A government-owned private company, Network Rail manages much of the railway network in Britain, including over 20,000 miles of track and 2,500 stations — though it doesn’t run passenger services or own trains. Helping such an organization’s determine its Environmental Sustainability Strategy Framework meant operating within a complex stakeholder structure which included senior leaders and non-executive directors, the Department for Transport (DfT), non-governmental organizations and ministers.
Celebrating and embracing complexity in creating a sustainability strategy
We celebrated and embraced that complexity, knowing that within it lay the unknown combinations that would provide the key to success. Our starting point was to engage with internal and external stakeholders across Network Rail’s five regions to assess their different positions and priorities. Consulting more than 300 people would be a challenge in normal circumstances, but this took place during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning most of our engagement was remote. Thanks to our virtual tools, we achieved higher attendance than multi-stakeholder in-person sessions and significantly reduced travel — a positive outcome when delivering a sustainability strategy.
The next step was to build a narrative that makes sense of the different interests, as well as other variables such as the available resources and expected passenger forecasts. The importance of developing a compelling shared narrative about environmental, social and governance intent cannot be understated: by guiding and aligning strategies and action, it gives direction to the evolution of the strategy.
Developing an ambitious roadmap to net zero by 2050
Once we had consensus on the narrative, we were able to develop an ambitious discipline-specific roadmap to 2050 covering key priority areas such as climate change adaptation, energy and carbon, circular economy, biodiversity, noise, air quality and water. This included recommendations for achieving its ambition to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050 and became the starting point for Network Rail to implement change, including aligning its net zero ambitions with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) on emissions reductions. To ensure value for money and deliverability of our proposals, we analyzed initiatives taken in other industries, developed high level cost benefit analysis, and generated a series of heatmaps for the proposed policy interventions that prioritized quick wins and longer term ‘must deliver’ projects.
The Network Rail environment strategy was a complex assignment. It involved seeking the views from many stakeholders and needed to be grounded in facts and data. AECOM did an excellent piece of work bringing together different perspectives and shaping these into a coordinated strategy. The team were collaborative. They worked at pace. The final product was of a very high quality and has been well received throughout the rail industry.
To build a solid foundation internally, a strong project governance was set up including a steering group composed of members of the executive team and board, as well as champions from different parts of the business.
The strategy received excellent feedback from the different stakeholder groups and, after board sign-off, was published to a warm reception in September.