Change agent: Changing tracks

9th December 2013

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Maja Radivojevic

Tertius Beneke describes how his work at Network Rail is endeavouring to embed sustainability across all the UK's major rail infrastructure projects

Some might scoff at the idea of one organisation aiming to improve sustainability across a whole sector, but I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. I became the head of sustainable development at the infrastructure project arm of Network Rail six months ago, after working for the organisation for nine years, including time as an environment manager on the Crossrail programme.

In my new role, I lead the environment discipline and advise and coordinate sustainability for Infrastructure Projects (IP), which is responsible for delivering Network Rail’s infrastructure developments – a total of 3,000 projects a year, including major programmes such as Thameslink and the King’s Cross St Pancras redevelopment. IP employs more than 4,500 people and delivers around 80% of Network Rail’s capital expenditure, which is approximately £5 billion a year.

There is considerable momentum in Network Rail and across the rail industry around sustainable development. It is important to build on this and give direction and focus to existing and new initiatives; as such, an ISO 14001-certified environment management system (EMS) was a minimum. It is our aim to demonstrate that we can deliver projects on time, to budget and to a very high sustainability standard.

We set the target of gaining 14001 certification within eight months, and we have revised our integrated management system, put all our environment managers who will be implementing the new EMS through training, and booked in our certification audits for March and June. It’s been about laying down the challenge to our people and then giving them the tools to meet it.

The second aspect of our new sustainability approach has been the setting of some really ambitious targets in our next five-year business plan, which begins in April next year. The first of these is to “advance the standard of environment management in infrastructure projects”, not simply within Network Rail projects or IP, but across the industry. This is about the contribution we can make to environment management in our sector, in terms of systems, processes and people.

Crucial to this are the skills and competence of our staff and that of our suppliers. Alongside training our people, we are working to ensure best practice is spread across the company and developing user-friendly tools to support staff in making the most sustainable choices. Examples of such tools include our environmental appraisals and action plans (similar to mini impact assessments), templated site inspection sheets and heat maps. We have pockets of absolute brilliance in Network Rail, with individual projects developing excellent ways of cutting waste to landfill or protecting biodiversity, for example, and it’s about sharing those ideas and making sure they’re scalable. We are setting targets for our projects on reducing pressure on water systems, optimising resource use, cutting carbon emissions and having a positive effect on biodiversity, but we aren’t dictating how projects meet those targets.

Taking this approach a step further, we are developing requirements for our principal contractors on the level of competence and skill we expect their environment managers and specialists to have. If a project is worth £20 million, for example, we expect a certain level of experience, IEMA membership or an equivalent, and a degree or similar. We’ve started to talk to our suppliers about the new requirements and, so far, the reaction has been really encouraging; no one has been negative about it. All our suppliers appreciate why the sustainability agenda is important; it’s a case now of understanding how many staff they have trained in environment management and at what level of skill. It’s going to be a big challenge, but that’s where IEMA and its courses can help.

We’ve also created a procurement charter, which aligns with our 12 key sustainability priorities and challenges our supply chain to meet these in the tender process. Currently, 5% of tender evaluation is decided purely on sustainability and we’re looking to extend that score in the future.

We have this saying at Network Rail that “safety is in the line”. It means that every single person in the organisation is responsible for safety, so if they see something dangerous they report it. Everybody contributes. Ultimately, that’s where I want to take sustainability. I want it “in the line”; a part of everybody’s day job, so it becomes par for the course without them thinking about it. And it’s not just about our staff. By upskilling the whole supply chain, we hope to improve the quality of environment management across all major infrastructure projects.

I became a sustainability professional because I’m passionate about the environment and want to make a difference. In this role, I have an amazing opportunity to make that difference. If we require our whole supply chain, as well as our own people, to be more aware of the environment and to do things better, we will have a big impact across the UK. It’s an immense challenge, but one I know we can meet.

Tertius Beneke, MIEMA CEnv, head of sustainable development, Network Rail – Infrastructure Projects.

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