Dan: Welcome to the Alan Turing podcast, with James Turing, Dan Holt and some of the UK’s most exciting forward-thinking business leaders. Today, Alan is famous as the father of computer science and codebreaker of the Nazi Enigma machine and has been celebrated by the BBC as the greatest person of the 20th century. But it wasn’t always that way.
At the time of his passing in 1954, Alan’s life had been defined as much by the tragic way in which he had been treated by the country he had done so much to help as it had by any of his work in mathematics or computing. Alan’s family are keen to do their part in building a kinder and smarter world that Alan envisioned all those years ago – which is why we’ve launched this podcast series in which James Turing, the great-nephew of Alan, will be speaking to some of the women and men shaping Britain today, covering a range of subjects from sustainability and mental health to inclusivity and innovation.
First of all, just a few words about the organisations behind this series. The Turing Trust is a charity run by the Turing family; they refurbish used IT kit, principally from businesses, and install a range of fantastic educational software and provide it to those who need it most. Principally in rural African communities. Their vision is that one day, every child will be able to enjoy the transformative power of technology.
If your business doesn’t yet have a solution for reusing its old IT kit, please do get in touch.
The other organisation behind this series is Boss Digital, which is an agency I launched in 2010 that specialises in helping B2B and professional service firms generate more business online. We’re incredibly proud to be able to help the Turing Trust accelerate their impact.
So, to reiterate: if your company does not have a strategy for its old IT kit, please visit the Turing Trust website and they will help you turn that waste into a tool that will transform the lives of thousands of students.
Over to James.
James: So, Jon, thank you very much for joining us today. To begin, could you perhaps give us a bit of background info about yourself and Delta-EE, please?
Jon: Sure, thanks, James for the invitation. So, I was one of the 3 founders of Delta-EE back in 2004/2005 and our mission is to help the energy sector manage its journey through the energy transition for a cleaner future as quickly, effectively and fairly as possible.
So, we carry out research and we support the energy industry with consulting to help them make that journey. We work with big oil companies through to technology companies through to utilities, a range of companies across Europe and beyond.
James: Fantastic. Quite a big mission there.
So, can you tell me a short story of something from your early years that led you to pursue this very ambitious path in life?
Jon: Yes, good question. A couple of very quick ones and then the main one. So one was a teacher who organised hill walking and mountaineering trips when I was at school, and I think that really developed my passion for the outdoors and the environment. I then started life after my physics degree as a teacher – secondary school teacher – and what I absolutely loved about that was communicating with people.
But I think the biggest thing I’d point to was between two teaching jobs I took several months off to travel through Africa and I think what I saw there – the challenges that many people had, but their positivity, hard work and energy – and understanding the way climate change could affect that part of the world in particular, I think that would probably be the biggest thing I would pull out.
James: I definitely feel a lot of empathy with that. When I first went to Ghana, it completely changed my outlook on the world and what my role in it could and should be. I think it’s something everyone should experience and really try and engage with the idea of becoming a global citizen in that sense.
So, the next thing I wanted to ask you about is if you can tell me about a challenging period in your working life and how that has really influenced the way in which you manage and lead others.
Jon: Again a great question. What I’ve found harder on this one is to think about a challenging period, because I think the biggest thing that has influenced the way I manage and lead others is I think I’ve picked up something from all the people I’ve worked with and my mindset is I can learn from every experience, so I learn every day.
But I’ll go back to one in teaching: my first teaching job was at a secondary school in London – I wouldn’t define it as an inner-city comprehensive, but a reasonably tough school – and like most , I was a form tutor and I had a year 7 class (the first year of secondary) and they were quite a challenging class, but my head of year was really supportive. And the biggest thing I remember from her is the way she empowered me to sort out the problem myself – and there were lots of problems in that class to sort out, a lot of kids with a lot of needs. So, the thing that really stuck with me was how much she trusted me, how much responsibility she gave me and how empowered that made me feel, and I didn’t get it right every time, I would turn to her for support and she would ask me what I thought a lot of the time rather than telling me what to do.
So, I think that is probably the biggest influence over how I manage and lead others, which is very much wanting to inspire, empower and motivate. And I think if you can do those three things, well that’s for me, the biggest part of managing and leading.
James: I couldn’t agree more – that’s a real truism there. Certainly giving people the agency to do things for themselves, and most importantly, think for themselves, really leads to that real change. And I suppose with the mission of Dela-EE, that’s something people can really grab at, is that something you find? They use that inspiration to drive and lead them as well?
Jon: Yeah, people do grab at it. I guess sometimes you can empower people but they may still lack a bit of confidence. So, I learn every day about the best way to do this – and it’s different with every person. Always try and give people that agency, but I think there are a lot of nuances with how you do that; the same way won’t work for every person, but as you say, most of the people I work with are highly motivated about getting to a cleaner energy future as quickly as we can, so that bit often takes care of itself.
James: Yeah, brilliant way to have it. So, for the next one, I was wondering if you’d be able to give me a prediction for the future – something you think might change the energy sector or the broader business landscape and how we might prepare for it.
Jon: Yeah, I’m going to try and imagine ourselves in 5 or 10 years time, and I like to think that in the same way that smoking has become societally unacceptable in other people’s homes or in pubs or restaurants, or in the same way that not wearing a seatbelt has become societally unacceptable, I think some of the aspects of how people behave with and use energy will become more societally unacceptable.
An easy way to think about that would be electric vehicles: at the moment, we sit in traffic jams and all of our cars are spewing out emissions, there will reach a point where a lot of people sitting in that traffic jam will drive an electric vehicle, and you’re one of relatively few people in a car spewing out emissions. So, I think we will see a tipping point with transport quite quickly.
The challenge will be how you translate that to homes and businesses and how we use energy in buildings; how we heat our homes, how we use electricity in our homes. I think it’s a lot harder for people to see the right way to do things. With cars, I think yeah, people can see the right thing to do will be to buy an electric vehicle at some point. For our own houses, what’s the right thing to do? Is it sticking solar panels on the roof? Is it to buy another boiling running on natural gas? Is it to put in an electric heat pump? Is it to insulate your home and how much?
So, I think one of the biggest business challenges, but also business opportunities, will be enabling people to do the right thing and making it easy for people to understand what that right thing is and how they can take action. I think a lot of people want to do the right thing, but at the moment, aren’t clear exactly whether it’s their problem and if it is, what they should do about it.
James: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. Personally speaking, whether to insulate the house or not or just demolish the thing entirely and start from the beginning, you never really know which the right answer is. You might be leaning towards one or another, but do you think that tipping point of knowledge is going to come anytime soon?
Jon: Yeah, I wish it could happen really soon and in a simple way, but I think it’s about lots of small steps rather than one big step. So, simple things like your house uses this much energy, this is how you compare to other households like your own. That sort of thing has proven to be quite effective and with things like smart meters, that’s much easier to do because we can get an accurate understanding of our consumption and compare ourselves to people or households like our own.
With smart meters, you can also understand the benefits in a more personal way. At the moment, the proposition is on average, a solar panel will save you x pounds per year or pay back in y years, but if that can be personalised so that in your house, with your roof and its orientation, based on your electricity consumption, here’s what it will do for you. I think that element of personalisation and the data enabling that personalisation put together with nudge or behavioural economics, that’s the big way forward. Probably lots of steps rather than one big jump.
James: Hopefully we are also not too far away from being able to use carbon accounting on a daily basis. I think that’s one of the things that is really exciting. The idea that you can go to a supermarket and see that your apple costs, say 30p, but you can also see that it has a carbon footprint of 400g or something like that and that’s kind of helping inform your decisions of going for the option with the lower carbon footprint. Do you think that’s something that’s also coming in the near future?
Jon: I hope so. There are two arguments here: one is customers don’t care and they will always buy the cheapest option. People today can look at the country of origin and choose British or French apples rather than ones from Chile or New Zealand, for example.
The other argument is people do care but it’s not made easy for them. And I’m still not decided on which camp I’m in – I think there’s probably an element of truth in both.
James: I think there is, unfortunately. So, coming from my work with the Turing Trust in reusing donated IT equipment and refurbishing it to be used in schools so they are not getting prematurely recycled, I wonder if there are other aspects of your work that you’ve looked at, so for example, if there are any initiatives that you’re doing internally at Delta-EE to try and lower your own carbon footprint alongside the main bulk of your work that happens with energy consultancy?
Jon: Well it’s good timing; we have always done some things, but we are actually just looking at our own environmental policy now and thinking: “Okay, actually, we don’t just need to be doing some things in this area, we need to be absolutely walking the walk and talking the talk.”
We do have to travel with our work, so that has involved flying, so we’ve always offset that, or wherever possible, taken the train. So that’s something we have always done and will continue to do, but I think that’s only one element of it.
We are in a tenanted building, so there are limitations with what we can do about our building. Should we move out to a more efficient building? And then from everything from how we procure our office supplies to our own supply chain, from the computers we buy to what we do with our waste, and I guess, I’m sorry to say we haven’t yet thought about our computers. I understand now a computer cycle is only about 4 years, so that’s quite a lot of computers and I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know what happens with them at the moment, but after learning about the Turing Trust, I’m going to find out. I would hate to think they are just wasted.
James: Thank you very much, I’m delighted to hear that you will be looking into it. I’m afraid it’s one of those topics where you are one of many who I’ve had this conversation with and have all gone that is an extremely dull topic, but I will go and have a look at what we do with our old IT equipment. Because you’re right, the average lifecycle in an office is about three or four years, which is crazy when you think about the fact the oldest computer we have working at the moment was manufactured in something like 2001. It’s still fine. I’m not going to pretend it’s the fastest machine in the world, but it works and it’s a useful device to learn how to type on. And if you can rethink those reuse cases, I think it really leads to some much-needed opportunities to have a positive impacts with these resources that have had so much energy invested in them.
Jon: Well, we’ve talked about some of the changes people are making or might make, but this is a relatively small change and easy step to take. It comes back to that awareness: we want to do the right thing but what is the right thing to do?
James: Absolutely. If only someone was here to tell us exactly what to do instead of giving us too many options.
Jon: Well, a combination of informed market choice may be the best way to go.
James: Fantastic, thanks so much for that, Jon. Really enjoyed speaking with you.
Jon: Likewise. Thanks a lot.