Spotlight on sustainability

Apr 19, 2023

To mark Earth Day 2023 (22 April), EngineeringUK Head of Environmental Sustainability, Mike Hardisty, talks about EngineeringUK’s sustainability journey so far and our targets for the future.

This year, the theme of Earth Day is ‘Invest in Our Planet’ which highlights the importance of dedicating our time, resources, and energy to solving climate change and other environmental issues.  At EngineeringUK, we’ve been doing just that. 

Our journey started in earnest 18 months ago with the appointment of our first, dedicated Head of Environmental Sustainability. Our existing sustainability strategy called on EngineeringUK to “operate in an environmentally friendly way”.  Were we already?  How would we know?  So we started by undertaking a full carbon footprint of the organisation, using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as our best practice guide, to properly understand how we were contributing to climate change.  We estimated the carbon emissions associated with:

  • our office
  • our business travel
  • our commuting and home-working
  • the travel of students to/from our events
  • our investment portfolio

Having estimated our pre-Covid “business as usual” emissions, we then went about setting reduction targets - our Board of Trustees supported our ambition to become a net zero organisation in 2040 or soon after. In fact, they asked us to go further than the current Science Based Targets Initiative guidance by committing to:

  • reduce our Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 75%, over the period 2019-30
  • reduce our Scope 3 emissions by at least 40%, over the period 2019-30
  • reduce all emissions by at least 90%, over the period 2019-40

Of course, even when we’ve achieved these reductions, there will still be some “residual” carbon emissions, and to be “net zero” we’ll need to remove them from the atmosphere. There are a number of ways to do this, using nature-based solutions (e.g. tree-planting), technology-based solutions (e.g. direct air capture) and hybrid solutions. As an engineering and technology organisation we would like to use a technology-based solution, but the price is currently prohibitive for us, so for now we’ll invest in a nature-based solution to remove EngineeringUK’s carbon emissions over the period 2040-50.

To date, we’re well on track to meet our 2030 carbon reduction target. However, we have plans to grow our impact and the scale of student engagement programmes, so we’ve also estimated the ‘carbon intensity’ (kgCO2e/student) of each of our programmes so that we understand the likely impact of expansion in different areas. We think we’re the first organisation to have done this.

EngineeringUK has around 70 staff and is therefore a SME (Small and Medium Enterprise), so you might think that we shouldn’t get too excited about our carbon emissions. However, SMEs account for three fifths of employment and around half of turnover, in the UK private sector[1], so their combined impact is significant.  In fact, one recent report[2] estimated that UK SMEs were responsible for about 35% of the UK’s carbon footprint.  So it is crucial that UK SMEs take action to reduce their emissions.

EngineeringUK has also put in place an Environmental Sustainability Policy (which commits us to measuring, reporting and reducing all environmental impacts) and an Environmental Sustainability Procurement Policy (which commits us to check the sustainability credentials of our suppliers and their services). The first success story of the latter came from our Careers team: they worked with our printer to ensure that a set of new careers posters for schools were all printed on FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) recycled paper.

However, perhaps our biggest impact in helping the UK achieve its goal of becoming a net zero economy by 2050 will be our influence on young people’s career choice. Engineers and engineering are vital to reaching this target and to decarbonise the UK we will need to fill approximately:

  • 44,000 new jobs in hydrogen by 2030
  • 65,000 new jobs in offshore wind by 2030
  • 50,000 new jobs in electric vehicle production by 2040
  • 260,000 new jobs across the whole of the energy sector by 2050

Our sustainability strategy therefore calls on us to use environmental sustainability to inspire more young people to choose a career in engineering & technology. To this end we’ve already published:

  • our assessment of the UK workforce needs of net zero
  • a guide to using sustainability to inspire young people through classroom activities


If you’re an SME in need of support and guidance in reducing your environmental impact, you might start with the Federation of Small Business’s free guide, which is available here.

If you want to find out more about how to use environmental sustainability to inspire young people into engineering and technology, please take a look at Mike’s webinar over on Tomorrow’s Engineers.


[1] Source: National Federation of Self Employed & Small Businesses Limited

[2] Source: ‘The Climate Impact of SMEs’ (Sage, 2022) available here

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