Eva Gkenakou has specialised in the field of sustainability for over 15 years, with extensive experience transforming organisations’ approach to the subject within the Built environment. Having transformed Multiplex’s approach to sustainability, Eva has recently joined Logicor as the Director of Sustainability, playing an integral role in the sustainability of Logicor’s buildings today and the future.
In our latest interview on the topic of sustainability, Berwick Partners’ Tom Graham and Ashley Crich were delighted to sit down with Eva to learn more about her career, understanding why sustainability is of increasing importance to Boards, investors and customers and hear what advice she can give to businesses at the start of their journey.
How did you start your career as an expert in sustainability?
I have always wanted to work in an area where I could make a positive contribution, which impacted something bigger than myself. It was clear when I entered the corporate world there was a skills shortage, yet people found the subject important.
I have now specialised in sustainability in the built environment for around 15 years and throughout my time have always helped organisations transition to more sustainable operations through a balance of efficiency and resilience.
Sustainability is not a new problem, but it is finally building some much-needed momentum. There may be new targets and new legislation, but in terms of actions, it is not anything that we didn’t really know before.
I have enjoyed working with people and businesses who have wanted to make a positive contribution but not been sure of how to, or where to start.
How have you seen the topic of sustainability evolve in your career?
In the businesses I previously worked for, sustainability was initially based around compliance; we needed to have processes and procedures in place from a governance standpoint and it was seen as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a necessity. Over time, legislation has come into play, with things like green building certificates and it was no longer seen as an extra, it was seen as an important part of the work. This allowed us to measure the impact and then put case studies forward for sustainability awards. Automatically that builds momentum and people are suddenly become proud of the work they are doing and being associated with a business that is acting sustainably.
This soon becomes a competitive advantage; customers want to work with a business that understands sustainability, and you are getting involved in bids and tenders that you previously would not have been invited to.
Sustainability needs to build momentum and by starting on the journey, this will build organically.
What attracted you to your current role and why do you think sustainability will only increase in importance in the future?
Logicor are owners of land and buildings, with assets across Europe. I wanted to work for a business where I could be involved at the beginning of the sustainability process and journey, influencing the thinking on how we optimise buildings at the start. We need a long-term view when it comes to climate change and this meant I could safeguard the resilience of our portfolio.
Climate change will have physical risks to buildings. Over the coming years, weather patterns will become more extreme, our buildings will experience over-heating, flooding, or increased snowfall which they may have not been designed to cope with it.
We will also experience legislative changes, so things like traditional energy systems may be banned which means many businesses will incur additional costs that they currently do not expect, therefore buildings become more expensive to occupy and maintain.
Finally, the subject of sustainability is becoming more important to investors. We are already seeing investors differentiate between brown and green buildings. This is only going to continue to cause disruption to many businesses in the future.
Do you believe sustainability is now more important to Boards and executive teams and how has this been impacted by COVID-19?
It depends on the business. Some take a long-term view and others are focused on the short-term and immediate survival. I think a lot of businesses now realise sustainability is more important than ever before.
COVID-19 has shown us what nature can do and demonstrated that something needs to be done to tackle climate change. People have also reconnected with nature. We have not been able to do a lot over the last 12 months and often the only escape from the home office has been going out for walks. I think this has made people realise that we need to protect the environment we live in today and in the future.
I have seen some Boards make impactful commitments, but some feel that the level of change is so huge, that they cannot catch up. With numerous legislative and technology changes it can be hard to feel you have all of the up to date and relevant information. The first step is just the commitment to change, without true engagement on this at Board level, it is incredibly difficult to make an impact.
In my opinion over the next five years, we are likely to see a number of changes and those businesses who react the quickest will reap the benefits. Those that do not will be left behind as investors and customers chose to go to organisations that have a greater social purpose.
There is a skills gap in the sector, so how have you found talent within your team?
It is true that there are not many subject matter experts in the industry, which means it can be harder to keep pace with the ever-changing world, dealing with policy changes, new technologies and finding solutions that fit the needs of the business.
However, there are generations of people, from engineering or science backgrounds that have a deep interest in the topic and have learned on the job.
If I look at the teams I have assembled, I have often looked for capability rather than experience, and then looked for graduates who have an interest and passion in the topic.
What advice would you give to businesses at the start of their journey?
Do not be overwhelmed, there are lots of things are simpler than people initially think. You can train people on areas like legislation or what your competitors are doing. Ultimately, making a start is the first thing you can do to make an impact and that will naturally build momentum.
The starting point is ensuring the business truly cares. As a global community we know we have a problem, and we know there are government targets. Start with what you know, if you have a good feeling of where you should start, then start there. There is no perfect place to start, but you will naturally gain pace and confidence and people will naturally become more enthusiastic.
Climate change, carbon emissions and biodiversity are all interconnected, and businesses will have 2030 and 2050 targets to work towards. My advice would be trying and get to net-zero as soon as possible. There are lots of ways you can do this, if you are stuck, then eliminating your carbon emissions from your energy and operations through using green energy is a straightforward one.
It does not have to come at a cost, you can utilise renewable energy sources by installing on-site PV panels, switching to a ‘green’ tariff through your energy supplier or optimising the energy you are consuming, by using smart systems and sensors. Ultimately acting sustainably should also be financially sustainable.