more expensive than fossil fuel alternatives.

What recent developments or innovations in your sector give you hope for the future of environmental action?

Recent detailed studies have begun to reveal the true environmental impact of uncontrolled disposal of human waste versus say, energy recovery. Carbon credits for sanitation can be built upon this, potentially unlocking financing for wider rollout of waterless sanitation globally.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

Undertaking detailed design and design reviews for machinery, having technical correspondence with customers about waste processing and end-of-life considerations, doing modelling and analysis for technology road mapping, and managing a small team of engineers!

What are your plans for the future?

To contribute as far as possible to a sustainable global sanitation system, plus make art and music.

What would be your advice for current students?

Choose something rewarding to work on rather than worrying about a particular career path.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

Imperial is such a well-recognised institution. I am proud to have studied here and feel lucky to have benefited from such a good education.