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Blog: Tips for those starting to build a sustainability strategy

Last month we hosted a fantastic lunch and learn with smart infrastructure solutions provider Costain.

Costain works with some of the UK’s most resource-intensive sectors like defence, aviation, energy, and water, and have recently set out a Climate Change Action Plan that explains how they’re working towards achieving net-zero for their operations.

This plan will have the added benefit of reducing environmental impact across the projects they deliver, helping their clients work towards achieving their own goals too.

Here are their tips for those starting out with their sustainability journey.

1) Start with the data

Many SMEs struggle to measure their own carbon footprint effectively, so this is a good place to begin if you’re thinking about creating or renewing your sustainability strategy.

Audit what information you already collect and what you need to know in order to benchmark and report on your goals. And don’t worry too much about accuracy at the start; the quality of your data will only be as mature as where you are in your carbon reduction journey.

2) Don’t do too much

Once you’ve assessed where you are currently you should be able to see where you can make the most impactful improvements.

It’s easy to want to change everything, but focus on what’s possible with the resource that you have and prioritise the things that will make the most difference.

Concept design and feasibility studies could be great places to start before investing too much or confirming your own strategy.

3) Build on what you already do

The concept of sustainability isn’t new so you probably already do things that you can improve and evolve.

If you have initiatives that have proved successful in the past think about whether these can be built upon or rolled out wider, for example.

This might help alleviate concerns that can be felt when tackling such a huge topic!

4) Ensure expectations are clear

Developing and executing a sustainability strategy will be a cross-functional project but one that people may struggle to get behind if they can’t see how they can contribute, or if they don’t understand the topic clearly.

Carbon reduction plans should be shared company-wide and have buy-in from all teams so it’s important to reassure people involved (either directly or indirectly) that they don’t have to be a sustainability expert to make a difference and to reiterate what part they have to play.

5) Roll out changes as far as you can

Once you’ve seen good results from a sustainability initiative or change; make that change the new standard across the board – or as much as you can.

Where you can’t roll out something that has seen good results elsewhere, assess why, when you may be able to, or what alternatives may be available.

6) Start cost-efficient

If you can’t invest in new technology or materials, for example, consider what improvements can be made that don’t cost anything.

Newer equipment may naturally be more environmentally friendly, for example, but if you don’t have the money to invest then that isn’t the place to start. Instead, consider whether behavioural changes may give equal or better results, or explore interim solutions that still make a difference but don’t cost as much.

The MPA Innovate Lunch & Learn series brings our viewers bitesize thought leadership, opinions and discussion on key topics surrounding innovation and business. View the full discussion here.

The following resources and plans were cited during this interview:

Follow Costain or connect directly with Lara on LinkedIn here.