Written by Karen Donoghue, Senior Manager Internal & Corporate Marcomms at WMGC

This was far from the case at the first workshop of the Partners West Midlands Cross Sector Initiative (CSI) on Green Growth and Sustainability, such was the energy in the room. Immediately, attendees were keen to get to know each and share why they were taking part.

Opening the session

The session was opened and led by Luke Strictland, Net Zero Advisory Lead at Mott MacDonald, who asked all to share where we thought we were in the space as a self-diagnostic. With attendees from such mixed organisations as Avanti West Coast to Pertemps, from BMet to Wilmott Dixon, the answers were certainly along a very sliding scale. After some discussion, Luke shared that some of the biggest threats to not committing to a green, sustainable strategy included:

  • Talent (acquisition and retention)
  • Loss of clients / customers
  • Penalties
  • Reputational damage
  • Rising costs

However, some of the real challenges shared by us all include:

  • Available data
  • Educating the workforce
  • Encourgaing behaviour change / influencing those outside of your direct control
  • Rising costs
  • Time required
  • Procurement and suppliers
  • Reducing business travel

Some of this highlighted the potential gap between where we are now and the ambition to be a Net Zero West Midlands Combined Authority region by 2041. Luke also shared the sobering statistic that 80% of the workforce needed by 2030 are already working – so a huge amount of upskilling and perception change is needed before then.

Tackling the big questions

Fittingly enough, our first breakout question was: ‘are we doing enough compared to the scale of the challenge.’ Colleagues discussed initiatives such as Wilmott Dixon’s 20p per mile payment for anyone cycling into work to trying to get to creative solutions with supply chains. One of the biggest challenges emerged that if companies were not measured in their carbon footprint, far less was done – therefore the tenet ‘what’s measured gets done’ seems to ring true.

Heather Rigby, Mott MacDonald’s Group Sustainability Advisor, shared the story of Mott MacDonald’s sustainability journey. She spoke about what exactly net zero means for them:

  • Reviewing the boundaries for reporting
  • Setting interim reduction targets
  • Reducing carbon footprint

Knowing how the company can make a greater impact looking beyond its footprint, which includes its building and civil engineering consultancy business, as well as their global consultancy services. It felt that the experts from Mott MacDonald were very open with the group about why they believe coalitions and partnerships are more important than ever and that key for them is winning over both ‘hearts and minds’ in this space of not only partners, but colleagues.

Amongst colleagues, for example inertia as ‘business as usual’ cannot be underestimated. Changing that inertia, coupled with ever-increasing demands on time, is one of the biggest challenges.

Team work makes the dream work

The next breakout session saw us discussing how to build the right team to enable action. Responses included:

  • Finding enabler colleagues with honesty, integrity and passion for change and moving this space forward
  • Stop being too end goal focussed and just go with the changes as they happen
  • Build green growth and sustainability into colleagues’ objectives and/or pay structure
  • Reward collaborative behaviour

Oliver Campton, Strategic Project Manager at Warwick Business School then shared insight into how to manage behaviour and culture change, sparking great debate and a whole host of related articles shared on the day and subsequently into the shared LinkedIn group created by the group.

Ideas for change

As the day came to a close, energy levels were still high as we moved to discuss the Megatrends driving change in today’s and how we as a society, and businesses, will respond to them:

  • Connecting Big data
  • Automation / AI / Nanotechnology
  • Urbanisation and future mobility
  • Demongraphy and society
  • Climate change, net zero and sustainability
  • Outer space

It was then time for the Hive Mindset group discussion to collectively suggest ideas we can grow and nuture within our own businesses. They were in turn refreshing and challenging:

  • A clamp-down on single-use anything
  • Vegan by default policy on all catering at events internally and externally
  • Setting up ‘Business Schpock’
  • Ensuring external audit of activity in this space
  • Linking into Sustainability Week
  • Green bonuses for colleagues
  • Establsihing an award and reward culture
  • Establishing net zero leads and groups
  • Working with early professionals to lead the way
  • Benchmarking against peers

Finishing up

I really could go on and on with the list such was the creativity in the room after a long day of learning, sharing, debating and listening to each other.

The Cross Sector Initiative from Partners West Midlands, always felt like a great idea – for industry and academia to come together with partner businesses to seek hive-mind solutions to issues and challenges. But to see it in action, feel the energy and appetite for change in the room, was truly inspirational, and I can’t recommend getting involved enough. But don’t just take my word for it…

Declan Whittingslow, Environmental Manager at Willmott Dixon Interiors, endorsed the day:

"This was a refreshing workshop to attend, with a great mix of academia and practical work based application of the sustainability innovations discussed, would highly recommend attending these sessions."

Interested in joining our next Cross Sector Iniative?

Email the Partners West Midlands team or call and we can discuss options.

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