Insights
6 min read

Sustainable Legacies: ensuring our work has an enduring, positive impact

Troy Rudd
Chief executive officer of AECOM
Lara Poloni
President of AECOM

Delivering a better world is central to our purpose as a company. It guides how we think and execute and is reflected in everything we do. This is evidenced in our Sustainable Legacies strategy, a lasting commitment to environment, social and governance (ESG) principles.

ESG considerations are particularly important in our industry because of the long-term nature of infrastructure investments. Success today is much more than delivering on time and on budget: it is about responding to our clients’ demands and embedding considerations of social equity, economic justice, environmental sustainability and resilience into the work we do to achieve the best outcomes for communities and the planet.

In our Sustainable Legacies strategy, we are leading by example, setting ourselves bold aspirations in terms of our net-zero carbon emissions and advancing other initiatives aligned with our ESG agenda such as expanding the diversity of our workforce and leadership. It also signals that we will be channeling the expertise of our 47,000 design and engineering professionals into growing and developing the part of our business dedicated to ESG services.

Why now?

We took over at the helm of AECOM at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the devastating public health impacts it continues to cause, we have seen inequities in many of our systems magnified, including those that support access to basic services and functions. Disadvantaged communities across the globe have been especially hard hit.

At the same time, other global stressors such as climate change and natural disasters continue to create concern for our future. These issues are now at the top of many government policy agendas. New mandates and regulations are coming through that will require focused, sustainable solutions that we are uniquely well placed to address.

More than 1,500 of our clients and 800 cities globally have already set net zero targets, and others are looking at strengthening the resiliency of communities to adapt to climate change, or rethinking master planning in order to advance community equity and economic prosperity. Another focus is on advancing projects, initiatives, and policies that uplift people and communities. This might be improved health outcomes for a community as a result of clean water infrastructure or reduced air pollution due to transport electrification.

We also have a responsibility to our global employees, who want to work on projects that deliver value, and to the next generation of leaders who are looking to join companies that are strongly committed to ESG. Our talented professionals are driven to deliver sustainable legacies because the engineers, scientists, architects, consultants, program and construction managers who work at AECOM are all committed to ESG principles – and are energized by the idea that their work can contribute positively to the world and to society.

How we are creating sustainable legacies

Delivering sustainable legacies requires a multi-layered approach encompassing immediate needs and longer-term considerations. Reflecting the areas where we can have the biggest impact and where we want to grow our offering, our strategy is organized into four themes:

  1. Embedding sustainable development and resilience across our work
  2. Improving social outcomes (including equity, diversity and inclusion)
  3. Achieving net-zero carbon emissions
  4. Enhancing governance

We want to consider sustainable legacies in every decision we make, and that includes improving the effectiveness of management and operational decision-making regarding what work we do and pursue. Much like we evaluate opportunities associated with projects, we want to identify and mitigate any risks that may work against us achieving our sustainability goals. We can also help clients assess their own corporate sustainability aims so our impact reaches beyond just our own actions.

What does success look like?

We have created a global ESG council led by practitioners to ensure we are collaborating globally and leveraging the best capabilities and expertise on each and every opportunity, no matter where in the world it is located.

Our work in NEOM in Saudi Arabia is a great example. The Kingdom has set very bold ambitions for this new mega city, including goals to be net carbon zero and to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy. We are currently overseeing the program management of this substantial initiative and have brought in technical experts from across our global enterprise, who are engaged in engineering the backbone infrastructure of this new city. This work really underscores the sort of value we are uniquely able to bring to clients in helping them build a better and more sustainable world.

Another great example is the work we are doing in Bronzeville, Illinois, a neighborhood on the southside of Chicago. Working with electric utility ComEd and the Chicago Housing Authority, we are developing the first renewable powered microgrid in this underserved community. This project will help address transportation, electrification and broader community benefits such as jobs and education. At the same time, energy saving programs are helping residents and businesses reduce their utility bills, while other initiatives are creating jobs and training the future workforce and preparing low-income high school students for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.

Internally, our equity, diversity & inclusion program, called Thrive with AECOM, is a key component of our ESG efforts, and has resulted in us doubling women in leadership roles since 2016. We’re continuing to ramp up our initiatives, as well as providing employees with the tools and training to create a more inclusive work environment.

We are also the first company in the engineering sector to have set emission reduction targets approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), designed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Through this and other enterprise initiatives, we are committed to becoming net-zero in our Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2030.

Social equity, economic justice, resilience – these are themes that cut across everything our clients will be dealing with – and we want AECOM to play a critical role in addressing them. We are ready to mobilize our network of experts and innovators to find solutions to these challenges, and to help clients make informed decisions based on critical analyses to deliver truly impactful sustainable legacies.

Social equity, economic justice, resilience – these are themes that cut across everything our clients will be dealing with – and we want AECOM to play a critical role in addressing them.