It’s almost twenty years since sustainability became a key priority at Willmott Dixon.
Back then, our mission was to do less harm and we focussed primarily on environmental impacts. Community investment formally became part of our sustainable development work in 2011.
While the challenges of driving change and capturing performance were huge in those days, the areas of focus – carbon, waste, water and community investment – were relatively straightforward.
Now, it’s a lot more complicated. The more we’ve learned, the more we’ve come to realise that we can’t look at any aspect of sustainability in isolation, because everything is connected.
For example, these days, constructing sustainable buildings involves embracing digital technologies. It means engaging our customers to work out the very best solutions, and then working with our supply chain partners to ensure that we have the most sustainable designs, ethical products and exemplary workmanship. It means adopting a ‘right first time’ approach. It means learning lessons from what we have done and applying them on the next project, so we keep improving.
This means that in order to construct sustainable buildings, our business needs teams which are reflective of the communities we serve, the right people with the right skills, and a culture that encourages collaboration and innovation.
You can see why it’s so hard to know where sustainability ends and good business practice begins.
As traditional sustainable business practices become embedded in companies’ systems and processes, the term ‘sustainability’ is becoming increasingly redundant. For years, sustainability professionals have been saying that if they are successful, they will do themselves out of a job. So does that mean that the era of the sustainability professional is over?
In my view, our role has never been more important. It’s just that it’s evolving. These days, sustainability teams are focussing more and more on mitigating future risks, realising new and exciting opportunities for growth, and driving innovation. So yes, we still need to be experts. But we also need to be leaders, teachers, diplomats, story-tellers, behavioural change experts – and provocateurs.
When I first started work, the role of sustainability professional didn’t even exist. And in another 10 or 20 years, who knows where it will go, or what we will be doing?
The term sustainability may be dead. But the rapid social, technological and environmental changes coming our way mean that the skillsets of sustainability professionals will be in demand like never before.