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Sustainability and net zero at Rolls-Royce

21 Jun 2023, 15:41

If you want to work for an employer that puts sustainability at the heart of its business, look no further than Rolls-Royce.

Sustainability is at the heart of Rolls-Royce's innovations, including the UltraFan

For Rolls-Royce, sustainability is about far more than simply looking after its own emissions and becoming a net zero carbon company. It has pivoted to tackling the climate emergency that the entire world is facing.

The company’s vision of ‘Pioneering the power that matters’ means developing cutting-edge technologies that deliver clean, safe and competitive solutions to meet our planet’s vital power needs. As an intern or graduate at Rolls-Royce, whether you work in an engineering or business role, you will have the chance to contribute to this mission and help the company achieve its ambitious sustainability and net zero targets.

Why is sustainability important to Rolls-Royce?

‘For me, sustainability is just about thinking long term, and the long term success of our business relies on having sturdy foundations, which means we need to support the planet that sustains us and to enable a healthy and just society in which people can prosper,’ says Alicia Dadlani, a sustainability associate at Rolls-Royce. ‘Since our products make up the backbone of the global economy – pioneering power in aviation, rail, power generation, maritime and land – we have this incredible opportunity to put sustainability at the heart of what we do and lead the global transition to a more sustainable future.’

Climate change is undeniably one of the most pressing and most complex challenges that the world is currently facing. At Rolls-Royce, stepping up to solve these challenges comes naturally, which is why pioneering sustainable, net zero power is at the heart of the company’s strategy. It’s also why Rolls-Royce was one of a small number of companies invited by the UK government to participate in the 26th UN Climate Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. After all, as a global technology leader, few organisations are better placed to help society transition to a low-carbon economy.

‘You only have to look at Rolls-Royce’s history to see that the company has a unique record of responding to society’s needs,’ points out Alicia. In 1914, at the start of the First World War, it designed its first aero engine, providing some half of the total horsepower used in the air war by the UK and its allies. In 2021, it is channelling all of its efforts and significant expertise into producing the technology breakthroughs that the world needs to decarbonise.

Rolls-Royce and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

‘As a business, we are aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we have identified four specific goals that help to sum up our focus,’ says Alicia.

  1. Climate action . ‘We pioneer the power that matters, from land, sea and air transport, to energy generation and powering the built environment. We power, connect and protect society. Being an integral part of so many systems allows us to play a central and unique role in helping them achieve net zero emissions,’ explains Alicia.
  2. Responsible consumption and production . Alicia summarises: ‘We’re a global manufacturer with a global supply chain. So, we are committed to promoting the responsible use of resources and minimising our environmental impacts across our manufacturing and production activities.’
  3. Decent work and economic growth . ‘We employ over 40,000 people globally, so we have a huge opportunity to provide a safe and fair workplace for our people and those employed in our value chain,’ says Alicia.
  4. Peace, justice and strong institutions . Alicia explains: ‘Maintaining high standards of ethics and compliance are fundamental to our continued success. We have a responsibility to conduct our business responsibly and ethically, and with due consideration of the human impact of our activities, particularly in the application of defence products.’

Aiming high: Rolls-Royce’s own sustainability targets

In 2020, Rolls-Royce signed up to the UN Race to Zero campaign, committing to net zero in its own operations and facilities by 2030 and to playing a leading role in enabling the sectors in which it operates to reach net zero by 2050. It has been working on the 2030 target for some time, but it is now full-speed ahead on how it can achieve the greater target.

This includes setting more specific or more short-term goals, such as making all of its commercial aero engines and most diesel engines compatible with sustainable fuels by 2023. Importantly, Rolls-Royce will also increase the proportion of its gross R&D spending on lower carbon and net zero technologies from around 50% to more than 75% by 2025.

These new technologies being developed will take the company into new markets such as urban air mobility, regional aviation, power generation through small modular reactors, microgrids and hydrogen fuel cells.

Beyond net zero, Rolls-Royce also has broader sustainability targets. Alicia stresses: ‘It’s really important for us to encourage the same level of focus on other aspects of sustainability as we have on net zero. For example, we need to ensure that things are done in a socially just way.’

One target that Alicia is especially proud of is inspiring 25 million of tomorrow’s pioneers by 2030. ‘We’re already 30% of the way towards our goal, having reached 7.75 million people through our STEM outreach programme and activities since 2014,’ she says.

Sustainability in action

So, how does Rolls-Royce achieve these targets? Simple. Through the hard work and innovative thinking of its employees – and its interns and graduates are no exception. You’ll have a part to play. You could find yourself in engineering, looking at new sustainable technologies such as the UltraFan power gearbox or the ‘Spirit of Innovation’ the all-electric aircraft; in procurement, ensuring the company has a sustainable, resilient supply chain; or in the graduate recruitment team, figuring out how to cut down on travel and reduce plastic and paper waste.

‘Our job is to provide technology solutions that have a positive impact on the world, socially, ethically and environmentally,’ says Alicia. ‘We need everyone in the company on board with this, not just our engineers and scientists. Our mindset is whatever project you’re working on and in every decision you make, you have the opportunity to contribute to achieving that positive impact.’

Alicia, who works in the sustainability team, actually joined Rolls-Royce on a graduate programme herself. She is now leading sustainability projects at Rolls-Royce including coordinating Rolls-Royce’s engagement at COP26, the global UN climate conference. ‘We went to COP26 to showcase the technology and innovation that can play a key part in decarbonising global systems and, importantly, to speak to policy makers and negotiators about the enabling environment that will help achieve those technology pathways.’

Sustainability for students: what should you know?

Passion for sustainability is something that Rolls-Royce would love to see in a future employee. As Alicia summarises: ‘We don’t just have one sustainability team working in isolation. Sustainability is becoming an important aspect of every decision we make as a business.’

When you are ready to apply to Rolls-Royce, it will be helpful for you to have at least some general knowledge around sustainability. ‘Take a look at the sustainability section on our website where you’ll find our net zero report and some brilliant podcasts that explain our vision nicely,’ Alicia suggests. ‘I’d also recommend looking at the UN’s SDGs as they give a comprehensive, credible list of the goals we can align to in order to deliver a more sustainable future for all.’

Alicia also has a few tips for how you can shine a light on your passion for sustainability: ‘Share the knowledge that you have with us. You might be asked questions along the lines of “What are your interests?’ and “What have you been working on?”. Consider how you can talk about sustainability in your answer.’ If you’ve taken action to help others and improve the world, don’t forget to mention what you’ve done. ‘It doesn’t need to be ground-breaking to be worth mentioning,’ reassures Alicia. ‘Activities such as volunteering for a charity or calculating your personal carbon footprint show that you’re thinking about how you can make an impact.’

Alicia’s final tip: don’t lose hope

‘A lot of young people are worried about their futures right now. Prince Charles used the term eco anxiety,’ says Alicia. ‘What I would tell you is don’t lose hope or give up. Now is a really exciting time to join companies such as Rolls-Royce and help your employer make a difference. The next few decades are going to be crucial!’

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