Changing the narrative on sustainability

January 5, 2022

As the business world continues to take an increasingly eco-friendlier approach, Sarah Handley, head of sustainability and environmental governance at Siemens Energy, reveals what the company is doing to reduce its carbon footprint and explains how its endeavours have already attracted high-profile recognition.

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It’s fair to say there have been many aspirational targets set over recent years in relation to reaching net-zero and decarbonising the power system.

To achieve this, one thing is clear: business as usual is not an option. Rather, it requires a collective commitment from organisations and individuals to act now and be part of the change they want to see in the world. Sarah Handley, head of sustainability and environmental governance, is playing a pivotal role in pioneering this change across the Siemens Energy business in the UK, not just in driving through a firm corporate sustainability agenda, but in telling the narrative and educating stakeholders on why and where such change is required.

Most importantly, she shares her insights on the many layers involved in sustainability and the importance of understanding that it’s not just a story about environmental change, but one that encompasses a much bigger picture. One that demonstrates a combined commitment to environmental, social and economic governance, or ESG as the new buzzword refers. But what does that mean for leading companies in the North East? And how has that approach led to long-term sustainable change for Siemens Energy? (And, may we add, a Terra Carta Seal award from Prince Charles).

Here, Sarah tells us more.

“I’ve always had a passion about the environment and so I think it was inevitable I’ve ended up in a role that’s all about protecting it!” she says. “Being head of sustainability and environmental governance is an incredible privilege, as is leading so many pioneering projects.

“One of the main challenges I feel companies must overcome in order to successfully drive through change, is ensuring that people across the business ‘get it’ and understand why we are doing the work we do. “It’s easy to make commitments to decarbonisation, but quite difficult to deliver it.

“As such, I’ve seen my role over the years very much as being a pioneer, a leader and a narrator in the sustainability journey. “It’s also about demonstrating the right behaviours and encouraging others to take personal responsibility. “Key to this success is fundamentally having the right support and buy-in from leadership teams – something I’m pleased to say we are incredibly lucky to have with our vice president Steve Scrimshaw. “He is a huge advocate for our sustainability agenda and really understands the far-reaching implications of our work for the people, planet and communities we serve.”

ESG – The new kid on the sustainability block

Sarah says: “Our belief is that to be truly successful as a sustainable business, you have to take a holistic view and focus on many areas, including the environment, social issues and economic factors – or what’s known as ESG. “In short, ESG is a set of criteria used to measure a business’ sustainability impact.

“It is a criteria and standard that’s proving invaluable for those companies looking to attract the investor community and the right stakeholders to their organisations. “And it’s the businesses with strong ESG processes that have proven to be more agile and resilient.

“Our sustainability programme focuses on the most relevant topics to help us achieve our ambition to become a sustainability leader in the industry.” Sarah continues: “However, we recognise it’s impossible to do everything. So, for Siemens Energy, it’s about considering where we can make the biggest change and the biggest difference. “We have, after all, set our own ambitious targets to be climate neutral by 2030. “For us, that means looking at infrastructure and decarbonisation, but also the societal work we do encouraging women in engineering, economic growth, supporting supply chains and the communities around us.

“At the core of the programme is the goal to decarbonise energy systems along the entire value chain – while continuously improving our performance, serving customers and providing jobs – but doing so in a way that doesn’t harm the environment and gives back and helps improve society.

“In real terms, that has included looking at areas such as the way we service our business and how we travel.

“We strategically looked at the areas with the biggest impact on our carbon footprint and what we could change to have the largest impact. “One such area has been at our Lincoln factory, where we manufacture and test gas turbines. “As we are not ready to simply migrate solely to low-carbon alternatives quite yet (despite it being in another area we are leading), in the interim we have developed other ways to minimise our testing time and thus reduce our carbon footprint. “We are also looking at developing a number of products and processes that minimise the use of the greenhouse gas – sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) – which is used to insulate transmission equipment.”

Sarah adds: “And on a local level, in Newcastle, we will be looking at ways we can replace gas heating in our offices with alternatives such as air source heat pumps. “And with regards to company vehicles, we are aiming to replace all company cars with hybrid or electric options by 2025. “New technology, infrastructure and green energy solutions such as hydrogen will also all play a key role in the transition. “However, it is a journey that will take time, with the main challenge being the sheer speed and scale of the change required in the UK and indeed across the globe.”

The seal of approval – Terra Carta recognition

Sarah says: “While there is still plenty more work to do, it is incredibly rewarding to be acknowledged for the progress we have made. “And that was something we were able to celebrate recently, when we were awarded a Terra Carta Seal award by the Prince of Wales for our sustainability work. “Siemens Energy was one of only 46 global companies to receive the inaugural accolade.”

Societal engagement

“As well as the focus on sustainability, part of my role also involves leading the organisation’s societal engagement agenda, which is based around three key pillars: education, energy transformation and sustaining communities,” adds Sarah. “In Newcastle, this has included some incredible STEM projects with local primary schools; supporting the National Energy Action charity, which focuses on eliminating fuel poverty alongside several fundraising initiatives led by our wonderful staff who have raised thousands of pounds for great causes.

“So, while it’s fair to say there is clearly a long way still to go in achieving our sustainability utopia, for me the importance will always be in continuing to tell the narrative and showing the bigger picture, while highlighting the indelible mark that every small action can play in building a greener future. “Because it’s when we empower others to believe their actions can change the world that the real magic happens.”

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