In conjunction with colleagues from sister consultancy AXON, employees from Madano serve on the CSR Elective, a body formed to guide and promote responsible social programmes and activity on behalf of the two organisations.
In March and April, the CSR Elective hosted a Sustainability Series from Earth Hour (26 March) to Earth Day (22 April) with the aim of learning and sharing ideas that can inspire action. The series kicked off with four weekly TedTalk sessions, one of which has inspired our Healthcare practice to investigate pro-bono ways of supporting organisations combatting the health implications of climate change.
The series culminated with a live Q&A event on Earth Day exploring the link between climate and social justice with Ayo Sokale: chartered civil engineer, project manager and BIM lead for the Environment Agency’s Collaborative Delivery Framework Eastern Hub (Thames Valley, East Anglia and Herts and North London), Labour and Cooperative Councillor and public speaker. Below are some of the highlights of the conversation we had with Ayo.
Q: Can you remember the moment when you realised how connected the issues of climate, economic and social justice are?
A: I would say the first time I could articulate how connected they were was a lot later in my journey. I think I must have been about 25. But the point where I actually noticed it, but couldn’t put into words, was when I was nine and I chose to be an engineer. I chose that to be my tool to make the world a better place.
And that’s because I was growing up in a developing country and witnessed an engineering project that brought infrastructure. But it didn’t just bring economic benefit to the town. It brought healthy changes, such as children who had suffered with bloated stomachs from disease no longer had those diseases because they had access to clean water and better infrastructure. I saw economic infrastructure bring social change and create community cohesion.
Fundamentally, on a subconscious level, I’d actually noticed it at the age of nine, but it was a lot later, when I’d done the studying and the reading on the journey to becoming a chartered engineer, that I could actually put it into words and say: “Oh, these are the three pillars. It’s a social thing. It’s an economic thing. It’s an environmental thing.” So, I knew at nine, but I knew properly at 25.
Q: Which organisations would you say are doing good work at this intersection between sustainability and social justice? For people who want to get involved, where would you recommend they start?
A: The first practical thing I would recommend is actually Surfers Against Sewage. They have this amazing toolkit for tackling single-use plastic in your community, which I think was created with the end user in mind. We follow their toolkit very closely and started off doing litter picks, bringing the community together to understand that there’s this pressing issue of environmental degradation.
We did a mass unwrap with Waitrose, and they do amazing work. They worked in partnership with us and that raised awareness in the community about this issue. And then we started encouraging people to use the free recycling programmes offered by TerraCycle, and that was led by another local community group. We started connecting the dots, working with refill organisations.
So I would start with the toolkit that’s online. You can download it and get started today! It will allow you to put in place a really well-defined infrastructure through which to take positive steps, but it will also get you connected with other social groups doing the same work in your community, which will then allow you to create social and environmental impact, and economic benefits, for your community.
Friends of the Earth are amazing too. They actually inspired me to take action to address some of these causes. A member of Friends of the Earth on Twitter introduced me to the organisation and then I started looking into them myself. That led to my writing a motion about ways of increasing wild flower numbers and bees in a certain town and working with the lead counsellor. So thank you Friends of the Earth for sparking that innovation. Everyone should check them out. They are an amazing resource and they just know so much.
Q: What steps can communications consultancies like us take to support local communities who are suffering negative environmental impacts such as air pollution?
A: As a communications company you have a complete skillset that could be useful. For example, communities in areas affected by high air pollution are often deemed hard-to-reach, but actually they just need more engagement that’s specific to them. So you could run campaigns aimed at those communities to raise awareness of the health risks they’re suffering, but also explain how they can play a role in tackling that risk.
For example, they could sign a petition to ask their local council to reconsider the local plan and see what they can do to change it. I think a lot of communities are unaware of the risks they face and just need the right communication tools. Maybe Madano, with the communication skills, knowledge and experience you have, could do some of that work, particularly through your CSR Elective.
Q: How can we talk to clients and get them to buy into this? How can we speak their language and make them understand that this is beneficial for everyone?
A: Align the conversation with the clients’ KPIs. As a consultancy, you have to understand your clients’ needs almost as well as they do, so you know the desired outcome and how they’re measuring their own performance. So align this environmental justice work with their KPIs and explain it in terms of CSR or their net-zero targets, and then you can influence them through that self-benefit. Make it matter to them.
Q: As a civil engineer, what more should your industry be doing to play its part in combatting climate change?
A: Starting with a positive example, the Thames Tideway in London has not just delivered a project, but removed plastic from the river and its banks, and transported material using barges instead of HGVs. But as an industry that has a huge potential to create assets and increase energy expenditure, the questions we need to ask ourselves are: “Do we need this infrastructure in future? Should we retrofit our infrastructure? Should we focus on asset management and get away from creating new capital assets? If we are creating capital assets, what standards should they meet? Not just BREEAM Excellent, but how can we go beyond that?”
So we’re facing the challenge of whether we should be building new assets and, when we consider that, we really have to think about the problems we’re trying to solve. Because that’s what we do as engineers: we solve the problems of the day.
Inspired by Ayo’s rallying cry, members of the CSR Elective have already joined Friends of the Earth, and stopped eating meat. If you’re interested in working with organisations who are driving positive environmental change to shape the future, then check out Madano’s latest vacancies: http://madano.com/careers/