#SustyTalk: Kier Group’s Jo Gilroy on communicating sustainability through and beyond Covid-19
Our series of at-home video interviews continues with episode three featuring Jo Gilroy, head of sustainability and environment at the construction firm Kier Group. Jo discusses how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting sustainability communications and engagement, now and in the future.
With the UK on lockdown and edie readers working remotely or on furlough, #SustyTalk keeps you connected to the inspirational business leaders who are continuing to drive sustainability and champion climate action from their own homes.
In this episode, edie’s content director Luke Nicholls speaks with Kier Group’s head of sustainability and environment Jo Gilroy. The pair discuss how the pandemic is impacting the announcement and communication of new sustainability initiatives and programmes.
Specifically, Jo explains how she and her team have managed the communication of a new 10-year sustainability framework within the Kier business.
“When Coronavirus hit, we had to question what was appropriate to talk about and where our focus should be. And the decision was made very quickly to focus on where we can have maximum impact in the immediate term whilst we are all on lockdown – and that’s around pollution prevention.
“So, we scaled back the limited resource that we had and we pushed it all into that pillar of pollution prevention. And we’ve made sure our staff on the ground know exactly what they need to do to prevent pollution and protect biodiversity.
“We did a soft launch [of the 10-year framework] internally and we are undertaking a number of activities in the background… we’re just not making a song and dance about it [in the context of the wider Kier Group] because it’s not appropriate in the current climate. We just need to get on with it.
“It’s a shame because I was hoping to do a bit more of an engagement piece around it, but we will live with that and continue to action what we need to in order to travel in a sustainable direction.”
‘Pounds and pence’
Jo, who joined the construction company last year after spending five years with distribution and outsourcing company Bunzl, goes on to discuss the crucial importance of sustainability professionals focusing on the commercial benefits of sustainability as we emerge from the pandemic.
“This crisis is hitting our economy very hard,” Jo says. “What we do not want is sustainability going back into that box of ‘a nice thing to do when times are good’. What is absolutely critical is sustainability needs to be put into the language of commercial business – pounds and pence. We need to be saying that our sustainability initiatiaves are business-critical because they will cost x but generate y.”
Finally, Jo notes a couple of ways that Covid-19 may actually benefit the sustainability agenda in the long-term. Specifically, the positive reaction to this pandemic serves to highlight just how quickly governments and businesses are able mobilise around an existential threat, Jo says.
“Covid-19 has forced people to wrap their heads very quickly around an existential issue. So we will be exiting with this mindset already beginning to form around how we perceive, act on and acknowledge existential issues, like climate change.”
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