I had a conversation with Tim Haywood, Group Finance Director and Head of Sustainability at Interserve. The topic was ‘inspiring sustainability’ and I certainly left the conversation feeling stimulated and motivated. If you want to hear the full interview, look at the Podcast page.
Interserve is a worldwide construction and support service business of 80,000 people in the FTSE250. After a career in finance, Tim joined the company six years ago as FD, and five years ago, took on the sustainability portfolio. Outside of work, he has a passion for gardening, is a competitive rower and loves his family.
AW: What inspired your interest in sustainability?
TH: I’ve always believed that business is, and should be, a force for good. Business can act quicker than government, can act wider than any individual, it can be very decisive, and also can be, and at its best, very able to deal with multiple stakeholders.
What got me motivated to go for it with the sustainability agenda at Interserve, were conversations with my daughter, who is, I'm proud to say, one of my key guiding influences. She went to the Copenhagen climate change conference, and came back and said "Dad, you're a believer in this, you're holding a position of authority in a big organisation, and you're not doing enough". I realised she was right, so that's what the last five years have been about.
AW: Tell me a favourite story associated with sustainability.
TH: Interserve has big construction activities in Middle East that house 20,000 people and we need to provide them with water and sanitation. ?The normal modus operandi is for lorries to drive halfway across desert, deliver drinkable water and then drive the brown water back and discharge effluent into the desert.
We therefore invested in a technology called Bionest that biologically treats in situ all brown water in accommodation camps and turns it into drinkable water. At a stroke, we've removed all bowsers in and out, all of the discharge of sewage into the desert, saved millions pounds of cost, reduced carbon footprint and environment at a stroke, and the payback was less than 15 months in financial terms.
AW: Have there been any uncomfortable lessons?
TH: There have been so many lessons, but one came from the age-old adage ‘that what gets measured, gets done’. Early in the development of our sustainability, because of my financial discipline, I was very keen to base our programme on data and not just resort to anecdotes and case studies. Which is very laudable and I’m sort of glad we did it, but it hurt, as there is nothing less exciting than digging away for data. Therefore, the lesson is, whilst it is important to not underestimate importance of data, don't also underestimate how difficult it will be to get the sort of data you need.
AW: Who and/or what do you get inspiration from?
TH: I get inspiration from the motivated people who are doing the great work, and in particular, from young idealistic people who are maybe new to our organisation. People who don't see “why not”. They are not old and cynical enough to see the obstacles, they just see the opportunities and the need. It's really inspiring to get back in touch with that kind of zeal, enthusiasm and unrestrained idealism. There is a buzz brought to the organisation by a bunch of people who are empowered to think the unthinkable, to do the previously undoable and challenge received wisdoms. It's uncomfortable, but it’s got a great edge to it, and its inspiring.
AW: What worries you about the future?
TH: It worries me that the required pace of change is potentially greater than the ability to change. I think people’s behaviours and attitudes change slowly, especially people in leadership positions. When you get to my age you are pretty set in your ways, and it's more difficult and challenging to change. My question is, whilst we are doing the right things, are we going to be doing them fast enough?
AW: What inspires you about the future?
TH: As mankind, we are very adaptable. We have a long and proud record of causing our own problems and putting them right. The pace of innovation—in particular if you look into digital world and technology—is extraordinary, and we are re-inventing ourselves and our purpose at an extraordinary rate. Maybe the inspiration for the future doesn't come from the leadership generation of today, it comes from the attitudes, abilities, the sheer “can do,” know no bounds approach of the young generation who are inheriting a bit of a poisoned legacy from my generation.
Having tried this out within Interserve, the sheer groundswell of support and positivism and enthusiasm that now resonates throughout the organisation is far greater than I could have possibly have dreamed of five years ago.
I’m therefore a net positivist and optimist.
This article first appeared on Ethical Performance.
In addition to helping clients communicate, connect and change, I love highlighting stories from the front line of inspiring sustainability.