Five minutes with Gillian Stewart
As commercial director of Ecolution Group, Gillian Stewart is playing a leading role in changing how the construction industry operates.
The impact of its work extends well beyond bricks and mortar, though. The technologies that Ecolution designs and delivers help to “provide clean, sustainable energy, drive down CO2 emissions and tackle fuel poverty”. For Gillian, a vibrant economy is about businesses that grow fast, invest in future talent and make a difference.
“A vibrant economy means one that is growing in a sustainable way”
It’s also one that’s productive, solves the big problems and provides jobs, including work that the next generation is interested in and inspired by. We have a history of being a really innovative nation; at the leading edge of change and this is also an important characteristic of a vibrant economy for me. There are some big questions to answer in the energy sector on what a post-carbon economy and society look like and innovation has to lie at the heart of the solution.
“Our economy is a melting pot”
We attract lots of talent from all over the world, who want to live and work here. People bring new ideas, and new blood with them and those things are really key to help us find the best possible solutions. It’s important that we retain the ability to attract the right talent to keep our economy vibrant and growing.
“The other pillar of a vibrant economy for me is access to the right capital”
The UK has always been a great place to invest and we have a very dynamic financial centre. Investors have a fantastic appetite for infrastructure investment, particularly in the renewable sector. There are some investors out there who will only do business with you if your business is doing some wider good and I think that’s a great message. Retaining investor confidence so we can access capital and achieve our goals is really important. Whilst the appetite is out there, energy is a political thing and policy changes shake investor confidence. We need to transition to a post carbon world and getting solid building blocks in place that investors can grab onto will give the industry a leg up to achieve what I know it can.
“Renewable technology is becoming mainstream and desired”
In our sector, we’ve seen a shift over the past four or five years towards using renewable technologies as a favoured method to hit energy efficiency targets for new buildings. This is in part because some builders are forward-thinking, partly because renewable products are a cost effective way to meet targets and also because buyers want homes with low energy bills.
“Renewable energy has a feel-good factor”
Public opinion is now firmly in favour of new technology and rooftop solar in particular, which is one of our core markets. Anyone using renewable technology on or in their home is actually doing something to improve the quality of the air outside. Climate change continues to make its way up the priority list on domestic and international agendas and I hope it keeps doing so. It’s simply one of the biggest challenges we face.
“Sustainability is certainly not high enough up the agenda”
Climate change is a real problem that we’ve got to face the cost of, either in an organised way over the next decade or so, which is preferable, or in a disorganised way later on. My fear is that if we leave it too late, then we might not be able to deal with the consequences.
“I don’t think that enough big businesses are looking outside of their remit to do more”
It can be difficult for them to align all interests. Ultimately, businesses have to look after shareholder value, and deliver growth. Spending more to become sustainable is not something that many do more than pay lip service to. My message to big business is that doing good can be good for your business; it can future proof you, secure your energy price and put you in a competitive position.
“I would love for the construction industry to give up box ticking and go above and beyond”
What would really please me would be builders doing all they could to improve their product and integrate renewable energy into their buildings, so that buildings are sustainable and something we can be proud to pass on to future generations. Typically, we see builders ticking boxes and putting one or two solar panels on a house or essentially doing the bare minimum in order to meet energy performance targets. Given the shortage of homes, its unlikely that this will change unless end users demand more from their buildings.
“Too often, businesses are doing the bare minimum”
Typically, we see small to medium-sized enterprises put sustainability close to the heart of what they do and sadly, even the ones that do are in a minority. After COP21 last year, we have started to see some larger businesses signing up to CO2 reduction targets but I haven’t seen much action as of yet. Businesses in the UK are coming in to this game far too late. We’re seeing that some developing nations are leapfrogging us – missing out the coal and oil stage altogether and using renewable energy and mobile telecoms to start up businesses. We’ve been too lax for too long on this and we need to maintain our competitive advantage and of course, to do the right thing to help protect our planet.
“I want young people to be inspired”
Apprenticeships and promotion from within are of paramount importance to us and have helped us tackle the labour shortage and keep the culture in our business strong. We have to take the challenge on of inspiring the next generation and capturing their interest and imagination with a variety of exciting roles and career paths in our industry. We need to keep the talent coming through to meet the demands we have ahead.