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Insights Kirstin shows us the future with Engineering Net Zero

Engineering Net Zero is the blueprint our employees are using to shape the future. It steers everything we do, every plan, every project and every brand. For employees like Kirstin, it's not just about working to minimize our impact on the planet and the climate. It's about leaving our world in a better state than we found it.

image of Kirstin smiling

What role do you play in Engineering Net Zero?

I'm based in Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group, and I lead on the Win-Work strategy for Net Zero Carbon (NZC) within Infrastructure and Building Design. Working with my colleague, Isabelle, I decide on and implement strategic direction for NZC. We develop and implement strategies, conduct research to identify project pipelines, integrate NZC into existing markets, and manage and support NZC input across various projects.

I promote the NZC service internally and externally through communications and creating client value propositions. I disseminate ENZ-related regulations, guidance and Atkins' experience to help grow and develop the ENZ mindset across the business.

What do you love most about working on ENZ?

I'm excited by the positive impact we can have on the world. The pace of change is very rapid to ensure it will happen. Until recently, there was little mainstream discussion, understanding and knowledge within the industry. This has evolved very quickly. 

We need to be working towards a Net Zero Plus world. We need to incorporate adaptation and resilience to ensure we live safely in a world with a changing climate. And if we do this correctly, we will thrive. 

We have a great opportunity to create transformation and growth. And the best part of this is the chance we collectively hold to create a better world.

What is your team like?

There's a buzz across the team, and I'm very fortunate to work in an organization that attracts a wide range of diverse experts working across different sectors. We have the innovation, disruption, growth and efficiency to make a difference. And through teamwork, everyone gets to contribute their ideas and help the drive. 

What makes your team at Atkins great at what it does?

To be successful at tackling climate change, we recognize that we need a joined-up approach. So, we collaborate through internal ENZ networks within Atkins. We learn from each other, discuss ideas and develop best-practice. Working like this enables and drives the success of our team. 

It's very stimulating and rewarding to be part of continuous learning and development. And I feel fulfilled to be part of a team that's making waves across the company and positively impacting the world together.

What is our biggest challenge for the future?

The fundamental need for a shift in the economy. Businesses need to embed the circular economy in climate strategies. This will need to entail more ingenious thinking and better decisions. 

There has been lots of discussion around economic degrowth. How it's simply not feasible to just phase out fossil fuel energy while meeting consumer demand. Consumption will need to be condensed, with degrowth being as widely considered alongside technological advancements.  

Jason Hickel defines it as "a planned reduction of energy and resource use designed to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human wellbeing." 

The idea of degrowth could improve livelihoods and reduce less-than-necessary production areas such as advertising and consumerism, with expansion in other sectors such as healthcare.

It's a borderline opinion in climate politics. However, a move from GDP growth towards a more balanced growth ecosystem may allow less reliance in certain areas, avoiding a descent into climate disaster.

How would YOU like to see things develop by 2030?

Vulnerable communities around the world will be vastly affected by climate change. Homes lost, livelihoods lost. Yet, these communities generally have the smallest effect on the rate of climate change. 

Many have been dealing with variability in climate for a long time and already have a vast amount of ecological awareness. They should be empowered for knowledge and decision-making.

As well as meeting government regulations, we must rapidly start anticipating how people and behaviours are changing. People's behaviours may change before legislation. This will be driven from the bottom up as we respond to communities already living a more sustainable lifestyle. So, let's learn from them, designing and creating to meet their demands.

How will individuals' outlooks have to change?

We need to build new strong social norms. For example, not feeling envious of someone taking a world trip but contemplating the carbon emissions associated with this. Or when consuming new fashion, not wanting the same or better but associating the energy and carbon emissions with this. This will be gradual, but already the introduction of technology applications is enhancing this.

Which challenges faced by the world are closest to your heart?

The loss of biodiversity. 83% of the loss to animals and half of all plants have been caused by humans, and the decline of species diversity within species and ecosystems is more rapid than ever.

This in itself is very sad. As humans, we rely on biodiversity for health and food security. It's the absolute pinnacle to global nutrition. Disruption to the ecosystems will hugely impact many areas, including disease, community livelihoods, and biodiversity's nature-based protection against natural disasters.

Why can't we just live in space-age bubbles?

Techniques such as Forest Bathing emphasize the psychological benefits brought to humans by nature-immersed experiences. People also have a natural connection to water; it covers more than 70% of the Earth and makes up nearly 70% of our bodies. We spend nine months of our lives immersed in a 'watery' environment. Being close to nature is essential for our health and wellbeing and it's easy to lose the sense of this connection in a city. 

As human activities continue to threaten ecosystems, we need to ensure all these benefits are understood. Societies need to be enabled to protect them. In doing so, we will provide protection for our future generations.

How will a Net Zero city look and feel different?

A Net Zero city will look more beautiful and operate more efficiently. It will be a thriving, liveable extension of the natural world. It will feel like a natural environment; cleaner, quieter and calmer.

Natural green and blue areas will enhance nature. Greener public transport systems will dominate, with bicycles and electric vehicles leading the way. Biodiversity will be embraced; rooftops and abandoned areas will be transformed into green and blue lands where wildlife will thrive. Homes and businesses will be smarter and clean, renewable technologies will dominate.

Central city areas will transform to be network and collaboration hubs. While liveable and workable smaller districts will continue to form, significantly reducing transport and emissions. Shared spaces will allow for more human interactions and micro-size homes for community activity, enhancing a sense of belonging, equality and community spirit.

Imagine urban and underground farms where we will grow crops, vegetables and fruit. Everything will be more localized, reducing reliance on other countries, reducing transportation and lowering emissions.

We'll find exciting ways to preserve and commemorate history and heritage. Augmented Reality will allow sharing of arts and culture. Low-rise buildings will create 'low glows' with more natural city light and air to improve health and wellbeing. 

Read more about how we're working together on Engineering Net Zero.