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 05-07 March 2019 / ExCeL, London

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24 Jan 2019

Thinking the unthinkable to deliver SDGs challenge

Davide Stronati, Global Sustainability Leader at Mott MacDonald

Creating an action plan to help deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was a critical focus for the 2018 ecobuild conference. The opening session closed with a collective call to…

…collaborate

…make demands of politicians at all levels of government

…aim for the impossible, to fulfil what needs to happen and plan now for 2050

…take responsibility and ask what you can do

…look to put the goals into practice in your work.

But what progress has been made in the last eight months? And what does the future hold? These questions will be tackled in the first session of the 2019 ecobuild conference as part of “The 2030 Challenge”. Among the speakers will be Davide Stronati, Global Sustainability Leader at Mott MacDonald, who’s been talking to Futurebuild strategic partner Bioregional about the role of the built environment in implementing the SDGs:

“When you consider the creation of infrastructure assets in the built environment, it’s vital to appreciate that they will change the surrounding social and environmental landscape. For that reason the whole life of the asset needs to be designed, framed and assessed through the SDGs.

Then you need to consider the business case. I also consider the SDGs as ‘megatrends’ – a fancy buzzword in the business community. Megatrends are major shifts that reshape society. The SDGs represent 17 megatrends that are societal needs, and I want to believe that the main aim of business is to address societal needs. You’d surprised by how many businesses are addressing their purpose – asking why they exist instead of just maximising profits.

We’ve defined sustainability at Mott MacDonald as ‘using our ingenuity to deliver lasting value for all’. Our 12 signposts to sustainability help us embed this into our work. The first signpost, for example, is about engaging with clients. It is only in partnership with them that we can drive innovation and sustainable solutions.

Where it’s been most effective so far is the fact that now in Mott MacDonald there’s a great awareness and acceptance of the SDGs. I’m pleased to say that my colleagues get it, it is not a struggle.

It is still a challenge to accurately quantify the full value that sustainability can bring in projects. One of the criticisms of sustainability is that it is just another cost, that it doesn’t deliver value. So while we’ve made good progress in quantifying the value of cutting carbon – it cuts costs in a very direct way – the challenge is in quantifying the broadest social and environmental values in a robust and widely accepted way. But it’s a good challenge to have and I’m positive we are on the way to resolving it pretty soon.

As I say my colleagues get it, but for many it can be tough to get to grips with the SDGs. It’s vital to understand your company’s values and business strategy, get to know the SDGs, and then create a narrative that fits within the framework of your culture and strategy. Not only can the SDGs help deliver your strategy, but they should influence it too. You’ll need to take into account the many environmental and social factors that will affect your business in the near-future.

Although my friends and colleagues would accuse me of being “grumpy” about the present, when it comes to the future I’m actually very optimistic. I always hope and work for the best and by Futurebuild opening the ecobuild conference with a session on the SDGs it puts them front and centre of discussions. It’s a perfect platform to discuss progress, collaboration and the companies which are blazing a trail for others to follow.

I think working in sustainability needs a slightly “schizophrenic approach” – you need to be “pessimistic” about the present and to realise resources are limited, but “optimistic” about the future and to know that it is going to be brighter.”

The discussion around achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and UK Government commitments will open this year’s ecobuild conference on 05 March 2019 at Futurebuild. Register for your place here.

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