Leading Voices in Global Sustainability
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Regional Marketing Lead,
Black & Veatch
10 Questions to Change The World
How does climate change and the global sustainability agenda impact on your corporate strategy for the next 3-5 years?
From climate change to COVID-19, our world is experiencing a moment of profound recalibration. The engineering and construction industry -- companies like Black & Veatch -- will literally design and build the infrastructure that can decarbonize our planet, protect against the impacts of climate change and create a more sustainable future. I believe it has already transformed our industry and will continue to do so. Everything we do now is focused on our mission of 'building a world of difference through innovation in sustainable infrastructure' -- so from completely transforming our organisation at the end of last year to better solving global megatrends like climate change to reskilling our professionals, the changes are going even deeper into how we deliver infrastructure so as to reduce the environmental impacts of the materials and resources we use through to the positive social impacts that we can make through our work. I'm proud to be an employee-owner of a company like Black & Veatch who is embracing these tenets.
What is one ‘sustainability hack’ you’d recommend to an organisation wanting to transform into a more sustainable operation?
It all starts with purpose; and for more established organisations, revisiting and rediscovering that purpose in today's context. Organisations need to focus on what they are good at and where they can make an authentic, material impact.
Organisations need to focus on what they are good at and where they can make an authentic, material impact.
Why have you embraced sustainability in your professional career?
I started a career in public relations and media to influence and make a difference. With that, I've had many opportunities to shape what would've been called then Corporate Social Responsibility or Citizenship programs of large organisations. On one hand, such work appealed to my sense of ethics, while on the other - more often than not - my advice stuck. I discovered I was good at it and understood it just as much as others; so whenever the opportunity arose to influence, I embraced it. Same happened at Black & Veatch some five years ago when we started to really look at sustainability in a modern context.
What are some of the wins you have achieved in your career to date?
I was part of a team that helped Ireland achieve its 2005 EU packaging recycling target a year ahead of schedule. Given budgets, the efforts depending largely on communications and we adopted social behavioural marketing science into our campaign knowing that to create change we had to target the mass population of people who we believed would recycle only
It all starts with purpose; and for more established organisations, revisiting and rediscovering that purpose in today's context.
if there was something in it "for me". Queue hours pouring over data and calculating that if the average household recycled all their Christmas packaging - bottles, cardboard, wrapping paper- they would save enough on refuse charges to afford a new iPod.
What do you want to have achieved before you retire?
I'd like to look back on two or three moments where discourse I've led has influenced others and eventually created change. For example, BV actively led the discourse on the nexus of energy and water - the awareness on the interplay of our precious resources - and we introduced the topic to many mainstream media in Asia. Soon we started to see this topic lead conference agendas in the region and in turn we secured a role on Singapore's Deep Tunnel Sewerage System, Phase 2 - at the heart of this is a facility now coined the Tuas Nexus. It's worth looking into as an example of large-scale circular economy infrastructure.
What advice would you give for people looking to start or advance their career in sustainability?
Play to your strengths. It's the same kind of advice I'd give to companies too -- where can you make an authentic, material impact?
You don't need to look too far! Today, we're awash with people in our social media networks who bring inspiration everyday through sharing their challenges and ideas -- just from being who they are.
I have colleagues from more than 20 years ago who bravely set up consultancies like Stronger Stories, sustainability industry professionals that show up on my feeds like Michelle Lancaster at Microsoft, or entrepreneurs and clients like Sandhya Sriram who set up Shiok Meats and is a driving force behind the emerging alternative protein space.
It is a broad area and depending on your skills and what you want to do, you can probably tackle it from a number of avenues. Data and compliance. Program and stakeholder management. The storytelling and influencing. Even as a sustainability manager for a large company you've got to have a broad skill set.
Alternatively, if the answer is you want to make a difference, perhaps it is about finding that cause or company that aligns with your goals? You may not have to change your career but move to a company where you can have the biggest impact. Play to your strengths. It's the same kind of advice I'd give to companies too - where can you make an authentic, material impact?
Who do you go to for inspiration in this space?
- Keith Morrison Black & Veatch-
How do you offset your own footprint?
Badly. But it's important to be honest with ourselves. I make token efforts here and there but strive to still make those efforts. I walk and get the bus to my office. I've learnt to be efficient taking showers and am quite water conscious having worked in the industry since 2010. I'm conscious of the connection between my diet and its impact on the environment. And, finally, pure serendipity, I hate shopping for clothes.
What is your one ‘guilty / non-eco’ pleasure? (that you can’t live without)
Living in tropical Singapore, I can't sleep without aircon. And then there's air travel, although I'm buoyed by some of the work BV has started doing on alternative aviation fuels.
If you had to choose one person to lead the world in sustainability, who would it be and why?
No, I wouldn't choose one person. If we look back at 2017 and the universality principle that underscored the formation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there was a clear recognition that we have to do this together. From the tacit implication that it is ok for businesses to solve global sustainability issues and equally necessary for business to be involved through to creation of SDG 17 itself, the movement has matured and recognises that we all need to be leaders in this area. It is everyone's responsibility.
"If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours you could - and should - see a wonderful recovery.”
- Sir David Attenborough