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Sustainability – Business Stories from the Inside


On Thursday 8th October, in Shoreditch Town Hall, Mott MacDonald hosted a set of talks on Sustainability, featuring presentations by speakers from a range of companies. Of course, sustainability was the core off all the speeches, but many focused on different aspects, such as methods of achieving sustainability, and why it is so vital, especially in the years to come. The audience was composed of representatives from a vast array of companies; these included train operating companies, utilities, contractors, developers, and construction companies.


Keith Howells, chairman of Mott Macdonald, provided the audience with an introduction to the significance of sustainability in business – sighting the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal as a key example. He explained to the audience that it’s not enough to simply project a false image of sustainability on the outside, whilst not reflecting it on the inside. Customers expect companies to behave honestly, transparently, and authentically; this requires strong leadership, and long-term commitment. He then concluded with the appropriate phrase, “Trust arrives on foot, but leaves on horseback.”

David Stronati, group sustainability manager at Mott MacDonald, then gave us an overview of the sustainability-based topics we would hear about: being innovative and competitive, procuring smartly, building climate resilience, creating social value, managing resources well, and embracing new technology. The broadness of these topics backed up his belief that sustainability is at the core of a business. He told us that in order for your business to really become sustainable, you will constantly have to scrutinise yourself and set audacious goals – David then recited the phrase we would hear a number of times throughout the day, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

The talks were put into small clusters of around two, each with their own headline, the first being ‘The commercial case for sustainability.’ Our primary speaker was Peter Harris, director of sustainability for EMEA at UPS. He told us the vision held by UPS, ‘Innovating in order to convert risk to opportunity.’ UPS transport goods worldwide – and many methods of transport receive lots of negative media coverage due to the effect they have of the environment – thus this poses a problem for UPS. However, they have used this as an opportunity to be innovative, and in fact came up with a number of solutions which increased the sustainability of the company, saved money, and also improved the company image. Some of the changes they made were introducing energy management dashboards in their buildings, running their fleets of heavy trucks on renewable natural gas, and they have recently set up down town micro-depots in Hamburg. The micro-depots in particular have been a success, due to the increased publicity they have created for UPS. Dax Lovegrove, director of sustainability and innovation at Kingfisher, carried on from Peter in a similar fashion. He spoke of some changes they made, such as using ‘tea bag technology’ packaging on the 100,000,000 bedding plants they sell each year, meaning they are all now polystyrene free, and reducing the cost by a third! He also spoke about how we need to think about the future, and get into new, uncomfortable territory. Both of these talks proved that, among many other things, sustainability can also be used as a positive method of improving the public image of a business.

Next up were Martin Perks, project director at Mott MacDonald, and Hannah Cowley, sustainable procurement lead at Thales UK. Their message was the importance of “using sustainable procurement to improve your bottom line.” The key point to take from their talks is that it’s an absolute necessity for buyers to not only engage, but also challenge, suppliers. Hannah has in fact written a guide, for external use, titled “Sustainable Procurement Buyer’s Guide,” which would undoubtedly prove to be a very useful read.

After this, Ian Alison, global head of climate resilience at Mott MacDonald, spoke in no uncertain terms of the threat posed to us by climate change, and our need to protect ourselves from this before it’s too late. Scientists predict a huge increase in frequency and intensity of extreme events, which our infrastructure isn’t built to handle – now is the opportunity to get ourselves into a more sustainable and resilient position than before. Julian Roberts, lead partner for strategic risk consulting at Willis, spoke of very valued role that the insurance sector plays, and their need to embrace the risks posed by climate change: physical, liability, and transitional.

The slogan for the next pair of talks was “Strengthening financial performance by adding social and economic value.” The group corporate responsibility director at QinetiQ, Sam Healy, spoke of their campaign, the 5% club, introduced to inspire and invest in the next generation. 5% of the member companies’ workforces are made up of young people on structure training schemes – the campaign attracted national coverage, and has now got over 100 members. Not only did this revitalise the graduate programme at QinetiQ, and help it to close its ageing skills gap, it has also improved the profile of the company, and has allowed QinetiQ to collaborate with other member companies. Sellafield were the 100th member of the 5% club, and Helen Fisher, their head of socio-economics, spoke next. She talked of the methods they have in place to improve local pathways to employment through the long term development of skills, training, and education, matched to the long-term needs of the Sellafield programme.

After a short networking break, we returned to our seats awaiting the next presentations under the heading “If sustainability makes you uncomfortable, it’s working.” To emphasise this point in a rather interesting way, the next speaker, Adriano Adewale, wasn’t exactly speaking… see video below…


Adriano Adewale


After the entertaining music, Paul Laidler, director at Natural Technology Developments, spoke of his company’s innovative new product, and asked those in the room for help with growing the business. The product was the Solar Angel PV-T, it solves the problem which most solar panels usually suffer from – if they get too hot, they produce less electricity. After this, Benjamin Kott, CEO and founder of EnergyDeck, explained why his business could provide a revolutionary service for years to come. EnergyDeck is a web-based platform, which would allow users to analyse buildings, and understand how much energy they use. It helps us to compare best practice, and see benchmarks. Buildings consume 40% of global energy, and 40% of that is wasted – if we could run buildings 20% more efficiently, that would save £8 billion annually.

The following heading was “Managing natural resources and assets to drive commercial efficiency.” Michael Alexander, head of environment, water, and agriculture sustainability at Diageo, talked about the moves they had made to improve their sustainability for years to come. One example from the UK was when they invested £17 billion in a bio energy plant in a new distillery. This will allow them to recycle 30% of the water they use, and will see a return on investment in 17 years. Although they may not make money from it for a while, Michael explained that they need to take a long term view, and have the foresight to realise that charges on water will only increase in the future. He explained that you not only need to look at the ROI, but also on the business value of a project like this. After that, lecturer at the University of Cambridge, Mohammed Elshafie, spoke about the construction industry having a habit of not learning from what we have built. He explained that many things we do, without really testing whether they are actually needed, or whether something better could be done. He went on to criticise the lack of feedback systems in construction, which seems to be present in all other sectors.

The final presentations were titled “Transforming performance with emerging technology.” Kulveer Ranger, director of public services at Atos, spoke of our need to embrace technology, and do things differently. He went on to tell us that the way in which we deliver public services has not really changed much in comparison to the way in which technology has developed. Succeeding him was Jens Dinkel, vice president for corporate sustainability at Siemens. His talk covered the use of technology to make a positive impact. This included a city performance tool, which would enable those in power to select bespoke technologies that offer their own cities maximum environmental and economic benefits.

Closing the show, Keith Howells provided us with a brief recap. He spoke of the importance of innovation when it comes to creating sustainable outcomes, how challenges convert risks to opportunities, how simple things like community engagement can eliminate risk, and how the use of technology can drive sustainable solutions.



Image credit – Virtual Sustainability Library

Tim Fitch

Tim Fitch has extensive civil engineering leadership experience, gained particularly in the geotechnical and rail sectors, where he has helped niche businesses become market leaders, and quadrupled turnover in Taylor Woodrow’s rail division.

With a strong background in business development, Tim spearheaded growth at Vinci’s civil engineering division, deploying customer relationship and pipeline management techniques to grow the company’s work in the transport and energy sectors.

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