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The call to action is clear, but how do you make change happen? Peter Hall has been keeping busy since lockdown in Maine on 17 March 2020. One of those helping to reshape Wood in its aim to lead in consulting and engineering across energy and the built environment, he continually advocates for sustainability and resilience with internal and external clients.

We catch up with Peter as he prepares to speak at the Economist’s Sustainability Week (see 25 March at 1.25pm GMT) to ask him more about how Wood is changing as it shifts to sustainable development and resilience across the firm.

Making the case for change at the top

As Vice President and Global Director for Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure at WoodPeter Hall is helping lead a shift to sustainable development and resilience across the firm that will help cement Wood as a premium, solutions provider for building sustainable, resilient projects and communities. The need for resilience is going to change everything, he says, energy transition, infrastructure, cities, financing, digital and the future workforce.

As their website boldly states on its home page: “We are a global community of inquisitive minds on a quest to unlock solutions to the world’s most critical challenges”.

Scenario planning on the future of energy and infrastructure in 2035-40 has led Wood to accelerate its strategic focus on workstreams such as energy transition, decarbonisation and sustainable infrastructure. Peter says that Wood now focuses on a significant level of work that has sustainability and resilience at its core.

From seeding the idea to embedding change

Peter’s role is focused on operationalising the sustainable infrastructure strategy – and understanding how it needs to continue to evolve. This means embedding integrated sustainability and climate resilience solutions into projects to reduce risk, improve value, manage long-term costs and ensure reliable delivery for communities.

The organisation’s leadership has long been working within the changing context for sustainability and resilience, but Covid prompted a scaling up of action, and Peter was called in by the Chief Executive Officer to step up.

It was initially daunting he says, but a tribute to the trust in him from the leadership and company’s network. Two months in, he gave a presentation to the Board of the $10bn organisation in 60 countries with 45,000 employees. He set out how he proposed they could continue to create the shift needed by the organisation supported by briefings across all business units. The aim being to create a roadmap for resilience throughout all of their projects.

The Resilience Shift interviewed Peter back in 2019 when he was a co-opted ambassador. He explained then that he began to shift his own perspective hugely from around 2018 having connected with the resilience community initially in 2014, and he says he has further evolved his thinking since then. Having his role focused firmly on sustainability allowed him to be on the front foot of this subject and a cheerleader for resilience inside and outside of the organisation.

How is Wood accelerating its focus on creating sustainable and resilient infrastructure?

For Peter it meant a new role, as well as additional investments in talent and partnerships. In early 2021, Wood hired the impressive Ann Rosenberg as Senior Vice President for Sustainable Development (Ann was a participant in The Resilience Shift’s Resilient Leadership initiative, sharing her real-time learning about resilience over 16 weeks of the global pandemic in 2020, when she was then at SAP).

Wood has also recently agreed to a new two-year partnership with the Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities), the global city-led non-profit organisation that aims to empower cities to build a safe, equitable, and sustainable future. Wood has deep experience supporting city clients to deliver transformative projects and led projects that supported the implementation of city strategies in locations including New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. They are also part of the US Group of Mayors for Climate Net Zero.

Peter is delighted at these major investments by Wood and says it’s all about bridging to the C-Suite and getting the messages to their clients that they must consider sustainability and resilience as a critical development for their organisations. He takes this advocacy role very seriously and is an Ambassador for climate resilience for the think tank, the Stimson Center, linked to the John Kerry administration, the up and coming US Infrastructure Bill, and contributing to the ASCE Sustainability Standard.

It’s all about resilient outcomes!

Peter explains that it’s all about connecting their organisational expertise with a solutions outcome. Wood has set up a solutions-oriented framework linked to its climate vulnerability assessments, which are a hugely important tool in asset management and can offer significant benefits in terms of aligning with the SDGs.

This focus on outcomes is essential. Peter says, “It’s important to connect the aims with the outcomes, and to explicitly talk about these with clients. For example, setting out the outcome benefits of a transportation solution in allowing people to access jobs”.

He says it’s also about broadening the discussion from climate change disruptions and energy alone to the wider context of socio, technological, economic, environmental, and political outcomes connected to that work.

What is the opportunity for Wood and the wider industry?

In the past, Peter says companies might have been forced to engage with sustainable development as part of a remediation clean up. He remembers over his 33 years with the organisation, clients that were reluctant but under an obligation to deliver. Now, he is happy to see that there are much more proactive drivers including pressure from investors. “Blackrock, Macquarie, JP Morgan want to see your plans for Net Zero before they invest. Companies want to know, where do we start? How do we get the best ROI? How can we measure it?”

“Over the next few years, we need to keep thinking about where we can have the biggest impact, and how we can help companies to figure it out.”

For his colleagues, it’s about connecting their work at a local level to the bigger context of change. “We’ve done some really amazing projects that our teams are rightly proud of – Houston, Calgary, Milan, Aberdeen, and across China. More importantly it’s an opportunity to be part of the wider transformation of our company and help improve the world.”

“My team used to be called E&E – Environmental & Engineering and was very much about technical consulting solutions. At the heart of Wood was an oil and gas firm and we still deliver asset solutions for oil and gas, up-down-mid-stream solutions, pipelines, shifting the materials around. But our wider work now is around consulting as well as our projects and operations. There is a huge transitional piece around the interconnectivity of infrastructure, asset performance integrity, O&M projects, transfer of knowledge to the water and alternative energy sectors, including offshore risk governance and sub-sea cabling.”

Seth Schultz talks in his ICE Brunel lecture series about the critical need to reskill engineers from “˜old’ industries to new ones. Peter says, “In many cases, the overlap is huge, and the same skills and technology can be adapted for carbon capture, solar, offshore wind, and so it’s about taking our workforce with us into transformative change”.

What can other companies learn from Wood’s journey?

Peter says that it is fundamental to still deliver your core outcomes and core business offerings for your company. The core business offerings in this case being infrastructure, energy, digital solutions.

“The solutions lens needs to be clear on what and why – what’s the purpose of your company? It needs to connect the strategy to implementation, to the people doing the work and to revenue”, he explains.

There is a long time-horizon for this change – “You need a 20-year mindset”, adds Peter.

Wood has made a pledge to achieve Net Zero by 2050 or sooner. Peter is looking forward to COP26 and is keen to stress the contrasts we are facing in different parts of the world when it comes to infrastructure resilience. “A billion people don’t have power – and lack reliable energy. Talk about Net Zero doesn’t always resonate in the developing world. We must bring clean power to these countries along with the basic infrastructure that countries need and that is resilient to floods, heat, hurricanes”.

“Resilience has benefits for jobs, housing, opportunities, and must happen alongside the energy transition and the move to sustainable infrastructure. It’s great to see the Race to Zero / Race to Resilience happening in parallel – we must do the two together”.

“Above all, we must make the 2050 goals – if we don’t it will be a lot worse for everyone”.

With thanks to Peter J Hall, Wood

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