2021, the year that was
January 25, 2022

Alex Boyd

When PSC decided to close our offices in March 2020, I remember thinking with some shock that it was possible our offices would be closed for a few months. I wonder how I would have felt if I had been able to see the future?! 2021 was another unusual year for all of us, and while it had its significant challenges, there is much to be thankful for.​

My wife, son and I live in Seattle in the United States and are originally from New Zealand. At the beginning of 2021, we took advantage of remote schooling and went to New Zealand for a few months to spend time with family and enjoy all our homeland offers. It provided a glimpse of how new ways of working can offer a more fulfilling future.

2021 was also the year when meaningful conversations about climate change and carbon net-zero increased with many more people talking about the threat posed and what we can do about it. We at PSC spent time talking about what we want to achieve, and from these conversations, we refined our vision and values. Our role in helping our clients achieve carbon net-zero and sustainability is an important part of our vision. Now we need to put our considerable skills to work to make our vision a reality.  (Watch our new Vision & Values video!)

What will our work lives look like?

There’s been a lot of discussion about the new normal. I don’t have any extraordinary insights in this regard, but I do have hopes.

Many of us have been working at home since March 2020. After a few months of uncertainty, our PSC team did a fantastic job of quickly learning to operate in a remote environment that has not been easy for many. PSC has thrived over the last two years as a result. We have proven that remote working works, whether from our homes or other places we may wish to be that make our lives more fulfilled. I’m looking forward to taking continued advantage of the flexibility our remote environment offers.

PSC is a global consulting firm with people in eight countries around the world helping our clients in many more countries than that. As CEO, this has meant a lot of time on airplanes traveling the world. If I am honest with myself, some of this travel kept me very busy but perhaps was not always really productive. One good thing to come out of the restrictions imposed by Covid 19 is an opportunity to rethink my approach to travel and engagement. Over the last two years, I’ve had more time to think about the future of PSC and work with the PSC leadership team to develop plans to achieve that future. I have also become much more comfortable with the technology available to enable productive remote interactions.

On the other hand, I find that engaging face to face with team members and clients is hugely energizing and I miss it. I hope that getting together in person with our colleagues and clients continues to be an important part of our work life. I’ve taken some tentative steps to be back in the office and the spontaneous conversations that I’m having with those that have also taken that step are different from those I have online and I believe they are important.

I hope we’ll use the new skills that we have learned in the last two years to make our lives more fulfilled and also realize that the community we have at work plays an integral part in that fulfillment.

Climate change and carbon net-zero

Like many others, I have been thinking a lot about climate change and the worldwide goal of achieving carbon net-zero by 2050. I’m thinking about this from the perspective of my son’s generation and, even more so from the perspective of my unborn grandchildren. In fact, I have recently been challenged to think about my leadership of PSC from the perspective of my grandchildren’s grandchildren, a group of people that I will never meet but to whom what we do today will be hugely important. This really puts in perspective the importance of PSC’s vision!

I recently read the book, Speed and Scale by John Doerr. In his book, Doerr presents a possible plan to achieve carbon net-zero by 2050. While it is only one possible plan and certainly won’t represent what actually happens, his book really helps with one of the biggest obstacles to gaining commitment to addressing climate change: urgency. Many people believe that CO2 emissions are a problem, but not the biggest problem we have right now. This perspective is understandable, as there are many important things we could be doing better. Doerr breaks down the climate crisis into six parts and offers ways to address each one over the course of thirty years. When looking at the plan, if we decide to hold off ten years before starting to address the issue, it will not be 30% more difficult; it will be many multiples more difficult! With the simple (simple to read at least!) plan presented, it becomes easier to see the magnitude of the problem and the implications if we delay.

When we have previously thought about pollution in rivers and lakes, we have taken action to reduce the pollution entering these ecosystems, leading to a reduction in pollution in these ecosystems as the water flows. Carbon emissions into the atmosphere do not work this way because, from a carbon perspective, the world is a closed system. Reducing carbon emissions simply means that carbon does not increase so fast. It does not mean that carbon will reduce. This makes the greenhouse gas issue so much harder to address than pollution problems we have successfully addressed in the past. Any carbon emission budget that we use up today means we need to move much faster tomorrow. At some point, the speed needed becomes unrealistic and we’ll need to start planning for catastrophe, not to avoid catastrophe!

Electricity has a considerable role to play in addressing CO2 emissions. There is a significant opportunity for reduction by changing the way we generate electricity and store energy. There is even more opportunity for electricity to eliminate CO2 emissions in other sectors. An obvious example is in the transportation industry by adopting electric vehicles.

Acknowledging the challenges we’re all facing today, I’m still enthusiastic about the future of our industry and for PSC’s role in it. There are lots of interesting problems to solve and as engineers, there is nothing we love more than solving problems!