In common with a number of construction and infrastructure industry organisations, international consultancy firm Jacobs have been making an impact at COP26 in Glasgow, as Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker discovered when he spoke with the company’s head of global sustainability.
Consultancy firms have been out in force in Glasgow for COP26 over the past two weeks. A major reason for that presence has been the opportunity to network, share best practice and really engage with the issues at such a high-profile international event. Jacobs has been a partner and industry sponsor of the fringe events for a couple of COP conferences and I caught up with Zoe Haseman, the company’s vice president for global sustainability, to ask about her thoughts on the event.
“Jacobs is supporting the Climate Action Sustainable Innovation Form at COP26. We’ve been speaking on panels and joining discussions on stage and why we’re here as a business is because the private sector has a crucial role in all of these discussions around climate change,” she said. “One of the great things about this COP26 is that there’s lots of representation from all segments of society, not just government leaders, which is really important.
Haseman said that COP26 was an event that Jacobs simply had to be at. “If the businesses are here and the private sector is here then we want to be here too,” she told me. “It’s part of our mission as a company and part of our purpose to drive and accelerate sustainable solutions. So, we’re here to share good practice, share ideas and we’re here to learn from other businesses and the public sector. We also want to take the opportunity, while everyone’s poised and here for the same reason and away from their computers, to have some great discussions and get some of that collaboration in action,” Haseman explained.
Building new partnerships
So how has COP been for her and Jacobs and what has she learned that she can take back into the business? “Some of the successes of this week for me personally have been some of the dinner events, being on the table with businesses that we have never met before and learning about what they’re doing. Some of them are tech start-ups that I wouldn’t have come across on a day-to-day basis and that collaboration is hugely valuable for us. How are we as a company going to deliver on that science-based carbon reductions? How are we going to get to net zero? The only way we can do that is by learning more about some of the innovations out there, deploying them back in our own business and to reduce our Jacobs carbon emissions but also bringing them in on our client projects,” said Haseman.
“We have also met a couple of very interesting innovators that we have never come across before and I was able to facilitate spontaneously, which almost never happens at these events, meetings between our CEO and the founder of this amazing start-up company and that will be the start of what I’m sure will be a really valuable partnership for both organisations hopefully,” she said.
So, what kind of ‘vibe’ was Haseman getting from the event, I asked her. And was she more optimistic or less optimistic about the future and what does she think going forward are we likely to see?
Words are cheap - will COP live up to the talk?
“I think there’s been some really good progress. I’m not blown away and there’s been nothing that has been really game-changing, but it’s probably been in line with expectations,” she said. “It hasn’t disappointed, but it hasn’t surpassed expectations either. Things like the deforestation pledge, the methane reduction pledge, critically the commitment by private finance for $130 trillion – things like that have been really, really positive. But words are cheap and will everyone fulfil their promises and live up to the expectations and the talk?”
I ask about her views on the role of the construction and infrastructure sector in all of this, in terms of what the industry is saying and doing about maybe giving the politicians a bit of a nudge going forward and getting them to take more concerted action and being braver with the action they take.
“We all know what we’ve got to do and we all know how we can do it - we’ve just got to get rid of those blockers that are still there,” Haseman says. “From the government perspective, we need a policy and framework around a concrete plan about how we are going to deliver. From the business sector and the people that we work with, we need some really clear frameworks, so that when we bid for a project for example there’s a level playing field. The solutions that we are putting forward are assessed on not just price, not just time to deliver, but they are assessed on carbon reduction across embodied carbon, lifecycle carbon and social value as well,” she said.
Nature and nurturing social value
The issue of nature was also key, said Haseman and had been a constant feature of the discussions and debates at the main conference and also around the fringe. “There has been a lot of discussion about nature at this COP26, more than at any other event,” she said. Over 90% of the policy statements that have come out have got the word nature in. So, let’s make sure that all of that gets translated down through procurement, so that on these major infrastructure projects that the public sector and cities are putting out there that we all are assessed on not just price, not just time for delivery, but on social value and full lifecycle, embodied and operational carbon and all those other social value elements as well,” said Haseman.
Many thanks to the good people at Climate Action for providing a space to host Andy and Zoe’s chat at COP26 and for providing some excellent coffee too! Find out more about Climate Action from their website at www.climateaction.org