What leaders think
What have been some of the key learnings for you since March last year and are now applying in your business?
I am so proud of our teams for transitioning literally overnight to keep our operations and delivery going, working to keep colleagues, clients and customers safe but supporting delivery of critical programmes and keeping key infrastructure operating and maintained.
We have learned so much – for example, things we always believed had to be done in person can be done effectively remotely such as carrying out virtual tours, inspections and inductions. We have also demonstrated that we can do remote design more productively using drones and digital mapping reducing on site time. Thinking differently has also helped us improve safety, drones can go into confined spaces meaning our teams don’t have to.
As we move forward from the pandemic and look to the future, what business opportunity most excites you?
For me, the opportunity to shape the future of the net zero agenda and lead deliverable decarbonisation of the UK’s energy infrastructure is massively exciting. Net zero is crucial for our planet so it is not just a business opportunity but an imperative.
Hydrogen is a practical option for clean energy growth and Costain is actively developing the hydrogen economy – we are already working with many clients and partners to drive clean energy. For example, we have collaborated with the gas networks for a feasibility study on the ability of the UK networks to transport hydrogen, we are working with Welsh Water and Cardiff Council on a ‘poo to hydrogen’ project to power zero emission vehicles, and we are leading the deployment of the South Wales Industrial Cluster projects which are decarbonisation schemes developing the hydrogen economy in South Wales.
Given the important part that technology has played in all sectors during the pandemic, how do you envisage technology developing in your organisation going forward?
The pandemic has really helped to accelerate adoption of all sorts of technologies and digital solutions in both how we deliver, and in the solutions we provide for clients. We are continuing to drive automation, digital thinking and technology in all we do and some of the things we are already deploying are safer and more efficient construction through video analytics and AI, process automations, 4D digital rehearsals, digital biodiversity management through GIS technology for biodiversity net gain and using technology to help us maximise the impact of our social value initiatives through better gathering and management of data. The need to build back better, faster and greener is crucial and embedding technology will help deliver this sustainably.
When are you planning some form of return to the office and how is this being structured?
Many of our teams are site based delivering complex programmes for our clients so have continued to be on site operating in a covid secure way. For our previously office-based team members, we currently continue to work from home where possible, but we have adapted our corporate offices to enable covid safe working and to create ‘connection spaces’ to safely get teams together to be able to reconnect and meet where there is a business need. We are embedding dynamic working across the business (both field and office teams) to capture the positive elements from the last year to evolve how we all work and find an approach that is right for the individual, the company and the client.
With sustainability and ESG being more prevalent on the Board agenda, what is your business doing to meet net zero carbon emission targets by 2050, if not earlier?
Last year we launched our climate change action plan which shared our clear commitment to work collaboratively with Government, clients, partners and our supply chain to ensure that by 2023, every solution delivered for clients will propose at least one low carbon option, with whole life cycle carbon emission solutions being delivered by 2035.
I am pleased to say that we are making good progress on all areas of our plan and we are also actively supporting our people to help change their behaviours with sites and offices taking an entire day out to recognise how they can reduce their carbon footprint both at home and at work.
Our Resource Efficiency Matrix (REM) approach is one of the first programmes of this scale in the industry and to date has saved clients over £50 million in operational and delivery costs in addition to over 1.49 million tonnes of carbon emissions equivalent (tCO2eq). The REM ensures projects are planned, designed and delivered in the most carbon conscious way, optimising management of carbon emissions, materials, logistics, waste and water.
How has your business changed in its approach to employee wellbeing during the pandemic and what will it continue to do more of in the future?
Our people are at the heart of what we do, so it has always been our goal to create a great place to work where people can thrive. We have continued to build on our focus on wellbeing through the last year, incorporating additional things like a dedicated week to take time out for wellbeing full of events, as well as making the most of video calls to keep the social side of work through things like quizzes, events and meeting family and pets as well as increased formal engagement with all our teams. Our employee networks have also really stepped up to support our people and engage on a variety of issues and embracing dynamic working has helped create the flexibility people have needed over what has been a challenging year.
Who or what has inspired you recently? (They don’t need to be famous)
My nephew – a couple of years ago he had a life changing accident which has left him paralysed from the chest down. Despite months in hospital and having to mentally adjust to the changes in his abilities he is the most positive person I know. Incredibly less than a year after the accident he managed to be back actively working in his tree surgery business, having sourced and adapted various plant and machinery so he can operate it and continue with a job he loves. He is now using his story and approach to help others face and adapt into life after similar incidents.
Lots of people took up new hobbies in 2020. Have you learnt a new skill or taken up a hobby during the pandemic and will you continue with it?
I haven’t taken up anything new as such, but 2020 provided the chance to re-engage with some hobbies. It’s been good to attempt some gardening (though not sure my plants would agree!), dust off my paint brushes and start water colour painting again. I have finally sorted the hundreds of photos I had taken over recent years to create photobooks for each year or memorable trip – which has been great to relive travel experiences. I have also really enjoyed regularly doing yoga which I intend to keep doing as the benefits for my wellbeing have been fab.
Have you booked your 2021 holiday(s) yet?
We’ve not booked anything as yet and aren’t rushing to go away. Having spent many years travelling with work I am still loving the opportunity to be at home and enjoy my local area. It is important to have some downtime from work and to recharge your batteries, so I have still planned some time off even without ‘a holiday plan’ as such. I do miss the coast so sure we will have a few trips in the UK as the year goes on.
Any words of wisdom?
‘You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails’.
I am not sure who said it originally but it really resonates – last year taught us that there is so much you can’t predict or control – but you can choose how you respond, and like my nephew, try make the most of what ever situation you find yourself in.