UK Business Summit 2023 - roundtable overview

Consultants grappling with issues ranging from diversity to digital innovation aired their concerns and shared their progress as part of seven roundtable discussion sessions, which rounded off a busy day at the Environment Analyst UK Business Summit. Each session was introduced and chaired by experts who then presented a summary of the discussion to the wider summit audience. 

Here follows a summary of the topics covered.

1. People-Centred Climate Action — Supporting the "S" in ESG

Chaired by Peter Hayakawa, associate, sustainability and climate change, and Ferdy Cleare, sustainability consultant, both with Rider Levett Bucknall

Putting people first 

The table agreed that social issues — in particular the way communities are organised and the facilities they enjoy — should be front and centre of climate action and nature. Change impacts all aspects of the social value agenda, for example where people live, where they work and what energy, transport and recreational facilities are available to them. People matter quite as much as the structures around them. As such, it was agreed that social issues should influence the design of lower carbon, nature-positive projects from the outset.

Questions for developers and their consultants: How can a development be made more people friendly, more intuitive and generally more convenient for those who live and/or work there? 

2. Identifying and Overcoming Key Challenges to Achieving a Circular Economy 

Chaired by Steven Vaughan-Jones, technical director and responsible consumption & production lead, WSP

Circling circularity

The group considered what circularity and the circular economy means and how it impacts on broader sustainability priorities. For example, being more self sufficient and relying less on an extended (scope 3) supply chains should mean less carbon intensity, but it’s important to be aware of embedded carbon in materials, even those that are being re-used. 

Circularity thrives on quality and the quality of materials should help to ensure they can be re-used. So too will the ability to ‘unbuild’ in construction whereby recorded materials can be separated and earmarked for future use or disposal. Barriers to re-use included potential contamination, e.g. from a construction site, and carbon intensity, however useful the material may be in other respects. Electronic products need to be repairable and it was agreed that AI would inevitably play a part in future circularity.

3. Achieving Growth through Inclusion & Diversity

Chaired by Ethny Childs, communities & partnership lead, Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES) 

Skills first please

The consensus at this table was that organisations need to become more representative of the diversity of people if they are to address the skills shortage and provide leadership for a just transition. Particular challenges remain at the most senior levels of some organisations, with issues around race and gender. (The group noted that if senior management aren’t experiencing a problem they often don’t think it exists.) The skills shortage was deemed a powerful incentive to work harder for more inclusion and diversity, which also includes the sometimes neglected areas of disability and sexuality. It was agreed that those involved in recruitment need to be more collaborative, to get away from a siloed approach and to engage as widely as possible. Employees with disabilities need the knowledge to request suitable facilities at work. Contact with schools to promote a better understanding of inclusion and diversity was deemed essential.

UK Business Summit 2023 - roundtables

4. Leveraging Data & Digital Innovation to Add Value to Your Service Offering & Achieve Sustainability Goals 

Chaired by Ines Lopes, senior environmental consultant, AtkinsRéalis

Leading by example

Participants agreed that consultants have an opportunity to challenge and lead the way towards the adoption of new technology and the selective use of data. They can also help to engender trust and improve quality control as part of efforts to change behaviours towards data. There was some discussion of AI as a tool to support sustainability — for example in areas like monitoring and data management — and in this context of how to use AI effectively and upskill clients. It came back to the human element, vital to develop an effective digital offering in pursuit of sustainability.

5. Leveraging the Potential of M&A to Add Value to your Business & Service Offering

Chaired by Paul Beaumont, director, Equiteq 

Complementary skill sets

Earlier in the day, the summit had heard how the E&S consulting market was consolidating through M&A. This session went a bit deeper; niche skills and methodologies were particular targets for acquirers, the group agreed, and while the annual number of acquisitions was high, in just under 90% of cases the target company employed fewer than 100 people. Target companies and their senior staff were often drawn by opportunities to work on larger projects. Strategic partnerships also offered some of these advantages, many of which are formed to develop an emerging technology as part of a particular service offering. It was agreed that strategic partnerships work best when there is a clear difference in the skills and role of each party.

6. The Digi Green Challenge: How Do We Accelerate Digital Infrastructure Sustainably?

Chaired by Greg Roberts, principal, Ramboll

A path to sustainable data

Energy-guzzling data centres may be living on borrowed time, it was suggested in this discussion. But what would replace them? The suggestions were that data can be remote, possible solutions from AI lurked in the background, and computer power was continuing to grow exponentially. More sustainable data was an achievable goal, the group decided, although the approaches and barriers to achieving sustainability were hard to measure.

7. Decarbonising our Heat Sector — Exploring UK Geothermal Potential 

Chaired by Conor Lydon, head of groundwater & geothermal UK & Ireland, Tetra Tech

Getting the message across

Close-to-the-surface geothermal heat generation works for Iceland — but as a zero carbon solution in the UK its prospects are more limited, agreed the group. That said, they acknowledged there is a geothermal heat-generating station up and running at Southampton, and the potential for additional projects are currently being investigated. Inevitably geothermal is part of a patchwork of low carbon heating solutions but all agreed there was still widespread resistance to change generally, with 85% of the UK’s 26.5 million homes still being heated using gas. High home ownership in the UK presented an additional challenge as any switch in energy source involved a cost to the home owner.  The group agreed that much more work had to be done in the raising of both public and professional awareness. 

2024 UK Business Summit

Next year's Environment Analyst UK Business Summit will take place on 3 October 2024 at the Leonardo Royal Hotel, London City. Registration will open shortly. If you'd like to discuss speaking opportunities please email our Community & Events Director Amanda on