“What the hell have we been doing?”: Meet the engineer who switched his firm to renewable energy

WorkForClimate’s first cohort gave David McGlade the tools he needed to make the switch.

Emily Kratzmann
Emily Kratzmann
June 14, 2022
4 min read
A man in a collared shirt sitting in front of a white wall and a green plant.

Engineer David McGlade ‘woke up’ to the climate emergency two years ago, when school students around the world put down their pens, walked out of their classrooms, and went on strike. Led by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, the kids were taking a stand, trying to right the wrongs caused by decades of no action and zero accountability. 

“As an engineer, I’m quite an analytical person. It’s not like I read the IPCC report and thought, ‘Oh crap, we’re in trouble here’,” David, who joined the first WorkForClimate renewable energy cohort in November 2020, recalls. “It was more an emotional thing. I was seeing these children desperately trying to get people to listen to them. I just remember thinking ‘What the hell have we been doing?’.”

David, a UK native who’s called Australia home for the past 10 years, could see that things were slowly starting to change in his homeland, but felt that Australia wasn’t doing nearly enough to address the issues around climate action. “I have a sort of British mentality and it’s definitely being treated like an emergency there, but it’s not here at all,” he says.

After making changes to reduce his carbon footprint at home, David looked outwards to see what his company – an engineering firm with around 250 staff in Adelaide, South Australia – was doing on the environmental front. It wasn’t much. He setup an environmental committee, and then heard about WorkForClimate through the Engineers Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency group. “I was curious to know what WorkForClimate was doing, and when I saw that their first initiative was on helping companies switch to renewable energy, I signed up,” he says.

Along with getting as much information as he could about putting forward a case for switching to renewables, David joined the first WorkForClimate cohort because he wanted to take more tangible action. “I could see that no one else in my company was really doing anything, and it was good to be in a group of people who shared similar concerns,” he explains.

After the first cohort, David went back to his company and made the case for switching to renewable energy. He started by conducting a staff survey, and discovered that around 85% of the people in his workplace supported making the change to renewable energy.

“It wasn’t that difficult to get people on board. It had been talked about before, but was put in the too-hard basket,” David says. “It just needed someone to take the reins on it and push it through.”

David sourced quotes, selected an appropriate solar system for their site in Adelaide, and chatted to the State heritage department about what would be involved in installing solar panels on the roof. After submitting a business case to his Environmental, Health and Safety Director – who got on board very quickly – David’s proposal was put to a committee, where it was approved.

The panels were installed earlier this year, which have reduced the company’s electricity consumption by about 10%, and David has switched the remainder to GreenPower, meaning they’re almost at the point where they’re running on 100% renewable energy.

Joining the WorkForClimate cohort gave David the push he needed to start making positive changes within his workplace. “It gave me a bit more motivation about the whole thing,” he says. “Other people are doing it, so I needed to try doing it in my company as well. It was great listening to some of the experts talking about the process they went through, and the advice of conducting a staff survey, to show management that there’s a strong majority of staff who want change, was great too.”

If you want to make the switch to renewables in your workplace, David suggests getting in touch with WorkForClimate. “They’ve got very detailed processes, which you can work through to help identify your goals,” he says.

David also recommends getting a team together to help share the workload. “It’s very difficult if you’re the only person in the company that’s interested in these things. But if you can build a little team, you can urge each other to keep going.”

Now, David is seen as somewhat of a climate expert at work. “Colleagues have come up to me to say ‘We’ve designed this wind farm, what’s the impact going to be?’; when you get approached like that, you start to feel alright about things,” he says.

“People generally aren’t comfortable talking about this stuff, but if they can see you’re doing something, they tend to copy,” David says, adding that he’s even managed to convince some of his colleagues to install solar panels at home. “I don’t think you can switch people over to something like renewable energy in an instant by talking to them, but you can make people gradually aware of what’s going on.”

Ready to make the switch to renewables in your workplace? Let WorkForClimate help.

https://www.workforclimate.org/case-studies/the-engineer-who-switched-to-renewable-energy
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