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Embedding Sustainability in Infrastructure Design to ‘Save Our Planet’

Posted by 4MAT Administrator
Posting date:8/4/2020 12:46 PM
Meet Divya Deepankar, Sustainability Consultant based in the Planning and Environmental Consenting team for the Infrastructure business at Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin group. Over the last 18 months,she has been working at Atkins and leading on embedding sustainability in design on major infrastructure projects such as Highways, Airports, Railways, Water industry, etc. #InsideAtkins caught up with her to hear her thoughts on Sustainability. 

What motivated you to choose a career in Sustainability?

My earliest memory of learning about Sustainability is the Annual Day school play I participated in at the age of 6, over two decades ago. The play portrayed the animal kingdom dealing with the crisis of forest depletion due to human activity. I played the role of an activist, and for 3 weeks rehearsed the following poem holding a placard that read – 'SAVE OUR PLANET'

My personal penchant for environmental concern stems largely from the changes I have witnessed in my hometown Hyderabad, India where the overexploitation of natural resources and wilderness areas has led to an increase in air pollution and extreme weather conditions. Two decades ago, peak temperatures in Hyderabad averaged 38°C while the hottest day in 2019 was 43°C!  Determined to do my bit to ‘SAVE OUR PLANET’, I took up Civil Engineering in under-graduation specialising in Environmental Engineering, and pursued a Masters in Environmental Change and Management at the University of Oxford to thereafter pursue a career in Sustainability within the infrastructure sector.

What does Sustainability in Infrastructure design mean to you? 

Sustainability is a multi-facetted topic covering all aspects of environment, social and economic well-being. At Atkins, it is fundamental to how we think about infrastructure design. Just as I completed my MSc course in September 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development based on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) which provides an excellent framework to the three pillars of sustainability. 

With the backdrop of the UN SDG’s, I have employed my academic knowledge and skills to focus my career on three goals – Goal 11, Goal 9 and Goal 13 to develop and accelerate implementation of sustainable solutions in the building and infrastructure sector which also coincidentally aligned with SNC-Lavalin’s Sustainable Business Strategy. I am passionate about driving my career working on projects where I can improve the sustainability performance of new developments and infrastructure projects, challenge the current practices and contribute towards the overall body of knowledge. 

Tell us about some interesting projects you have recently worked on?

As a Sustainability Consultant at Atkins based in their Infrastructure team, I work for both private and public sector clients some of whom include- Highways England, Heathrow, Network Rail, Local authorities’, Water companies, etc. 

I am currently the Sustainability Lead on the BBA Delivery Integration Partnership Schemes for Highways England and have absolutely enjoyed the challenge of pushing our design teams and engaging with the contractor and client early in the project design to achieve improved sustainability performance by implementing our award-winning Sustainability Framework Tool based approach at each stage of design.

Good stakeholder engagement and collaboration are key to achieve exemplar sustainability performance. For example, on the A2Bean Ebbsfleet Junction improvements scheme, measures have been applied throughout the Scheme design to avoid any loss of designated sites, ancient woodlands and ancient trees, and reduce losses of veteran trees and other habitats such as broadleaved woodland through collaboration with the design team, ecology experts and contractors. These measures have in turn helped to reduce adverse effects on protected and priority wildlife species. 

Earlier this year, I worked on a very interesting and impactful project - the ‘Heathrow Asset Management Low Carbon Design Programme’ where Atkins is collaborating with Heathrow and their stakeholders, to develop a low-carbon design process and applying it to a pilot of seven projects across their £1.3bn capital value Asset Management Programme. I worked as a carbon management expert on the T3 Service Subway Renewals project to deliver a whole-life carbon assessment, to identify carbon hotspots and therefore reduction opportunities early in design.

On this project, our aim was to help Heathrow understand and address the carbon performance of the replacement works for service supports and secondary steelworks repairs. The combined carbon saving achieved across the programme so far is 16,080 tonnes CO2e (38% average reduction across each of the four projects), which is roughly equivalent to annual emissions from 2,000 average UK homes . This was achieved through implementation of the low-carbon design process and resulting carbon reduction measures identified in carbon workshops.

I am proud to say that our team has been nominated for the IEMA Sustainability Impact Awards 2020 in the category – ‘Consultancy and Collaboration’!  

      

What do you love about working at Atkins?
Atkins is a leading global consultancy which gives me the opportunity to work on complex infrastructure projects. Our biggest strength is the level of expertise that the industry leading experts working at Atkins bring and with over 18,000 employees working worldwide, I really appreciate and thoroughly enjoy how much I can learn from my peers and seniors.

As an employer Atkins truly cares about its people and understands that a good work-life balance is key to build a great team. The flexible and agile working was supported well before home working became the norm in 2020. Life at Atkins has allowed me to pursue my hobbies and interests outside my job which is extremely important for my mental health and physical well-being. 

What keeps you challenged and motivated at Atkins?

Given the scale of the organisation, there are plenty of opportunities to expand my skills, work on challenging projects, gain global experience and develop continuously. In addition to delivering projects, I consider the development and improvement of Atkins’ internal sustainability practices and services, a challenging aspect of my role. 

Soon after joining Atkins, I realized that I could make significant improvements to our work winning efficiency and standardise the sustainability responses across the infrastructure division. So, I worked with our business development team and discipline leads across Infrastructure to develop a go-to document called Bid Answers Tool for Sustainability that our internal teams could use for business development, work winning opportunities, to understand our sustainability capabilities and identify key subject matters . In a span of five months alone, I was very proud to see that this document had been visited 13,502 times with ~800 unique users. As sustainability is a constantly evolving subject, I continue to undertake quarterly reviews to update the document for our internal teams.

How does Atkins support your career development and interests?

Continuous professional development is essential for me to keep growing in my career. I have recently become a Chartered Environmentalist with the Society for the Environment and a Full Member of IEMA which is the gold standard for environment and sustainability professionals who are setting agendas and leading initiatives within their organisations. Atkins has supported me in this journey by guiding me from the onset and helping me prepare for my interview. 

I am quite passionate about communicating on embedding sustainability in infrastructure design both internally and externally. As Atkins’ (UK & Europe) Sustainable Business Strategy Communication Lead, I have the opportunity to do this across our business. I have led our sustainability communication in collaboration with our marketing team and sustainability experts by conducting internal events for London Climate Week, developing our sustainability capabilities brochure, undertaking internal and external communication around key awareness days such as World Wetlands Day, International Volunteering Day, internal presentation of key sustainability initiatives across the business, encouraging the staff to use their volunteering days, etc. 

I also recently delivered a virtual guest lecture at the NSS College of Engineering, India to speak about the process of embedding sustainability in design and careers in sustainability for engineers which was attended by 115 people. I hope to continue to inspire more people to pursue a career in sustainability through opportunities like these.

What do you think are the key skills required to excel as a Sustainability Consultant? 

As a Sustainability professional in any sector, you must have strong technical expertise and communication skills with a diverse array of knowledge, experience and competencies across the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic and social). In my career I have worked with private organisations, public sector groups and government bodies each with very different approaches but found that a strong technical knowledge with excellent communication skills are key to build a good relationship and collaboratively deliver solutions that have excellent outcomes. By working across a diverse set of clients at Atkins, I have expanded my skills base, experience and been exposed to different operating systems and working cultures. 

Sustainability is a constantly evolving subject which needs dynamic solutions and hence one needs to be aware of new research, development and policies at local, regional, national and international level. In many ways, COVID-19 is resetting the world as we know it and it is important to adapt and find innovative solutions to our clients’ problems.

Most importantly, I think a good Sustainability professional needs to be passionate, assertive, and take the initiative to lead and deliver impactful solutions. 

What is your message to young people seeking to pursue a career in Sustainability? 

Sustainability is not an option, it is at the heart of how we think about everything on a day to day basis! 

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