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Journey to zero carbon design: bringing our clients onboard

Sustainability By Simon Liley, Senior Sustainability Consultant – 21 March 2022

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Simon Liley

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Cundall’s Zero Carbon Design 2030 initiative is one of the reasons I am happy to be working here. It represents an honest effort to address the climate emergency using the most meaningful lever we have: our designs.

I believe we have a moral obligation to be pushing our clients, and our industry, towards net zero as quickly as possible. In order for us to do so, we need - as a firm - to embrace the Zero30 approach for every project, every time.

This has an advantage in terms of positioning us with clients: we can present them with a net-zero pathway as part of our standard package. It is not an added extra or an additional cost or only confined to a selected group of clients. It is how we do what we do, and a central part of who we are.

Some clients will regard this as an excellent value add, others will barely notice that it is part and parcel of our standard practice. Others, unfortunately, will ask the question: “why?”

It is critical that we learn to have the conversations with those clients in particular, and bring them on the journey to net zero design and operation. As technical professionals, we have an obligation to use that technical knowledge to convince, cajole and support our clients in first recognising the urgency of action and then achieving their net-zero ambition.

Some clients will not come on that journey, holding stubbornly to the belief that what we have been doing is good enough, or that doing anything else is just too costly. There will - and must - come a time, if we are serious about our Zero30 target, where we will have to part ways and say that we will not work with them anymore.

This may seem risky for our business, and to some extent it is. No-one likes the idea of ‘leaving money on the table’. However, it is not anywhere near as big a gamble as some might think (and nowhere near as risky as the existential risk of climate change).

“As technical professionals, we have an obligation to use that technical knowledge to convince, cajole and support our clients in first recognising the urgency of action and then achieving their net-zero ambition.”

If you look at the global trend in finance and governance, the money behind projects is headed in the same direction we are.

For example, Lloyds Banking Group, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank are among more than 40 financial institutions representing more than 40 percent of global banking assets that joined the UN-convened Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA). The NZBA commits to aligning their lending and investment portfolios with net zero emissions by 2050, with further science-based targets set for 2030 or sooner.

Meanwhile, The World Economic Forum annual risk assessment surveys leading economic figures for their perceived risks to the global economy. In 2021 they listed environmental impacts as three of the top five global risks in terms of impact; and four of the top five in terms of likelihood (the only non-environmental risks in the top five were ‘infectious diseases’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’).

Because our clients all rely on the finance sector, if they are not aware of these trends, we have an obligation to put it on their radar. Chances are, however, many of them already do realise there is a problem - but might need us to help them make a start on solutions-focused net zero progress.

In the end, it is past the time where embracing net zero is a ‘nice to have’. The climate emergency is here now, and we must act urgently with everything we have to avoid the worst consequences of it.

I am proud of Cundall putting its money where its mouth is and taking meaningful steps to address this challenge.

Simon Liley is an Advocate for Cundall’s Zero Carbon Design 2030 initiative based in Melbourne.

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