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Q&A: How EPC firms play a major role in the energy transition

Matthew Harwood, McDermott's global vice president of risk, sustainability, and strategy, talks about the company's efforts to boost sustainability, and the role of the EPC sector in the wider energy transition.

What are the key changes that the energy transition will bring to EPCs?

There are two parts to this question. The first part is: How do we look at our own operations? How do we design, fabricate and construct with a lower impact on the environment, whether that means reducing waste, greenhouse gas emissions, or in the impact that we have on communities? The second part is considering how we can deliver the technologies of tomorrow, during this energy transition. How do we deliver low-carbon technologies at scale, at the acceptable cost, that support the decarbonisation of the unit in the energy industry, long term?

What were the “lessons learned” while implementing sustainability measures? Having a senior executive tasked with sustainability and having it in their job title has helped because while initiatives already existed, nobody was in that senior position, unlocking their true potential. In our most senior steering committee to sustainability, chaired by our chief executive and members of our executive team, David [Dickson, CEO] asked for young professionals to be included. You want people in their 20s to sit with people in their 50s to address challenges. We have a young engineer representing the future of society and McDermott as well, sitting on our most senior steering committee. It’s a great step forward.

Also, self-governing employee resource groups really encourage the grass roots to self-organize into what we call the ERGs to decide what they want to work on locally, whether it be reducing waste in the office or improving diversity, or others working on transition technologies.

What are the key factors to creating a sustainability strategy? It’s about engaging with your organization across the entire span of operations. Getting engagement in alignment with your board and your chief executive in your executive committee at the top is extremely important, but unlocking enthusiasm, innovation and ownership at the grassroots level, with young people in our organization who want to accelerate change; that is key.

What opportunities will the energy transition bring McDermott? We need to minimise our impact and rethink how we do business, but we can’t throw everything away. We have to improve the business of today—seeing how we can make facilities cleaner. We are developing the “Facility of the Future”, applying sustainable engineering principles, digital solutions, and low carbon construction and fabrication. We are expanding to renewables, focusing on offshore wind. We are also focused on green and blue hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. These technologies are key to net zero ambitions. Younger technologies we are exploring include the circular economy and biofuels. There is enormous potential for the Middle East to play a role in the transition, which is exciting given McDermott’s strong position in the region.

What is McDermott specifically doing to reduce its environmental impact? We are implementing sustainability reporting and measuring process and software inside our business, allowing us to track the sustainability impact across our operations down to the site level in terms of waste, water usage, energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, all the way to the human rights and social impact. We are setting goals to reduce our impact across many key metrics. Our goals are ambitious, but they are based on real plans and ideas.

We are asking ourselves: How do we use more renewable power in our operations? We see 2020 as a baseline year, and we’ve established a target for 2030 and 2050 to improve our footprint, and we’re putting in place the plans to deliver those improvements.

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