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Our Sweco graduates share their climate action priorities

Climate action is needed right now, but what exactly should those with the power to make meaningful changes, be changing? We asked our graduates to share their thoughts on the issues – and opportunities. Read on to find out what really matters to the next generation of planners, designers, ecologists and engineers.

 

Claire Chapuy, Graduate Energy Engineer:

To me, there is no genuine climate action unless every entity takes their own share of responsibility and ‘walks the walk’ of their ‘climate talk’. As important as ensuring the work companies do is sustainable, I feel there is not enough focus on whether a company itself is making a stand and setting the correct example for its peers and customers.

This can be achieved via boosting their own Net Zero approach using a life-cycle analysis of their operations, fostering an inclusive and sustainability-focused company culture, encouraging things like sustainable diets and habits via office initiatives, taking steps to only be powered renewably and supporting local, environmental campaigns and charities.

Connor Rennie, Trainee Project Manager:

Large organisations have the scale, flexibility, resources and expertise to achieve ambitious climate goals. Global carbon emissions must be reduced to combat climate change, and so a major reduction in the amount of energy used by big companies should be a priority. Organisations must educate staff around efficient energy use whilst also behaving more responsibly themselves. Energy consumption is responsible for 1/3 of global carbon dioxide emissions, therefore reducing usage will have far-reaching environmental effects – and energy reduction can also result in large cost savings whilst improving sustainability.

Georgina Buffham, Graduate Engineer:

I think we need to work on changing the way we think about transport. For the past few years, the government has reported the transport sector as the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the UK, and the recent petrol shortage has shown us why: a lot of car drivers still prioritise their own convenience over the future of the world and others’ right to safe transport. We need to stop seeing cars as the default method of travel, and improve alternative transport systems.

Paula Barrientos Gil, Graduate Building Sustainability Consultant:

Local, sustainable businesses need more government and private sector support, and our own consumption habits are essential in search of fairer and more sustainable systems. The company, in this case, would act as a bridge to direct employers and collaborators to specific smaller businesses passing an honest and why not a rotative list of suppliers, who in turn give better prices for this alliance. It is important for me as I can get these benefits as an employer; it is essential for the local development, and it is vital for the planet because more than anything, we need to be informed and aware citizens.

Lauren Cunningham, Trainee Engineer:

For many of us the strategic road network is a key method of travel and in terms of economics, poor road infrastructure would have devastating effects on the economy. We see all too often though,  the severe pot holes up and down our strategic network – but for countries with more extreme temperatures, they’re facing real challenges. As a Highways Engineer, introducing short term & long term mitigation measures to avoid pot holes occurring is a persistent challenge. With Greenhouse Gases being the most significant factor to climate change, there are three manager risks to road infrastructure associated with climate change:

1. Damage due to excessive precipitation

2. Freeze-thaw cycles

3. Cracking due to high temperatures

As always reducing GHG is the number one priority to target the root cause. In the meantime, I believe we need to be looking at different materials and adapting the “typically used” materials to ones that will sustain the severe climate changes we can expect in different regions. Although the initial cost of these materials may be more expensive it would be interesting to see how these costs compare to maintenance costs. Similarly, I think we at Sweco can continue driving the discussions around alternative, more sustainable (albeit sometimes more expensive) material options with our clients for all infrastructure types, understanding the full project life cycle implications and overall benefits.

Emma Howarth, Graduate Ecologist:

I think government and big businesses should focus on reducing energy usage. It’s one of the largest contributors to climate change. There are so many things that businesses can do, for example, why do office blocks in cities need to keep their lights on overnight? It’s such an unnecessary waste of energy. Companies should focus on a few different areas:

1. Reducing energy use: For example by using low energy light bulbs, installing double (or triple) glazing and make sure their offices are insulated (maybe even with green walls).

2. Capturing their own energy: There should be incentives for installing solar panels on roofs so large businesses can use their own energy and reduce their carbon footprint.

3. Sourcing from renewables: There could be some sort of incentive for companies to source their energy from renewable sources. I doubt businesses would agree to pay more each month to do this but if there was a government incentive that could help! Companies could then sign up to source their energy from mainly renewable sources. The more companies that do this then the more pressure there will be to invest further into renewable energy!

Engineering/architecture businesses in particular should have a focus on climate conscious materials/designs. They should try and encourage clients to use better sourced materials, and to include features such as solar panels and green roofs/walls into designs to help reduce the carbon footprint of the build (and also save them money in the long run).

Sarah Whelan, Graduate Transport Planner:

Targets need to be set in the shorter term, a 10 year goal is also necessary but it doesn’t emphasise the urgency of the climate emergency. By setting short 6 month or 1 year goals we will be forced to act and can see where we are falling behind or excelling sooner, in time to make adaptations. Goals should include limitations on business travel and travel mode, adapting energy use in now emptier offices and increased clarity on procurement and investment in order to place a responsibility on big business in investing ethically.

James Clarke, Graduate Sustainability Consultant:

For me, one of the biggest issues is pollution of the oceans through plastic waste and chemical contamination. This is an important issue for all nations across the planet and, if not properly addressed, will have a devastating impact on the natural maritime ecosystem and habitat. I strongly believe that government action must be taken, but it must come from all international governments because this is an international problem not isolated to a single country.

Helene Piellard, Graduate Carbon Management Consultant:

Reporting all scopes of GHG emissions alongside carbon reduction targets and a roadmap to achieve them should be made mandatory through international standards. Scope 3 emissions are very often left out despite representing a significant proportion of an organisation’s footprint. Reducing these sources of emissions will play a crucial role in reaching net zero targets. Collaboration within industry is now one of the most important keys to efficiently tackle climate change throughout the supply chain. Aligned with this is the need for free access to sector-specific guidance and databases. Read Helene’s blog on climate action conversation priorities here. 

Leonora Hunt, Graduate Ecologist:

The best single point of action that government or big businesses can adopt is to recognise the value of ecosystem services impacted by their policies or business, in their finances. Working in ecology, I work with our clients to improve their impact on biodiversity, ideally leading to a net gain. Recognising the value of biodiversity in economics was discussed in the ground-breaking 2021 Dasgupta report, and should its recommendations be adopted, the natural world would be as important a consideration as raw materials, infrastructure or skills.  I can’t imagine a better world than one where nature is recognised as having tangible value; there are too many people that fail to recognise its intrinsic value

Mollie Gillett, Graduate Environment Consultant:

I believe management of waste within big corporations could make a huge difference despite being such a small step. As an environmental consultant, I’m all about what small steps businesses could integrate within their day to day functions to become more environmentally friendly. Whether that be reducing the amount of paper use by converting to digital formats, as a consultancy you can avoid using paper copies, whilst keeping update with modern technology. Within office environments, implementing a more thorough recycling strategy, by providing sperate waste bins.

Edward Taylor, Assistant Engineer:

In the sector of geotechnical engineering, it is common practice to ensure a solution provides short and long-term resilience to climate change, hence, reducing the impact of future extreme weather events. It should be equally as common to ensure the solution is reached using low-carbon initiatives wherever possible during the duration of a project. To achieve this, the government must offer more incentives and rewards for investing in lower-carbon investigation and construction methods, ultimately providing a nationally competitive low-carbon engineering market.

Sarah Anderson, Transport Planner:

I believe that there continues to be too high a reliance on the use of private vehicles. On a small level, swapping a journey by car for another means of travel can generally be easily achieved.  On a larger scale being encouraged and provided with the means to do so by local Governments will hugely make an impact on GHG emissions. Local and National policies and guidance needs to advance further than it already has to reduce significantly our reliance on private car as a means of travel, and instead begin to promote and provide high quality active travel infrastructure.

Henry Giblin, Graduate EIA Consultant:

I believe the key into turning climate talk into climate action is to make being sustainable and having a sustainable lifestyle more convenient for everyone. Increasing convenience for people and educating them on the positive impact they can make can result in a snowballing effect of positive environmental change. This matters to me as we must stop being concerned about things out of our control, but focus on things we can change, to help unite people with the goal of creating a cleaner planet that will allow future generations to flourish.

Elen Falkingham, Graduate Engineer

An easy way that companies can make a big change is by reducing the paper and plastic waste they produce. Nowadays almost everything can be done electronically without the need to print out endless documents. However some companies are still guilty of giving out unsustainable merchandise to clients and colleagues. Companies also receive a lot of plastic in their packaged deliveries of technology. Subsidies for buying equipment that has been made more sustainably with less packaging, and making recycling available in all offices would be simple and efficient ways of cutting waste. 

Join our #Conversation26 for COP26 and send your thoughts on what businesses and governments need to do to drive meaningful change – or arrange a climate consultation with one of our experts today by emailing COP26@sweco.co.uk.