Impact, Sustainability

Ben Smith, AECOM’s Director of Sustainable Development for Design, Planning & Economics in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is committed to change in the next 12 months. Whether it’s growing veggies with his children or studying the ethics of his investments, he’s determined to give it a go. So what sparked this light bulb moment? Ben explains.

A few weeks ago, I took part in the Climate Reality Project’s Leadership Training Corps in Melbourne. The project — with former US Vice-President Al Gore as its founder and chairman — is a non-profit organisation aiming to educate, advocate and act on climate change through its growing network of international supporters. There are now 6000 trained climate leaders worldwide.

Over three days, we heard from leading scientists, psychologists, engagement specialists, emergency services professionals, and ordinary people who have gone to extraordinary lengths to advocate for action on climate and the environment. We heard about some of the tragic impacts of extreme weather events that are already happening around the world, and which often impact on vulnerable populations; 13 of the 14 hottest years on record have been in this century.

But we were also given hope and heard from individuals and businesses that are either successfully and profitably manufacturing and deploying renewable energy, considering alternative land management techniques, investing in clean technology or increasing community or business resilience.

After listening and reflecting, I was left wondering what I might be able to do to also help catalyse some action. Through my project work at AECOM, I frequently have opportunities on projects to consider actions to mitigate greenhouse gases or to increase climate resilience. I am currently working on a regional strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and two regional strategies to increase resilience to the expected impacts from climate change. But is that enough? After three days I was left thinking — probably not.

Let me say straight away:  I’m not a “perfect green specimen.” I’ve flown several times in the past year; I may have left the odd light on longer than I should, I wear a suit to work, and I do occasionally print a document that I think I need. I’ve not written to my local MP. I’ve not taken time out to make a presentation at the local school and, perhaps most significantly, I have no idea what all the various pensions and super-annuation funds I have scattered around the world are invested in.  So, there’s clear room for improvement.

It’s so easy to complain about the government, about policy or about the media. But, they are only responding to the demands of the population, their electorate and customers. People like me who might not be “perfect green specimens” but who hold diverse friendships and acquaintances need to lift, do more to bring this conversation into the mainstream, and give businesses and governments the clear signals they need.

So I make the following pledge. In the next 12 months, I will:

  1. Consolidate pensions and super-annuation funds and check what I’m investing in. Change if necessary/possible.
  2. Install solar photovoltaics on my home
  3. Investigate/join suitable local community/volunteer organisations
  4. Sign up for a car share scheme
  5. Offset emissions from personal flights
  6. Drop off and pick up my children from childcare more regularly — to find out who actually lives in my neighbourhood and what they all do
  7. Grow some veggies with the kids
  8. Bring a packed lunch to work to at least three days of the week — to save time, money and packaging
  9. Introduce 50 new people to the Climate Reality Project.

Have I just distanced myself from the mainstream, or are you all with me? If you see me around, stop me and ask how I’m tracking, and let me know what you’re doing. Find out more about the Climate Reality Project here: Notes:

  • When ‘The Inconvenient Truth,’ Al Gore’s Academy Award winning film on climate change was released in 2006, AECOM block booked the Electric Cinema in Portabello Road in London and filled it with 110 clients, contacts and staff.  If you were there that night, or you are also supporting the Climate Reality Project, I would love to hear from you. Have you been moved to act?
  • As Climate Reality Leaders myself and Peter Steele (also Melbourne) now have access to the famous (but updated) Al Gore slide show. Let us know if you want a re-cap.

Ben Smith ( is director of sustainable development for design, planning & economics in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The main image features his two daughters, Ava and Lily, overlooking the city of Melbourne.

Twitter: @Smithster76
LinkedIn: Ben Smith

Originally published Aug 25, 2014

Author: Ben Smith