Why Mark Shayler says don’t fear the future

September 29, 2023 |  3 min read

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This week we released the first episode of the BIM Academy Digital Climate podcast series six with new series host, BIM Academy’s Managing Director, Dr Graham Kelly. During this series Graham and his guests will be exploring the concept of “don’t fear the future” – where stakes may sometimes be high, but so are the rewards!

Each episode will focus on future thinking, and looking ahead to technology solutions that will help fight climate change. It is only by pushing boundaries that change is possible. And it is only by embracing change that we can generate new ideas that will have a positive impact on the future of the built environment.

Graham’s first guest is Mark Shayler, thinker, doer, creator, speaker and author. Mark helps big companies think small and small companies think big. In his own words, Mark describes himself as: “I’m 55 and old now! And I have been doing this for 33 years. I was doing sustainability before it was cool, but still necessary. I used to be head of sustainability at Asda, and I had the word Swampy written on my desk, as did my predecessor actually – clearly the days before sustainability was on the top of everyone’s priority list.

“I’ve been doing it long enough to have seen all the trends come and go, all of the changes come and go. And it’s interesting. I was thinking about this recently. I’ll tell you more about myself in a minute. But initially, my clients would previously ask me, can you keep me out of jail? And then it became, can you keep me out of the papers? And then it was, can you keep me lean? And then it became, can you make me look good? And then it became, can you keep me relevant? And now it’s, can you keep me in business?

“I started Ape 10 years ago and we are an innovation and sustainability consultancy. We’re more sustainability than innovation at the moment and that’s where my heart is. From when I joined Greenpeace in 1975 to now, sustainability, geography, all of the humanities, it’s run through me like the word Blackpool through a stick of rock.

Picking up on his work at Ape, Graham asked Mark about the type of work he is currently doing and ultimately how is it going to impact on sustainability, with regards to improving client company performance?

Mark responded: “That’s a great question. I work with companies who are sometimes not easy to like, who some of my friends would say I shouldn’t be working with. I should only work with companies who are doing good. And the thing is that type of company probably doesn’t need me!

“Those companies are already doing amazing things. Or so I thought! Therefore it steered me to go and work with the people that need to change. I had a very big epiphany sat in a campervan in the rain in Margate about nine years ago, where I am broken. I can’t make this work. I can’t get Patagonia. I can’t get Ecova. I can’t get these amazing businesses. So I’m going to have to go and work for the ones that are less easy to like and need me more. Which I did and that grew and grew and grew. Until the point where all of those companies that you really wanted to work for, they hear about how good you are and they ring you and go, hey, will you come and do some work for us?

“So half of my work is spent, a bit more than half of my work is spent on sustainability. We do net gain and net zero and all of the things that you’d expect us to do. But I also understand how the consumer is changing. I also understand where trends sit. I spend a lot of time looking at data. Data is great. I love data.

Graham goes on to ask Mark what can we do within the construction industry to be more sustainable, how can we get better at acting upon reducing embodied carbon for example, rather than simply talking about?

To hear the full conversation and Mark’s take on a utopian construction industry, listen to the full podcast here.

Listen now