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'Make a start - even if you don't have all the answers,' sustainability expert urges

24 March 2022

Vernon Harcourt Lecture attendees felt more able to tackle climate change and move to net zero following the ICE event.

'Make a start - even if you don't have all the answers,' sustainability expert urges
Visual minutes of the Vernon Harcourt Lecture, produced by Cohenbaum.

Not knowing exactly what’s needed to fight climate change isn’t a reason to delay action, a sustainability expert has argued at this year’s Vernon Harcourt Lecture.

“It’s okay not to have all the answers at the outset. If you’ve got a vision and know where you want to go, just make a start,” said Sally Sudworth, global head of sustainability and climate change at Mott MacDonald.

Sudworth was the keynote speaker at the lecture, which took place in person at the ICE’s London headquarters and streamed online earlier this month.

The lecture, Flood-risk Management – a Just Transition to a Climate Resilient Future, linked engineering activities to the increase in climate disasters.

Sudworth, who also spoke at COP26 last year, encouraged the audience to find ways they can contribute to climate action, personally and professionally.

Before the lecture, attendees were asked whether they felt able to deliver resilient and sustainable infrastructure.

At the start, 52% said yes. By the end of the event, and following the speakers' calls to action, this figure had increased to 76%.

Discussing the attitudes towards climate change and net zero

The keynote speech was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Paula McMahon, regional supervising officer at Sir Robert McAlpine and ICE Trustee.

The panel was made up of Sudworth, Meshi Taka, associate director at Waterman Aspen, and Micheala Chan, assistant engineer at Arcadis and ICE President Future Leader 2020/21.

They fielded questions from the audience about developing a specific framework for the water sector and whether net zero is achievable by construction firms.

They also discussed the socio-political aspects of a just transition to net zero, and how engineers can use lived experience to build better.

Taka and Chan echoed Sudworth’s call for engineers to take action.

“Take this as a personal challenge and hold yourself accountable,” said Taka.

The Vernon Harcourt lecture is named after British civil engineer Leveson Francis Vernon-Harcourt, an ICE member and author of a number of treatises on river and harbour engineering.

Picking up momentum

The next ICE prestige lecture will be the Gerald Lacey Lecture, Just Add Water: a History of Irrigation Management in India since Gerald Lacey.

It will be delivered by Ijsbrand de Jong, water resources specialist at World Bank Group. This will be a virtual event, with more details to follow soon.

Get involved

To support the ICE in its commitment to sustainability and tackling climate change, apply to get involved in the Knowledge Networks. These are groups set up to identify and address key infrastructure challenges facing the profession.

Find out more

  • Steph Fairbairn, Engineering Knowledge manager at ICE