1.4 Interview with Ken Dalton, AECOM
by Phil Clark
AECOM are a 31,000 strong global company providing professional and technical consultancy services for infrastructure and facilities projects. Current high profile projects include a new rapid transit station on the site of the World Trade Centre and master planning for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Beyond its role of designing new infrastructure and facilities, AECOM increasingly advises on energy efficiency, resource protection and the development of sustainable communities. Now that climate change has become a central issue across the globe how does this affect AECOM's message, both externally and internally? Ken Dalton, Group Chief Executive of AECOM's European division, talks to construction journalist and sustainable blogger Phil Clark about shopping at M&S, YouTube and carbon offsetting.
Phil Clark (PC): How has sustainability grown and developed during your career?
Ken Dalton (KD): We've been doing this kind of work for many years with many different companies. We have been very focused on energy for decades. This started in the 1970s with the company's research and development into computer modelling and has been used since then by many clients such as Sainsburys and M&S in helping them build their stores. In commercial buildings increasingly through the 1980s and 1990s, we have devised effective energy control systems to deal with the rising demand for energy, such as for air-conditioning. In the last 10 years the demand for such services has really ratcheted up – there has been the rise of new environmental standards for buildings such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) in the UK and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) in the US. And in the last couple of years there has been an exponential leap in interest in sustainability, and that doesn't seem to be halting. There has been a groundswell of appreciation. For example if 10 years ago you had given a client two options of sites for a new office in the City of London and said one was ‘green' and one was not, would that have impacted his/her decision? That sustainable agenda wouldn't have swayed them then, but it would now.
PC: How have you responded to this exponential leap?
KD: We have really concentrated a lot of efforts internally. We achieved the ISO 14001 environmental standard some years ago but have now developed on that, looking in much more detail at the footprint from our own buildings and business travelling. We started an internal carbon management programme last December with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality for our business. This could be achieved by buying carbon offsets but I don't think that's the right way to go. I believe we should be changing behaviour both in how we operate our buildings and how we travel. We should then look to reduce our emissions in line with Government reduction targets.
PC: How are you communicating this concern for clients to minimise their environmental impact externally to the market?
KD: By pointing out to clients the technical skills that we have available to change attitudes to transport, the use of energy, and creating sustainable communities. What's also interesting for us is how the climate change issue and the whole energy supply issue is interlinked. You are seeing the affects of our use of energy coincide with the growing problem of the security of supply emerging across the globe. We are advising on both.
PC: Are you branding or communicating yourselves in a new way to meet such intense demand for sustainable services?
KD: I think we are building on the long-term strengths that we have as a business, whilst also responding to a growing word-wide concern over these fundamental issues. We have had a sustainable development group for a number of years so it's not new to us, or some kind of short-term reaction. We are not branding everything as sustainable for sustainability's sake either. But clearly this is a big agenda item for clients, especially early on in the lifespan of a project. We are pushing the ‘thought-leading' expertise that exists within the company. That's been developed through the work we do for Government where we have been involved with writing some seminal policy documents on issues such as building regulations, renewable technologies, high-rise design, public transport and planning guidance. We also worked with OPX to produce a document to accompany last year's AECOM Annual Report entitled ‘Global Perspectives'. This helped to communicate our world-wide expertise in tackling key issues such as water supply, climate change, sustainable communities, protecting resources, changing transport needs and urbanisation. It has provided some focus for a lot of the work we're already involved with, and alongside the conference speaking and writing we do, has proved a really useful tool in getting our message across with greater clarity.
PC: Some companies such as M&S have made real public plays in how they are responding to climate change through its plan to go carbon neutral as a business…
KD: Yes I think this is progressive and one to follow. M&S are not just going to offset but they are going to change behaviour by bringing their supply chain through this process. We are helping them on some of that. This is not just a flash in the pan as these retailers have been concerned with energy use and environmental issues such as the use of CFCs for many years.
PC: It is good to see you embracing new ways of communicating to the wider world. I saw the videos you put up on YouTube recently.
KD: We created a video to recruit school leavers through our STEP initiative and we also put a video on our carbon management programme. We were obviously looking to reach a wider audience and it worked (the videos received over 500 views between them) if nothing else people have noticed it and are now talking about it.
PC: How do you see the future for your company in relation to sustainability?
KD: This will grow more and more. We want to offer a holistic approach to this from design through to construction and occupation. The key to this is knowledge, technology and leadership and getting this across to clients.
PC: The issue is obviously a global one.
KD: Very much so. Sustainability is a core element across all our work, everywhere we operate and we have created a virtual network on the issue to help and support our people further. It's a bit like the blog you are creating where people can share knowledge, advice and thoughts digitally. The company has its local brands in UK/Europe including Faber Maunsell, ENSR and EDAW – these offer clients confidence and gives the staff a sense of belonging. We then have the family name which gives the company strength as having a global presence. Sustainability is a prime example of where access to global knowledge and resources is a big advantage for all our clients, large or small, local or multi-national.