Alan Hendry is Sustainability Director at Mott MacDonald
Mott MacDonald, traditionally known as an engineering consultancy, is now a global technical services firm with a significant emphasis on infrastructure, environmental issues, and social value.
I recently interviewed Alan about his work.
In this article, I highlight some of the issues we discussed. I encourage you to listen to the interview, in the podcast episode above, to get much more from Alan’s experience.
As the Sustainability Director, Alan sees his role as supporting colleagues in making the company’s services more sustainable. He believes in the power of collaboration and connecting different areas of expertise within the company to go beyond merely delivering infrastructure projects. He seeks to support the business goal of ensuring that these projects contribute to wider social and environmental benefits, delivering net zero and contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Alan emphasizes the importance of delivering infrastructure in a low-carbon manner and the positive impact it can have on local economies and job creation. While he says his job used to be “annoying people”, he now feels that the understanding of the broader sustainability agenda has significantly improved. Consequently, his role has shifted towards assisting and enabling colleagues to achieve their sustainability goals.
With a primary focus on Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland, Alan finds the region particularly interesting due to varying levels of progress in sustainability. He sees this as an opportunity to share best practices and learn from one another. The strong bond between these countries creates an ideal environment for collaboration and knowledge exchange.
Alan joined Mott MacDonald nearly two years ago, just before the COP26 conference in Glasgow. One of his initial projects involved producing a report on accelerating the journey to net-zero emissions for the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) Scotland. Through engaging with various stakeholders, including funders, project implementers, and designers, Alan gathered insights on the challenges and opportunities related to achieving net-zero goals.
Accountability and Commitments
Alan expressed his excitement regarding the growing accountability of governments and major companies in relation to their commitments on net zero and sustainability. He noted that holding these entities accountable through the court system ensures honesty and leads to better outcomes. This progressive development helps combat greenwashing and paves the way for genuine sustainability practices.
The Role of the Younger Generation
Alan praised the exceptional knowledge and passion for sustainability exhibited by his younger colleagues. He expressed optimism about the future, confident that this new generation’s understanding and commitment to sustainability would continue to grow as they progress in their careers. Their engagement and drive will play a crucial role in accelerating sustainability efforts and achieving long-term goals.
Promoting Sustainability Through Dialogue
When I asked Alan what aspect of his work he was particularly proud of, he highlighted the “global sustainability call” he developed during his previous employment. He subsequently introduced this at Mott MacDonald.
This monthly webinar brings together clients, internal staff members, and government representatives to share insights and aspirations on sustainability topics. The speaker is usually the head of sustainability or senior member of staff with one of Mott MacDonald’s clients. The calls aimed to demystify various aspects of sustainability and create a powerful message by showcasing good practices.
It was good that our clients came and talked about their sustainability aspirations. It’s a more powerful message when the client is saying, “this is where we want to be, this is what we want to do”.
Alan explained that he tapped into existing networks and expertise within the company to support the sustainability sessions. By featuring a mix of external and internal speakers, the calls showcased the capabilities of Mott MacDonald’s staff while also providing valuable client perspectives. Alan emphasized the collaborative nature of the business and the importance of knowledge sharing and building strong project teams with diverse skill sets.
Challenges and Solutions
While progress has been made in sustainability, Alan acknowledges the need to focus on delivery and accelerate efforts. He pointed out that in the last few years the Institute of Civl Engineers, the Committee on Climate Change, the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, and the Net Zero Committee of the Scottish Parliament have all produced reports on the challenges – and one of the key themes in every one was the need for greater collaboration.
He stresses the importance of moving beyond pilot projects and really rolling out infrastructure that is low carbon and resilient. This urgency is driven by the environmental realities we face. Alan also highlighted the need for a properly resourced regulatory regime, a robust supply chain, and passionate leadership to drive sustainability initiatives effectively.
I asked Alan Hendry to recommend a book for other sustainability leaders. Alan suggests Five Times Faster by Simon Sharpe. He hasn’t read it yet but has heard positive reviews about. I’ve taken a look and added it to my reading list!
An hour with other sustainability directors and managers to explore the key issues and challenges that matter to you. To be notified of the next event…
Next: Insights and opportunities
In the next episode, I get together with Morag, to discuss the interview, reflect on what we’ve heard, and to draw out insights, practical approaches and techniques that you can apply in your work.
Links and resources
The reports Alan mentioned:
- Accelerating the decarbonisation of Scottish infrastructure | Institution of Civil Engineers
- Scottish Emission Targets & Progress in reducing emissions in Scotland – 2022 Report to Parliament | UK Climate Change Committee
- Inquiry into the role of local government and its cross-sectoral partners in financing and delivering a net-zero Scotland | Scottish Parliament Website
- Net Zero: Local Authority Powers | Edinburgh Climate Change Institute
“Five Times Faster is an inside story from Simon Sharpe, who has spent ten years at the forefront of climate change policy and diplomacy. He argues that in our fight to avoid dangerous climate change, science is pulling its punches, diplomacy is picking the wrong battles, and economics has been fighting for the other side. This provocative and engaging book sets out how we should rethink our strategies and reorganise our efforts in each of these fields, so that we can act fast enough to stay safe.”