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The time to act is now

Market report: Sustainable development

MWH director of business strategy David Smith explains now is the time to commit to sustainable development, before it is too late.

Now more than ever is a time for increased commitment to sustainable development and it is encouraging that the government appears to be pressing ahead with initiatives to underpin it’s Low Carbon Industrial Strategy to make the country a leading light in sustainable development.    

There is some debate as to whether the strategy is ambitious enough, but it is a strategy that is going to change the way engineers and their clients think, design and build.    

Sustainability is about anticipating future challenges, analysing how those will affect a business, organisation, city or country and addressing these challenges in a balanced way given ever increasing pressures on resources. Sustainability is not just about carbon, it is a combination of long term thinking and innovation to achieve the optimum future outcome. We need to drive to do more across all parts of the public and private sectors from how we deal with our waste, how we use water and energy, to how we change the way we travel.    

True sustainability involves understanding what future challenges are likely to arise and coming up with a balanced solution that will have a beneficial effect on the triple bottom line of social, financial and environmental aspects.    

The news that the government is to offer grants of up to £5,000 to encourage people to trade in their petrol cars for greener electric vehicles could be seen as a seminal moment in the UK’s journey to becoming a more sustainable society.    

But a national fleet of electric cars will be no use without somewhere for them to power up with electricity. And if we need to burn more fossil fuel to create extra electricity for the cars the emissions benefit may not be positive. If however energy saving initiatives can create spare capacity in a grid that is increasingly fed by renewable energy then everyone wins. The talk of course is all about carbon and reduction of carbon emissions to meet the legal requirement set out in the Climate Change Act of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.    

But carbon reduction is just the measure of success. What is going to enable us as a country and an industry to meet the emission reduction target is some radical joined-up thinking for the long term around finance, planning, business models, technology and the regulatory environment.    

MWH has for a long time been committed to promoting sustainable development and is standing firm on this commitment in the current economic climate. That is because we believe that sustainable development works, not just for the environment, not just for society but also because it can yield cost benefits in the longer term that will help the economy.   

Sustainability is not just about carbon, it is a combination of long term thinking and innovation to achieve the optimum future outcome   

This Sustainable Development Report produced with NCE underpins that belief and demonstrates with examples from different clients and different projects that long-term sustainable thinking will bring multiple positive benefits.    

But there are still so many challenges to address particularly with regard to mitigating and adapting for climate change. What the report underscores is that it is engineers and engineering innovation that will supply many of the solutions.    

As the sustainability experts interviewed on pages 6 and 7 make clear, it’s not too late to make a difference but we need to stop talking and start doing.  

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