What makes a sustainability leader? Meet rising star Jonathan Ayton

With the entry deadline for edie's 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards on Friday (1 October), this series showcases the achievements of previous winners. Up next: Winner of our 'Rising Sustainability Star' award, Willmott Dixon's Jonathan Ayton.

What makes a sustainability leader? Meet rising star Jonathan Ayton

Are you our next Rising Sustainability Star? Entries for the 2022 Awards close on 1 October 2021


Jonathan (Jono) Ayton joined Willmott Dixon’s group sustainability team as an intern in 2015 and has progressed to become the business’s senior sustainable development manager. His first project was to present a business case for two electric vehicle (EV) charge-points to be installed at the firm’s head office to a managing director. Consequently, he was promoted to a permanent role, and now leads on several exciting projects including working with the Carbon Trust to reduce supply-chain carbon emissions, co-leading the Sustainable Transport Group and introducing new incentives for EVs  and charge points, and carrying out audits of the Willmott Dixon Sustainable Procurement Policy monitoring adherence and identifying areas for improvement.

Willmott Dixon’s first sustainability strategy covered the period from 2013 to 2020 and, on climate, had a focus on reducing the business’s direct carbon footprint.  However, the vast majority of emissions associated with its projects come from the supply chain. Jono played a key role in the business’ pioneering work with the Carbon Trust to achieve its Supply-Chain-Standard – a standard it helped to create. This involved a hot-spotting exercise, enabling Willmott Dixon to understand which are the biggest emitters in its supply chain.

Using this tool after improving data collection, Jono found that WD’s scope 1 and 2 carbon represented just 1% of total emissions associated with its projects; the other 99% came from its supply chain.

Subsequently, he project managed achieving level two of the Carbon-Trust-Supply-Chain-Standard, which involved supporting three partners, influencing senior leaders in their businesses to record, monitor and reduce their carbon footprint and improve their business efficiency.

This was a complex task that involved manipulating large volumes of unstructured data. Jono baselined the supply chain companies’ carbon footprints and created a series of short, medium and long-term interventions, to reduce emissions each with payback periods. This resulted in around 30% in savings to their carbon emissions and energy spend. For groundworkers McDermott’s, he identified £200,000 worth of savings – justifying the extra work – and his reporting procedures and interventions helped them achieve ISO50001.

Jono also identified that Willmott Dixon needed a data-driven approach to accurately predict waste types, volumes and costs on construction projects in order to achieve its 2020 waste target. He created the organisation’s flagship waste prediction tool, which is mandatory for every construction project to complete.

Jono spent six months building the tool, which uses four years’ worth of historic waste data from more than 300 Willmott Dixon projects. The tool predicts the amount and types of waste for new projects based on the past performance of projects with similar criteria. It has been invaluable for helping WD teams set and monitor their projects’ waste budgets and challenging conventional construction site practice.

The tool has been shared with sustainability directors and environmental managers to help drive behaviour change. The tool has supported improved waste prediction, lowered waste costs and improved waste performance, helping the business reduce its construction waste intensity by 56% since 2012, leading to a reduction in absolute construction waste of 5,000m3.

Jono’s aspirations are to ensure Willmott Dixon becomes zero-carbon without offsetting by 2030 and to pave the way for its supply chain to become net-zero by 2040.

He has become the firm’s sustainable transport expert, and is continuing to shape company policy in this area working closely with senior leaders. He was instrumental in developing Willmott Dixon’s approach to sustainable, low-carbon transport as part of the 2030 Sustainability Strategy. He modelled various business scenarios and gathered information from outside the business to plot the route to zero-carbon. He presented the business case to the holdings board, which agreed to a 100% electric fleet by 2030 and to reduce company mileage by 65% by end 2021. Jono also identified a series of interventions to enable the business to achieve these targets, including electric vehicle leasing, salary sacrifice schemes, green bonuses, charge points, promoting agile and home working, and penalising high-polluting vehicles.

These interventions require significant funding, investment and cooperation across the business. To tackle this, Jono set up the Sustainable Transport Working Group, which he invited Willmott Dixon’s chief finance officer to chair and senior representatives from human resources and communications teams to drive change. The changes are being rolled out across the company at present.

In a relatively short period, Jono has gone from Intern to technical expert and trusted advisor. He has a strong technical grounding in sustainability and a very human approach to his work. Both are important qualities in a leader.

edie’s judges said: “Jonathan has demonstrated great initiative throughout his career, quickly progressing from intern to senior manager. He has already made a significant impact in the business, driving change across a range of areas at a relatively early stage in his career. He also has strong ambitions for the future, making him a great role model for other professionals.”

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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