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ICE chief Leiper puts sustainability at top of the list

60 second interview

Quentin Leiper was inaugurated as the new president of the Institution of Civil Engineers this week. The director for engineering and environment at Carillion tells Emma Crates why sustainability is at the top of his agenda.

Congratulations on your appointment. How long have you been involved with environmental issues?

We picked up the issue in Carillion around 2000. It was then that we realised environmental issues needed to be part of a much broader, sustainable strategy.

How do you define sustainability?

Caring for the environment is just one of three strands - the other two are social and economic.

How does this work within companies?

Let me give you an example.

We build a hospital that costs £100 million. The trust could have spent £200 million on it, to make it extremely environmentally friendly, but that would have bust its budgets.

Therefore, while we have to work hard on environmental issues, they have to balance with the economic environment in which we operate.

So how has Carillion progressed over the past six years in this area?

It took us a full three years to understand what we were doing and why we needed to do it. The business had to grasp how the changes are not just about branding and image, they add money to the bottom line. During that time, the perception of the issues was transformed from things that so called 'tree-huggers' were focusing on to something our commercial people and accountants would understand.

What happened in the past three years?

We've spent that time demonstrating the business case and measuring our results. Now we have to really embed sustainability into our business.

Can you give an example?

Take waste. By the time we completed the Darent Valley Hospital in Kent in 2000 - one of the first PFI hospitals - we had sent 2,400 tonnes to tip. Our next hospital project, the Great Western in Swindon (completed in 2002), was a similar size; we targeted 50 per cent and got within a whisker of 1,200 tonnes.

Can it get any better?

Now we're building the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford.

We have 40 tonnes of waste a month, but we recycle most of it, so only send half a tonne of waste to tip a month. It's a staggering improvement.

How does this compare to the rest of industry?

There are a handful of clients and contractors who are doing good work. But I'm disappointed things haven't moved as fast as they might. There will always be the superstars, but we need to mobilise everyone to make a difference.

What advice would you give to other companies?

You have to get ownership of the senior team and completely build it into a business strategy. You don't have to put a lot of staff resources into this - even at Carillion it's only half my job. It's a matter of getting your team to think differently.