Achieving sustainability is arguably the most complex challenge facing humanity. Not only is action needed, but we must accelerate our actions to achieve our goals and avoid potentially irreversible damage to the planet. Atkins Dr Wolfgang Schuster asks how do we engage individuals, businesses and government?
Pressures to act on climate change have led the Climate Change Committee to release its Net Zero by 2050 report, which focuses on reducing the UK’s net greenhouse gas emissions (including carbon and water vapor emissions) to zero by 2050.
Meanwhile, other initiatives such as Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy, Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and Freeport initiative, set out the UK government’s vision to mainstream the expansion of low-carbon initiatives into our national psyche. But achieving sustainability – let alone Net Zero – presents a collaborative challenge in a complex landscape of stakeholders, with implications for consumers of private and industrial resources.
So how do you start this sustainable transformation?
The answer is to take a holistic approach. All sectors will need to engage in a much larger stakeholder landscape, including sectors that in the past may not have been so intrinsically linked. For example, while the transportation sector was once an energy consumer, it is increasingly becoming an energy supplier, creating a much more interconnected ecosystem. Similar trends apply to other sectors, all of which are increasingly linked by the circular economy.
To succeed in this holistic approach will require a radical shift towards a new type of regulatory framework. It will need to capture the entire life cycle and include assessments that take into account the complex interactions between mechanisms to achieve sustainability goals (such as carbon reduction), including boost, technologies and infrastructure, rather than considering each aspect in isolation.
There are two key approaches that support achieving sustainability transformation:
First, systems thinking: this approach is centered on the belief that one component (i.e. each industry) will act differently in isolation than if it worked collaboratively to achieve transformational sustainability goals. This approach would work across all stakeholders to bridge the gaps between customers, operations and infrastructure, and between energy and other industries covering trade agreements as well as behavioral influence. All underpinned by data intelligence.
Second, intersectoral strategies imply the need to undertake a series of complex, multi-topic and multi-sector impact assessments to ensure that the right sustainability actions are implemented. These should be made possible through the provision of policies, guidance and advice on funding routes to promote clean infrastructure and services in all sectors. Actions should also support the identification of innovative solutions such as human-centered design and tools for quantifying pollution over the entire life cycle (eg emissions and chemical pollution). Enablers such as core planning and cross-sector program management capacities will need to be built into this strategy, to plan, design, monitor and manage the widespread implementation of projects and the installation of sustainability-enhancing approaches and technologies, and to generate cultural changes at the heart of sustainable transformation.
Achieving sustainability is a complex system-type challenge that requires rethinking our socio-economic model. A change in culture – be it individual consumerism, siled corporate cultures, or the shift to longer-term strategic policy – will play a central role in this transformation, informed and guided by the intelligence of people. cross-sectoral data.
To achieve this, you need to:
Early engagement to generate trust between individuals, businesses and government. This will need to be supported by an appropriate regulatory framework.
Focus on the entire resource and asset lifecycle. By expanding attention to the entire system of resource generation, resource supply, demand and consumption of resources, an end-to-end holistic approach can be created.
Collaboration and data sharing. We must bring together groups of experts, stakeholders and users, to take into account the needs of all in terms of sustainable development. Using data can provide smart and informed decision-making to develop a holistic view of what sustainability looks like. This can then be used as a model for the entire lifecycle.
Adaptability in preparation for new technologies and socio-political trends that may emerge on the horizon. Taking into account the insurance, legal, government and regulatory frameworks that will underpin a change in approach, each area can be mapped and prepared through a dynamic action plan.
Overall, a transformation towards sustainability can be achieved if we implement a clear and holistic roadmap that takes into account the needs of each sector and its barriers while moving towards a common goal. This is our collective challenge, and it is time to find common ground and work together.
Dr Wolfgang Schuster, Technical Director, Data Intelligence, Atkins.