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Insights Faces of the future: Sustainability

Freya Crunden, environmental consultant, focuses on making infrastructure projects more sustainable, particularly relating to Net Zero 2050 challenge, by using data, tools and confidence to make the most sustainable decisions. 
this is a image of Freya smiling
Why do you think sustainability projects are important for the industry you work in and UK?

It’s widely accepted that we’re in the middle of a Climate Emergency, and it means we can’t go on doing things as we have done. Infrastructure makes a substantial contribution to UK carbon emissions – both in construction and in use – so it’s really important that sustainable development gets brought to its heart. Thinking about sustainability also means we can create infrastructure that’s better for communities and wildlife, too.

What are you finding the most interesting; challenging; rewarding so far?

The most interesting projects often are the most challenging! What’s been great has been working at the cutting edge of work being done around sustainability. It’s an area where everyone’s learning and innovating, so it gives the opportunity to shape how things are done as we help people navigate this new way of thinking.

Do you think people know enough about sustainability projects and industry efforts?

We’ve all heard the doom-and-gloom part of the story, but I think what we need to hear more of is the hope - it’s the progress, and the successes. We need to hear more about what’s possible, to share ideas and inspire each other.

How do you think we can educate younger generations about sustainability across infrastructure? What methods do you think work best? 

I think what we’re seeing is that younger generations really understand and care about sustainability issues. They expect more from government and organisations in this area than we have in the past. The best thing we can do is encourage and harness that enthusiasm by really listening to the sort of future our young people want and engaging them in creating it. When people don’t feel heard or like they’re powerful to influence change, they can get frustrated and disenfranchised. We risk losing the passion we’ve seen, for example in the school climate strikes, by letting it fizzle out.

What would (or even do) you personally say to younger people interested in it? 

We’re at a place where real change needs to happen, and the opportunity to be involved and drive that is only going to grow. Sustainability covers so many topics – carbon, biodiversity, community, finance – that there’s no single way into a career in sustainability, and there’s the opportunity to focus on the parts that really interest you. But even if you never end up with ‘sustainability’ in your job title, that absolutely doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the effort. Ultimately, we need everyone – in their work and at home – engaged in building a more sustainable future.

What are key actions do you think we need to carry out to put sustainability in the minds of people? 

To me, changing behaviours boils down to two main aspects: motivation, and then process. Hearts and hands. People need to understand the importance of an issue, emotionally connect with the outcome we’re trying to achieve, and feel powerful to be part of it. That’s motivation. Then the process to act on that needs to be as simple and supported as possible so that it doesn’t provide a barrier. Very often with sustainability, we see one or the other, rather than both. We see dry reporting processes, where people go through the motions but aren’t bringing their creativity – they’re not invested. Or we see enthusiastic people struggling against a system which isn’t set up to support their ambitions, and they go away feeling disengaged. Whether you’re talking about a project team, an organisation, or the whole nation, we need to make sure we’re helping people engage from both a hearts and hands perspective.

How do you feel about being a part of future-focused work?

As the proverb says, “Blessed is he who plants trees under whose shade he will never sit.” I think we should all aspire to leaving the world a better place than we found it and being part of building a better future is an exciting prospect!  

Was there a definitive moment that steered you towards a career in sustainability and the environment? 

I don’t remember a specific moment when I suddenly knew that’s what I should do, but I have always been passionate about using my time and talents to do something good for a cause I really believe in. At first, I was focused on environmental issues from quite a scientific perspective, but I’ve become more and more interested in the ‘people’ side of sustainability, and how we can collaborate to bring benefits across the whole sustainability spectrum.