Rail Industry Focus


Sustainability still an ‘unclear’ issue in rail

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

A panel discussion on how sustainability can help deliver supply chain excellence at Infrarail made it clear that mixed messages remain and clarity is needed. David Stevenson reports.

In 2005 the World Summit on Social Development identified sustainable development goals under three broad areas: economic development, social development and environmental protection.

Nine years on at Infrarail 2014, Chris Williams-Lilley, managing director of Rail Champions, chaired a panel discussion on how sustainability is being adopted by the rail industry and its supply chain.

It’s been seen as a key enabler for the success of many railway projects, he said. In part it’s about “creating a step-change in performance and thinking”.

He asked whether clients in the rail industry know exactly what they want and mean in terms of sustainability. Shaun McCarthy OBE, director of Action Sustainability, gave a short answer: “No.”

Expanding on that, he said: “Clients are starting to develop their understanding of the sustainability agenda and what to ask for, and it is important that they do that.

“Network Rail, as an example, have spent years developing their sustainability policy and we now have something which gives us a definition of what sustainability is to the business.”

A few projects offer a great definition of sustainable leadership, including Crossrail and Thameslink. But moving beyond the ‘fluffy’ corporate responsibility idea of sustainability is still a “work in progress”, he added.

Crossrail taking a lead

Liane Hartley, director of Mend London, who has been involved with Crossrail’s sustainability initiatives, believes Europe’s largest infrastructure project has “raised the bar” considerably on social sustainability.

The social side has been the “poor relation” of sustainability and overlooked for decades, but it is now taking centre stage.

“It’s very difficult to define social sustainability and I think that’s why a lot of people have avoided it, but simply because it’s hard to define doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it,” said Hartley.

Crossrail’s ‘practical’ definition relates to job creation, sustainable employment and training, plus diversity and ethical sourcing. “But we’ve really tried to put that in practice, which is quite pioneering,” said Hartley.

‘Want to’ attitude

Steve Wiskin, director of Inspiring Safety Solutions, said that from a behavioural perspective sustainability isn’t “a tick-box exercise” it’s thinking about “what happens next, because sustainability is all about tomorrow, it’s all about the future”.

It’s important to engage everybody in sustainability – the supply chain, client and staff level all have to be behind it. With over 25 years’ construction industry experience, Wiskin said sustainability has been about ‘you have to do this, otherwise you’re not going to be a client or contractor’. There has been a “culture of compliance”, not a ‘want to’ approach.

“I’m starting to see a change for the positive,” he said, “so I would say we’re now in a ‘maybe process’ about delivering sustainable change.”

Sustainability in terms of health

In terms of operational health, Gren Tipper, board member of Constructing Better Health, said “sustainability has not really been picked up” but must be tackled urgently.

Tipper, who has spent most of his career managing complex construction projects for BAA, said the UK does more sub-contracting the Europe, which can make it difficult to communicate messages to the entire supply chain.

He told the audience: “In 2001, John Prescott, the then-deputy prime minister, called the industry to arms to sort out fatalities. At that time, we had on average 105 per year and that has improved. But today, 5,000 people per year in construction contract occupational cancers. This industry accounts for less than 10% of the UK working population, but 56% of all occupational male cancers are derived from work.

“The figures are alarming. In terms of ‘is it sustainability?’, yes it is. Our workforce is a valuable and expensive resource to train and we should want people to stay and work for as long as possible.”

Sustainability in CP5

McCarthy made the point that the supply chain is a pyramid, with a few mega-firms at the top landing most major contracts, and very many SMEs at the bottom. But in most projects, about 80% of revenue goes to the supply chain.

“So if we’re trying to effect this behaviour change we’re all talking about, if we’re trying to make our supply chains more competent in new skills around sustainability, then we need to collaborate,” said McCarthy.

This is where initiatives like the Supply Chain Sustainability School, launched in 2012, come in. The School, a collaboration between 16 major contractors, including BAM, Balfour Beatty, BRE, Carillion, Laing O’Rourke and Morgan Sindall, is a free and practical resource for developing suppliers’ sustainability skills.

Suppliers get a confidential self-assessment so they can understand their sustainability strengths and weaknesses, plus a personalised action plan pointing them towards free tools, e-learning and sustainability training.

McCarthy added: “It’s gathered an enormous amount of momentum and it seems to be a way of efficiently providing something very relevant to small companies in a very selective way. Hopefully, this could be a success in CP5, especially as many of the major contractors have bought into it.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

View all News

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio ... more >

'the sleepers' daily blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s network of independent repair facilities across the UK and further afield in its global network. ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >
Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

02/07/2019Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action. Contractors are clear... more >
Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

02/07/2019Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

The TCR Midlands conference is only days away and tickets are going fast for the sector event of the year at the Vox Conference Centre in Birming... more >