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The challenge of cultural change

Sustainability By Nella Scott, PR & Communications Manager – 26 May 2022

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Head and shoulders shot of Nella in London office

Nella Scott

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Just over a year ago, nine individuals from different teams and levels across Cundall’s global business came together for the first meeting of the Zero Carbon Design Core Team. We’d been challenged by Cundall’s management board to lead a business changing initiative – for every project we work on to be zero carbon in design by 2030.

When we started this journey, we didn’t know what Zero Carbon Design 2030 was going to look like or how we were going to achieve our ambitious goal. While many others in the industry have made commitments, no one else has yet taken their commitment to achieving net zero carbon this far. There is no existing blueprint for how this could be done.

As we set out on the journey, we asked ourselves: “How are we going to win the hearts and minds of our people and bring them all along on this voyage with us? How can we permanently alter the way we approach design projects in the future? And how do we pave the way for (sometimes difficult) conversations with clients and the wider industry about zero carbon design?”

The challenge seemed overwhelming, and we didn’t know all the answers, but we did know that we had to be brave and prepared to fail.

What we were certain about from the start, was that we wanted Zero Carbon Design 2030 to have a ‘bottom-up approach’. This meant driving cultural change throughout the business from a grassroots level, facilitating our people across all roles, regions and disciplines, to work together within their teams to create solutions to the challenges we would face as we strove to make zero carbon design 2030 a reality.

This sounds straight forward, but in an industry that has traditionally used a top-down approach to enacting change, we knew we had our work cut out for us.

One challenge we’ve faced has been the length of time it has taken to get the initiative going. We had milestones from the start, but we’re already finding deadlines slipping past as we encounter challenges along the way. This doesn’t mean that we are failing in our ambitions, just that the goal posts are moving as we better understand what we must do to achieve success.

While we are all very passionate about zero carbon design and dedicated to its success, we also have a lot of other commitments and sometimes struggle to balance the demands of launching the Zero Carbon Design initiative alongside our ongoing commitment to producing technically excellent work for our clients.

This at times has made the process of driving change through the business slower than we expected, but it is also a challenge that we know we will overcome as zero carbon design becomes ingrained in everything we do.

Another challenge we are facing is that the rate of change differs from region to region. In the UK and Australia for example, the conversation around sustainable design is relatively advanced. Our clients are already engaged and dedicated to sustainability on some level, so we expect it will be much easier for us to bring them along on this journey with us and to have zero carbon design embedded into all their projects by 2030.

However, our colleagues in other regions, like MENA and Asia, report that the conversation around zero carbon design in the markets they work in is very much in its infancy. We’re aware that they face a much greater challenge when it comes to embedding zero carbon design throughout everything they do, and that the process will be slower as a result. That doesn’t mean it is impossible though, and we are working to support them and their clients as they work out what zero carbon design means for them.

The past year has been tough, and we’ve encountered many difficulties that we didn’t initially anticipate (as well as several that we did). However, £300,000 and 4,000 dedicated hours later, and the Core Team are proud of what we have achieved in a year. We now have 80 Zero Carbon Design Advocates working to enact change throughout the business, and between them, they have created over 40 individual team plans with targets that will help lower emissions on all their projects over the coming years.

We are also in the process of rolling out a Zero Carbon Design Pathway that will eventually be applied to every single project we undertake. It is initially being trialled on a few key projects by our advocates, and their feedback will be integral to finalising the pathway and launching it to our entire global business later this year. This will take us a long way to achieving our first milestone on this journey – to have zero carbon pathways on all our projects by December 2022.

Ultimately, we want every person in every region that Cundall operates to be an advocate for zero carbon design. The way we tell our story is a big part of how we achieve that, and it is important that we were open and honest in the way we talk about our intentions.

From the start, we have been clear that while we have a strong vision and milestones to support it, we also don’t have all the answers. We know we will make mistakes along the way, and that when we do, we are prepared to own them. Only by sharing our journey with integrity, including our successes as well as our failures, will we be able to create the blueprint that will help others in the industry to follow in our footsteps.

Nella Scott is a member of Cundall's Core Team for Zero Carbon Design 2030