Why a Tesla electric car wouldn't help me deliver sustainability

Why do we consistently get lost in the detail and forget the bigger picture when considering sustainability?

Sustainability: as an industry we are all contributing to UN SDGs
Sustainability: as an industry we are all contributing to UN SDGs
  • Updated: 26 April, 2018
  • Author: James York, Costain Group Corporate Responsibility Manager
A recurring sustainability conversation I find myself involved in is around our company car fleet. This conversation normally starts with: “If Costain are serious about reducing Co2 emissions why do we not have Teslas in our company car fleet?” (Other electric vehicles are available…)
I believe this conversation occurs because people don’t fully understand what sustainability really is.
 

I do know you would like a Tesla… 

My initial response in this conversation is to accept that we could spend more money on our car fleet, perhaps making some difference to our total emissions. I do stress though that while I too would like a Tesla, we have missed the bigger picture. Surely we should be thinking about alternative ways to travel or even better, using the technology that we all have available to us to prevent the need to travel at all?

The conversation ends with me suggesting that if we did have additional resource to spend on a lower emitting car fleet I still wouldn’t spend the money on premium electric vehicles.

This often raises eyebrows until I explain that if we were to invest an arbitrary sum of £500,000 in research on carbon capture or HGV platooning we could potentially make a much more significant and sustainable impact to UK CO2 emissions.
 

Missing the wood for the trees

If you take out the specific details of this conversation the theme of delving straight into the micro level detail is very common and as such perhaps also clouds our understanding of how we all contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I don’t mind admitting that I too also found myself lost in the detail of all 17 SDGs, trying to develop plans for each goal. While my approach was not wrong and we do as an industry all contribute directly or indirectly to all 17 goals our biggest influence is actually with 3, perhaps 4 – depending on your business.
 

How the SDGs can help our industry

By having a clear focus towards the SDGs that directly align with your company’s purpose you can begin to contribute to national solutions for the SDGs that I believe are most important for our industry: clean water and sanitation (SDG6), affordable clean energy (SDG7) and industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG9).

So the next time someone asks you what sustainability means, celebrate the amazing contribution engineers play towards the UN SDGs and avoid the temptation of going into the detail.
 

Reporting company performance against the SDGs

One of the challenges I face as a sustainability professional is communicating such a broad spectrum of issues, priorities and the resulting actions that have been taken, to a wide group of stakeholders.

I am really pleased that Costain has released its inaugural sustainability report because this helps me do just that, both within and outside the company. By bringing to life how we  are prioritising material sustainability issues, reporting against our targets and providing context with the SDGs, I hope we can move away from thinking that the best answer to all sustainability questions is always an employee car fleet of Teslas.
 

Global Engineering Congress focused on UN SDGs

In October 2018 ICE together with the World Federation of Engineering Organisations are holding the first Global Engineering Congress to agree a worldwide response to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Find out more and book  your place at the GEC

 
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