It is now 15 years since Amec Foster Wheeler first started to look at sustainability. Jane Gospel and Linzie Forrester remember back to those early days.
We did wonder whether the first report would ever see the light of day. It was produced by a group of enthusiasts, individually committed to sustainability, but honestly, we don’t think they, or the company realised what they were letting themselves in for. Most people in the company were barely aware of sustainability or corporate social responsibility, back then it was still a novelty to businesses, not something taken seriously. Our initial sustainability programme wasn’t aligned at that point with business needs, or our strategy. Most reported activities were local (the Code of Business Conduct only applied to the Americas for example) and in effect we reported on a collection of bits, not our global activities.
This was a time when many companies and industries were being accused of greenwash, however, we made the conscious decision to be as open, transparent and balanced as possible. That meant being openly self-critical about where we had poorer performance, not something we had done before in print.
We didn’t have much data, or indeed a clear plan. We included environmental breaches, accidents, fatalities, and specific information about the two people involved. We even included a controversial case study on the Chalillo Hydro Power Project in Belize. We are also ashamed to say we discovered too late that the photographed tortoise was in fact a captive model.
The main thrust of that first report was aspirational – we committed to start measuring, to report more measurements, to work with communities and external groups, to audit our progress and to report annually. It was not an easy report to write (some people thought we’d never get it approved), but, once it was published, we got good external feedback precisely because we had been so open.
Looking at where we are today, things have moved on enormously.The journey has been one of excitement, hard work, and huge steps forward. Above all, now our sustainability strategy and plans are integrated into how we work as a business. Our Resilient World is a powerful objective. No longer is it a group of enthusiastic ‘sustainability geeks’ pursuing ideals, making it up as we went along…