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Earth Day: Children, Snowball, and the Power of People

April 22, 2024

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Lilian Leroux

Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer

Most people I know have had an aha! moment at some point in their lives. The moment in which climate stops being an abstract concept, and becomes as real as, say, the desk you’re sitting at right now.

For me, that moment came when my children started talking about climate change. What they were discussing was their future: the world they would be living in, in 20 years’ time. And it certainly wasn’t the world I wanted for them. The only positive was that as a leader within a large industrial company, I was in a position to help do something about it.

Encouraging a shift to rail

Trains of Thought │ Wabtec Corporation

I have worked at Wabtec for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve spent four years running the group’s Transit business prior to my current role as Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer.  From my vantage point I believe that together, we can  address the climate crisis, and this fuels my commitment to my work.

Wabtec operates in an industry—rail—that has enormous potential to make a difference. The transportation sector today accounts for around a quarter of global CO2 emissions*, yet the majority of these emissions come from road transport, followed by aviation. Only around 1% of transport emissions are from rail. This is despite the fact that rail accounts for around 7% of passenger travel and 6% of freight transport.

Persuading businesses and people to choose rail over road, then, represents the single biggest opportunity to radically reduce emissions from transportation. We can achieve this modal shift by making trains more comfortable, reliable and efficient. And we can further shift the dial by accelerating the development of technology that helps drastically cut emissions.

Going the extra mile on decarbonization

At Wabtec, we’ve long been engaged in strategic investments in cutting-edge digital and locomotive technologies, and streamlined, eco-efficient passenger rail equipment solutions. We aim to lead the way on decarbonization and sustainability, providing the technology our customers will need to achieve their own climate objectives, from biofuel- and hydrogen- powered locomotives to digital solutions that optimize fuel usage and efficiency or friction brakes that reduces small particles emissions.

However, developing technology is not the only challenge. Our internal measurements show that by far the greatest emissions from our products are from our customers’ use (Scope 3 in sustainability speak). That makes finding ways to actively increase our customers’ adoption of new sustainable technologies a priority. Our new climate commitments to be published shortly in our Climate Report reflect this.

Our focus on collaboration—whether with customers, industry partners or each other—is at the heart of everything we do, and reflects one of my profound convictions. Technology only gets you part of the way: meaningful, sustainable change is powered by people.

People power and the sustainability snowball effect

We see this in action every day at Wabtec with our own people. For example, the team at our Montreal, Canada site set themselves the challenge of rethinking everything they do in terms of sustainability. As a result, they have managed to cut their impact across the board through ideas ranging from running shuttle services between plants to fostering biodiversity on site and installing waterless urinals.

Trains of Thought │ Wabtec Corporation
Wabtec takes a three-pronged approach to its sustainability strategy.

I’ve also seen the snowball effect that comes from inspiring each other. Three years ago, our team at our Piossasco site in Italy decided they would collect data and publish their own sustainability report, showcasing all the initiatives they had put in place. The next year, two more teams were inspired to do the same, sometimes replicating or bringing new ideas to the table. Today, eight of our sites around the world produce their own report. They have generated many more initiatives than we could have launched centrally—a great example of the snowball effect we are seeing as sustainability actions gain momentum across the business.

This is inspiring—and humbling. With the exception of myself and a handful of others, no one else at Wabtec has this in their job description. Everyone else is contributing to the sustainability cause on top of their existing role. The projects they develop and put into action create bonds between colleagues and it generates a healthy sense of pride and competition. The collective energy created is extraordinary.

It is for this reason that we decided to launch a new initiative this Earth Day: the Wabtec Sustainability Awards. We are inviting people across our company to submit projects that support one of our three sustainability principles: Innovating with Purpose, Driving Responsible Operations, and Empowering People and Communities. Our aim is to recognize the people working tirelessly across Wabtec to improve our impact—and to enable the snowball to grow larger and larger.

By acting for positive change in the world, we are making Wabtec more attractive for individuals who want to work for a company that is making a difference. It is my hope that passionate, talented individuals who are moved by a cause that is bigger than their individual aspirations will bring their skills and energy to the industry for as many years as I have.

*Source: IEA

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