Be comfortable being uncomfortable - with Annette Sweeney

Annette Sweeney enjoys being uncomfortable. Whether it's cycling 1,100km across the North Island or challenging herself professionally, you won't see her sitting comfortably for too long. Managing Director and Principal Environmental Engineer at Good Earth Matters Consulting, we caught up with her to hear about being a woman in leadership and winning gold at the 2020 ACE Awards.

Annette Sweeney

Annette Sweeney

How's the comedown after your win at the 2020 ACE Awards back in December?

It was certainly a great way to end off the year.

We'd won for the Waimakariri River Flood Protection project ten years ago in 2010 with ACE. At the time, we were recognised for our project management, consenting and consultation part of the project. In 2020, the project had just come to an end, and we were awarded for the delivery of the project. Particularly the way David Bridges had managed the construction phase within budget, ahead of time and working collaboratively with Environment Canterbury, contractors, stakeholders and landowners.

It was an amazing project to be a part of because most of the team members worked throughout those ten years and were totally committed to achieving the project objectives. It's rare to have that level of continuity in a decade-long project. It's not often that you get to see an infrastructure project through the whole project lifecycle. Often we're involved in the consenting side of a project, and that's it.

What led you to work in the consulting sector?

At university, I studied environmental engineering and then did a Master of Science specialising in Resource Management.

My first job was at a small consulting firm in Blenheim while I was still studying over the summer. I was offered a full-time position once I'd finished my studies and haven't looked back.

I love what I do. I enjoy the variety and problem-solving element of consulting. For me, it's just as much about the people I work with as it's about the work. I've been fortunate enough to work with some exceptional people and build some great professional relationships, many of which also become friendships.

After a short stint in the UK for a large company, I have been with Good Earth Matters Consulting since 2001. We're a small, agile company focused on ensuring we deliver quality advice that contributes positively to the communities we work with. Our clients share the same values and commitment to improving how water resources are managed in Aotearoa, which helps deliver meaningful outcomes.

Annette Sweeney

Annette and the Good Earth Matters team accepting their Gold award at the ACE Awards

How do you challenge yourself outside of work?

I've just finished Cape to Cape, a two-week cycle trip across the North Island and we cycled 1,100km from the east to the west cape lighthouses and explored some remote and beautiful parts of the country. It was great travelling with Escape Adventures, who design their tours to support local communities and ensure they're zero waste and environmentally sustainable.

I ride for pleasure - to stay fit and to spend time with the family. I recently bought an e-Bike so, when I can, I can avoid using my car and cycle the 23kms into work!

We're into the new year; how was 2020 for you

I needed the holiday, that's for sure. We all did!

At Good Earth Matters, we were able to adapt relatively easily when the lockdown happened. We'd just made some IT decisions which meant that our team were well set-up to efficiently work from home while staying connected online. I remember being on a lot of Zoom calls. We'd have Zoom drinks and morning teas to keep the team connected, and we focused a lot on building wellbeing and resilience.

It was challenging with clients not being able to have that face-to-face connection, but we made it work.

Now that the Waimakariri Project is complete, what is Good Earth Matters focusing on now?


We have a lot of challenges in front of us when it comes to water in Aotearoa. From the changes coming up to service delivery and regulation, the need to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai, and community expectations on how we manage our resources, it's big! It's challenging for everyone, and we're working hard to make sure we have a mindset that embraces these new challenges and doesn't settle for business as usual.

You're a woman in a leadership position. How'd you get to where you are?

Go for it. Say "YES" often and taking the opportunities that came my way.

Work on your leadership -it's not something that generally just happens by mistake, and you need to be very intentional in building and demonstrating leadership skills and attributes.

Find a good mentor and surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you. Often throughout my career, it's the people around me who've inspired me to take that next step when I sometimes didn't have the confidence in myself.

It's important to get comfortable with uncertainty and constantly be pushing outside of your comfort zone. The more you practice something and put yourself out there, the better you'll become.

Connect with Annette Sweeney on LinkedIn

Next steps

Entries into the 2021 ACE Awards close 30 March. Enter your project into the 2021 ACE Awards