In conversation with Eurostar’s Peter Bragg

This week we catch-up with Eurostar's head of environment and energy, Peter Bragg, on why we should all take European high-speed rail instead of short-haul flights and why consumer engagement in environmental issues has declined.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

Over the past year, we’ve been undertaking an in-depth study to measure the carbon footprint of the whole business – including our operations and our supply chain – to provide us with a clear benchmark for future activity. Our next step is to use the results to identify further opportunities to reduce emissions across the business, whether that’s through technological change, behavioural change or collaborative engagement with our suppliers.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

This is an exciting period for the European high-speed rail network as the deregulation of the market brings opportunities for new routes, new partnerships and new services across the network.

At Eurostar we’re continuing to see year on year growth, carrying almost 10 million passengers in 2012 alone. The growing popularity of high-speed rail and arrival of competition will help to drive the shift from plane to high-speed rail. Across Europe, for example, we are seeing operators establish alliances to offer better connecting travel. Our research shows that there are currently 20 million people taking short haul flights between the UK and locations in Europe that are easily accessible by the expanding European high-speed rail network, and so connections is a key part of our strategy and one which is very good news for the environment.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

Over the past few years consumer engagement in environmental issues has declined as the economic climate across Europe has deteriorated. So, the constant challenge of my job is to ensure that our sustainability practices inspire our customers.

What motivates you?

I’ve always strongly believed in ‘doing the right thing’, whether it is on a personal or business level. So much of what sustainability is about meets that aim and most of us live (or want to live) by those same values.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

While I’m no train spotter, I do love travelling by high-speed rail. It’s always an exciting feeling to leave London and arrive in cities like Paris in just a few hours, and with so little hassle. I genuinely find it hard to understand why anyone would consider flying to Paris or Brussels!

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

It’s not really an innovation but I really like the concepts that are developing around a ‘sharing economy’, sharing products, goods and services to reduce resource consumption and waste. It has great potential in moving us away from a consumer driven economy to one based more on collaboration and re-use.

What’s the big focus in 2013 for the environment?

For us as a business it’s looking at our supply chain emissions as in most other business cases, our supply chain makes up the majority of our emissions profile. We are also pushing forward with initiatives such as onboard energy metering to drive further reductions in our energy consumption.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

Be patient, be confident and practice your skills at influencing key decision makers. It is important to remember that not everyone is as passionate as you about sustainability or has it at the top of their job description. It is a case of building relationships, being able to articulate your business case, and sharing success.

What do you like most about your job?

It’s great to be working for a business that not only has an inherently sustainable product but that truly cares about the impact it has on the environment.

What’s the worst aspect of your job?

Having to remind a minority of colleagues to do something that takes so little effort or seems so simple (e.g. office recycling). I always struggle when people seem to leave their ‘green values’ at home when they come to work.

What do you think 2013 has in store for the green economy?

I think 2013 will continue to be challenging – in general it feels that investment in green infrastructure, products and services is not really seen as part of the solution to drive growth in the overall economy. For me, investment in green infrastructure such as rail and renewables is an obvious way of delivering growth, whilst simultaneously making environmental improvements.

What period of time would you visit if you had access to a time machine?

It would be fascinating to jump forward 50 years to see what the world is like. It would certainly bring an interesting perspective to the rate of change we see today.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Last year I rode the ‘Étape du Tour’, a full Alpine stage of the Tour de France. It was a fantastic experience, riding the same route in one day as the professionals a few days later. I’m a pretty keen road cyclist but it was a tough day in the saddle!

If you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?

Ernest Shackleton – I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of his expedition to the South Pole, and his single-mindedness in the face of hardship.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Not so much advice but I’ve always liked the well known quote from Margaret Mead – ‘Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’.

Worst advice?

I’ve never really had any as I avoid listening to it if I don’t believe that it’s useful.

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

Champion your staff and reward involvement with responsibility and recognition as people like to be recognised for the things they do and staff often respond better to their fellow colleagues rather than managers.

What state do you see the planet in 30 years?

Although it’s sometimes easy to be pessimistic, I do believe that we can find the solutions and make the changes necessary so that we can live within our means. However, there’s no doubt it’s going to be a challenge with close to 9 billion people all aspiring to live as we do today in the developed world.

What do you say to the climate change sceptics?

If you want to disagree with an overwhelming body of scientific evidence, that’s up to you, but there are many good reasons as to why we should recycle more, use less energy and protect biodiversity without even mentioning climate change! One of my favourite cartoons is of a chap at a climate summit listing all the benefits that come from being more sustainable and he gets the question from the audience asking ‘What if it’s all a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?’. That says it all really.

What’s been your biggest win (environmentally)?

I helped develop the business case for a photovoltaic roof on Blackfriars Station when I worked for Network Rail. The roof is now generating around 50% of the station’s energy demand and is the largest roof array in London.

If there was one word you could remove from the English language what would it be?


Books or kindle?

I was given a Kindle last year and love it for its convenience. However, I still miss the physical feel of a book and being able to share it with others so I still find myself buying the odd hard copy!

Check-out last week’s inteview ‘In conversation with M&S’ Mike Barry and Adam Elman’

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