Sustainability – June 2022

by Miles Watkins

There’s been a real buzz about the place this week with the first Hillhead Exhibition for a while – delayed owing to nobody’s friend COVID-19. The weather has been good to us and if we ignore hyper-inflation and fuel prices, the Great is back in Great Britain. Hoorah!

The week began with the BAA Annual Conference and AGM at the trusty Buxton Palace Hotel. It was well attended, and I was grateful to the BAA Team to be invited to speak. It was the first speaking engagement I have had for a while (owing to the aforementioned) so I built a whole new slide deck for the occasion. To do so meant refreshing my knowledge of the state of play around the sector to enable me to create my tongue-in-cheek school report. Aside from the specific details, there were a few things that came from the creation and delivery of the presentation that really must be addressed – let’s deal with one now.

How to start a presentation on sustainability? Well, I substituted the usual three circles diagram showing environmental, social and economic issues for a slide showing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Quite a number of reputable blue-chip firms, charities, educational establishments are beginning to use these goals as a framework for their sustainability efforts. There are 17 goals, all in bold colours and simple language. On the opening of my talk, I turned to the room to see who recognised this palette of pretty tiles. I was met with a tumble weed of silence. This is a worry. If I had a slide depicting the Quarries Regulations 1999 or LOLER or the safety hierarchy I am pretty sure arms would have been shooting up all over.

This begs the question of confidence and competence. How able are we as a sector at tackling sustainability issues? Are we relying on a lonely professional somewhere to keep us on track? Do we even have access to one and perhaps we just lurch from tender to tender as the questions on the subject get more difficult? In a complex, digital world I am not arguing for general managers to be experts but I assert that a decent, current level of working knowledge is necessary. IQ, IOM3 and MP Skills offer basic training on the subject, albeit more about environmental topics – I wonder about the level of up-take.

Sustainability is a broad and complex topic and as it starts to bite harder commercially and operationally, we must make sure we are able to understand and deal with its requirements. In exactly the way that the sector has grappled with Health and Safety, the same mentality needs to be applied here. For anyone engaged in CPD, ask yourself how comfortable you feel with your own sustainability knowledge. For leaders, how able is your team in this space? Closing the gap is not hard – help is available. But it does require a commitment from you to act.

Of course, you could always blag your way through – as long as you are happy with a limited range of unremarkable employees and operating in a reducing segment of the market.