What makes a sustainability leader? Meet energy & carbon champion Lara Young

With the entry deadline for edie's 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards just one week away, this series showcases the achievements of previous winners and reveals their secrets to success. Up next: Winner of our 'Energy & Carbon Leader of the Year' award, Lara Young.

What makes a sustainability leader? Meet energy & carbon champion Lara Young

Ready to follow in Lara's footsteps? Entries for the 2022 Awards close on 1 October 2021


Lara Young was group carbon manager at Costain when she received this award, and is now the firm’s group climate change director. Her career at Costain has spanned more than six years so far, during which time she has worked to drive to embed the business case for sustainability and carbon management in all stages of construction has led her to.

Colleagues have described Lara as the is the instigator and driving force behind establishing and now implementing the business’ recently launched Climate Change Action Plan which sets out a detailed 15-year plan to transition to a net-zero organisation by 2035 at the very latest. Her ambition to challenge the norms is truly transforming the industry and empowering all to take ownership of the part they need to play in addressing the global challenge of climate change.

Lara is aiming to change not just the way Costain builds things but also the mindset and behaviours behind this, to ensure what the business build incorporates climate change mitigation, future population demands and zero or low-carbon materials.

She has ensured Costain takes an industry-shaping stance of tackling not only the group’s direct footprint, but addressing the most challenging indirect (Scope 3) emissions in its client and supply chain footprints. Driving a truly whole life-cycle business approach, she has set ambitious targets to eliminate the industry footprint including through reducing plant and machinery emissions by 100% by 2035 and launching a 20% idling reduction target for every Costain project in 2020 and delivering low-carbon options to every client by 2023, with a specific focus on reducing embodied emissions from concrete, steel and aggregate.

Under Lara, Costain also has plans to establish a zero-emission car fleet of only hydrogen and fully electric vehicles for both car allowance and company car fleets by 2030. This commitment was galvanised by Costain recently joining the intentionally recognised EV100 initiative. And she wants to eliminate the group’s energy footprint in its permanent and temporary accommodation.

Lara’s close and ongoing collaboration has ensured the plan has been a huge success since its launch, with all stakeholders taking ownership and championing this across the business and industry. Even through the challenging environment Covid-19 has created, Lara has harnessed this new way of working to demonstrate to all Costain’s ability to adapt, and how this can be applied to achieving net-zero.

She has challenged and supported every discipline and team to review and rethink their current models and processes. She has and continues to work closely with design, engineering, procurement, and commercial teams in addition to supply chain partners and clients to drive solutions which deliver sustainable added value that benefit the entire value chain.

To support this, Lara created – and is now implementing – a group-wide education programme to ensure carbon management is relatable and accessible to all. This targeted programme has already seen the successful delivery of an introductory eLearning module on carbon reduction and PAS2080 to more than 1,100 individuals. Lara has also delivered training to 100 senior leaders as part of Leading Carbon in Costain training and is currently engaging the design community on their vital role in meeting net-zero.

Over the years, Lara has grown her role from a reporting focused role to one which is establishing and leading group strategy to address climate change and position the business as a recognised net-zero leader. Throughout this time, she has demonstrated her ability to constructively challenge whilst providing and leading tangible proactive solutions.

As an example, the establishment of a group-wide plant idling reduction plan launched in 2020. Working in close collaboration with all major plant and machinery suppliers, Lara coordinated a contractual cross-industry plant data agreement and standard to ensure every Costain project would benefit from a consistent and coherent data set and collection process. The plan is built on delivering a sustainable business model for all, providing both carbon emissions and cost reductions for all stakeholders.  This initiative has successfully equipped every project to meet its 20% idling reduction target for 2020 as this data insight pinpoints the relevant emission hotspots and areas for driver behaviour change. This successful supply chain collaboration plan has led to idling reductions and fuels efficiency achievements above 40% for some projects.

Lara is also working with global plant and machinery manufacturers to help shape their research and development and accelerate market availability for low and zero-emission plant. For example, she is a driving force in the recently launched Supply Chain School of Sustainability’s Plant Standard.

edie’s judges said: “We were blown away by Lara’s sheer determination in the hard-to-decarbonise field of construction. Se has applied strong methodologies, embedding new practices across the company’s operations that have delivered impressive results in terms of energy use and carbon emissions, as well as wider resource efficiency.”

Are you our next winner?

After a tough and extraordinary year, edie’s RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are back for 2022, bigger and better than ever – celebrating the incredible people, projects and partnerships that are accelerating climate action and transforming business, for good. 

Entries are now OPEN. The submission deadline for the 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday 1 October 2021. The Awards is then set to take place as a live ceremony on the night of Wednesday 2 February 2022 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 

Our ‘Sustainability Leader of the Year’ category is among the 23 categories to choose from. Make sure you get the recognition you, and your team, deserve. ENTER THE SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS AWARDS 2022 HERE.

edie Staff

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