What makes a sustainability leader? Meet our net-zero champion, Simon Dawes of the Environment Agency

Simon (centre) recieved his award at a glittering ceremony in London in March

Simon Dawes has led the Environment Agency on a carbon reduction journey for the past 15 years. In that time, his work has successfully delivered a reduction in emissions of 47%. Recognising the need to accelerate the pace of change, Simon proposed the idea of net-zero by 2030 to the board and oversaw the development of a net-zero strategy.

Having secured board buy-in, making the Environment Agency one of England’s first public sector organisations to sign up to net-zero, Simon then led the development and execution of a detailed roadmap, published in May 2021. This roadmap was, itself,  an edie Award-winner this year.

Click here for more information on the edie Awards 2023. 

Securing executive buy in to an ambitious SBTi-aligned, net-zero by 2030 goal was a difficult challenge. The EA is a complex organisation, has a large construction programme and has duties to protect lives. Simon’s approach was to develop a business-owned, collaborative plan, to demonstrate to the executive that the target was an achievable one without compromising other objectives.

He worked with teams to produce a SMART plan, with actions owned by the heads of the business. Delivery against roadmap actions has been built into business plans across all areas.

Simon believes that people and culture are core to the strategy’s success. He is leading the development of a ‘total carbon’ dashboard (including embodied emissions) which will bring visibility of energy and carbon performance down to the team level. Integrating this with specific carbon budgets will allow leaders in the organisation to start making more carbon-conscious decisions.

Underpinning all of this is a campaign to improve knowledge and skills. Simon has led the development of an organisation-wide (11,000 staff) online learning programme accredited by the Carbon Literacy Trust. This will improve carbon literacy and enable people to see how they can innovate and contribute in their roles.

Simon’s colleagues told edie that he has encouraged innovation in thinking, in technology, practical tools and in research. He firmly believes that collaboration and shared learning will speed up the EA’s journey to success and uses his role as Sustainability Ambassador for the Major Projects Authority to that end. He regularly leads conversations with other bodies such as Water UK, to share learnings and generate ideas.

Simon has played a key role in both the EA’s ground-breaking offsetting research and its supply chain study to understand partners’ decarbonisation trajectories through innovation. Additionally,  Simon’s homeworking calculator was the first of its kind and is now being rolled out across Defra.

Having identified that construction activity resulted in 54% of the EA’s total emissions, Simon brought focus to the key element – concrete, which accounts for 65% of construction emissions. He has driven the business to adopt innovative low-carbon concrete as the default option in construction. The result has been a change to engineering Minimum Technical Requirements to make this innovative material the starting point. Working with the EA innovation manager, Simon has also showcased 3D printing of concrete, electrification of the fleet and the use of drones to eliminate the need for offroad vehicles.

edie’s judges said: “A true net-zero leader and visionary, Simon has ensured that his board are properly engaged and the wider workforce are upskilled so that they all have the understanding and the means to deliver a net-zero strategy which is already showing positive results.”

Are you our next winner?

Now in its 16th year, the world’s largest sustainable business awards scheme – formerly known as the Sustainability Leaders Awards – continues to champion bold and brilliant climate leadership. From the most ambitious net-zero carbon programmes through to cutting-edge green innovations; from impactful climate partnerships and social sustainability initiatives to the heroes on the ground who are driving positive change.

The edie Awards are hosted during our flagship Business Leadership Month, offering a unique opportunity to have your sustainability achievements recognised and admired by thousands of businesses and climate experts. Winning an edie Award empowers teams, inspires stakeholders and accelerates sustainable business growth.

Entries for the awards are NOW OPEN and the deadline for entries is Friday (14 October). The winners will then be revealed at a ceremony in London on 30 March 2023. Click here for full details and to enter. 


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