// . //  Insights //  Explore Eurostar’s Groundbreaking Sustainability Initiatives

Our partners Cornelia Neumann and Federico Ucci are joined in conversation with Gareth Williams, the general secretary and chief strategic partnerships officer at Eurostar. In a series of videos, they discuss the implementation of Eurostar’s climate strategy, and how Oliver Wyman is supporting them in their quest to become the backbone of sustainable travel in Europe.

Eurostar’s Sustainability Journey Unveiled
 

7:06

There will be no more sustainable way to travel internationally than with us
Gareth Williams, General Secretary and Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer, Eurostar

Thalys was the first rail company to set and achieve a science-based target for emissions and Eurostar was the first European company to set a 100% renewables target for its own electricity supply. Here, we delve into the proactive measures taken by railway companies to meet increasing regulatory expectations and sustainability targets.

Cornelia Neumann

A very warm welcome on this rather chilly morning here in a beautiful St Pancras station. I’m very excited to be engaging in a conversation about the Eurostar sustainability journey with Gareth today.


Gareth Williams

Delighted to be here.


Cornelia

Thank you so much for having this conversation. Gareth, would you mind telling us a little bit about your role at Eurostar?


Gareth

I’m Gareth Williams and I’m the general secretary of Eurostar, which means I have responsibility for a range of strategic topics, including setting up our first service from London to Amsterdam. But I also have the privilege of running the sustainability team within Eurostar.


Cornelia

Eurostar obviously is quite a well-known brand for those of us who travel from Amsterdam to London regularly. Would you mind telling us a little bit about the history of the group?


Gareth

It’s a well-known brand, but it’s a brand that is entering a new chapter in its life. It has brought together, in the last year, two companies that have a very proud heritage of pioneering international high-speed rail services in Europe. The Eurostar that we have here today operated out of London to Paris, Brussels, and, as you say, latterly to Amsterdam, which has been amazing. And Thalys, which ran similar high-speed services from Paris to Amsterdam via Brussels and to Cologne. In the last year, those two companies have come together under the Eurostar banner to offer an amazing network of sustainable high-speed connections across the whole of northern Europe.


Cornelia

As part of your merger, you also had another think about your sustainability journey.


Gareth

Absolutely. A merger is a big decision for any group of shareholders, and we are conscious our shareholders had a choice about where they put their money. Part of the reason they put that investment in Eurostar is that they believe there will be a shift in the motivations for travel over the coming years towards more sustainable choices. And they believe that this business is incredibly well positioned to take advantage of that shift.


Cornelia

Federico, you lead much of our sustainability work in the rail sector [at Oliver Wyman]. Is this something that you see more broadly?


Federico Ucci

Railways have an innate advantage in sustainable transport in Europe because they’re mostly electrified. We need to think that railway operators are generally top of their value chain. They offer to passengers a combination of services that comes from a whole industry behind them, from infrastructure operations to rolling stock building, and their impulse on sustainability all along the value chain is key to decarbonize the industry. For example, most European railways are the first energy consumer of their country.


If the push for renewables doesn’t come from them, who’s best positioned to do it? Similarly, rolling stock manufacturers compete in a very competitive arena to provide rolling stock and therefore they should have very clear guidelines on what sustainability should look like in the rolling stock, so competition is fair across the different players.


Cornelia

Obviously many people might say it’s a bit of an advantage to be operating in an industry that even by the strict standards of the EU taxonomy is classified as sustainable. But that doesn’t mean there’s no sustainability journey for Eurostar to take.


Gareth

A little plug first here: We’re about to be the first railway company that qualifies the European taxonomy on what counts as sustainable. We’re very happy about that. The point is a valid one. The merger brought together two companies with a proud heritage of action on sustainability. Thalys was the first rail company to set and achieve a science-based target for emissions, and Eurostar the first rail company to set a 100% renewables target for its own electricity supply. Both companies have been setting these targets for a very long time. The first carbon target set by Eurostar was, I think, about 15 years ago. There’s a strong history, a strong belief of acting on sustainability within the companies and it would be very easy to rest on those laurels to say you’ve got a structural advantage. So, you’re good.

And part of the work we were doing with Oliver Wyman earlier this summer was trying to find an ambition for the company that challenged that, that broke us out of that “we will just rely on the structural advantages of rail to do the job for us.” And the ambition we ended up setting was to say, we will be the lowest emitting form of international transport short of getting on your bike and cycling across the border. There will be no more sustainable way to travel internationally than us. And that’s an important ambition because the competitive context for the company is changing as well.


Federico

I think it’s key to visualize how the impact on sustainability of railways, be them freight railways or passenger railways, is not only on decarbonizing their own scope, but it’s really on making the whole transportation system of their countries greener, and therefore avoiding emissions from other types of transport. Cars, even electric ones, or planes or other forms of road transport will never be able to match the environmental efficiency of an electric train. And therefore, it is key that we remove all the bottlenecks that today prevent the full development of railways, such as infrastructure, which can improve its compatibility across countries, and then for railways to develop their networks and level of service and punctuality and product, all the thing that Eurostar, for example, does very well.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Eurostar's Strategy To Lead Sustainable Travel In Europe
 

5:09

One of the challenges within the sustainability sphere is getting to credible proof points. We don't just want this to be window dressing
Gareth Williams, General Secretary and Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer at Eurostar

One of the challenges within the sustainability sphere is getting to credible proof points. We are not trying to market the 10% we are doing to overshadow the 90% we are not. We want our efforts to be legitimate and intrinsic across our entire business. Discover how Eurostar aspires to be the backbone of sustainable travel in Europe, by reducing environmental impact and fostering closer cultural connections. It’s not about marketing tactics, but about genuine, integral business practices.

Cornelia Neumann

You mentioned something, Gareth, that hasstuck in my mind ever since we worked together, which was for Eurostar to want to be the backbone of sustainable travel in Europe. What does it mean to you?

Gareth Williams

It means that we are the first choice for people traveling to some iconic destinations across Europe: London, Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Amsterdam. I’ve got a great job, haven’t I? Who wouldn’t enjoy it? And that really is a network that represents the backbone of northern Europe. To make ourselves the logical choice for people traveling, to make it easy, city center to city center, but on top of that, to say in making that journey, you are doing no harm — that’s a huge thing. If you can reduce the environmental impact to that extent, that it is not placing limits on your ability to travel and drive out all those benefits that travel brings, it’s positive, it’s uplifting, it contributes economically, it brings people and cultures closer together, which we are passionate about.

Cornelia

It’s one of these rare instances so far, we’re actually doing more. It’s all around positive.

Gareth

Absolutely. Fundamentally, it’s one “proud to work” for the company. What’s such a joy is I fundamentally believe we are doing a positive thing, but as all responsible companies, we’ve got to look at ourselves and say, what is the cost of that thing we’re doing? And back to that virtuous circle, the more we can reduce the cost we are imposing in providing the service we do, the easier it is for more people to choose us and deliver a broader environmental benefit.

Federico Ucci

That’s key, Gareth. And as we said, we need to bring more people and freight onto rails. Can you tell us a bit more about how you shaped the ambition of Eurostar and how Oliver Wyman helped you do it? We have been working with Eurostar for a number of years, and it was natural to partner as two companies who were very close to sustainability topics on this journey. How did it work for you?

Gareth

it worked very well. As you say, it’s the latest in a series of collaborations going back over a decade now. I’m trying to recall, we worked together a long time ago, but this was a particularly positive one because it was around a topic where, as I said, we had a lot of shareholder impetus. We had a lot of positive engagement from teams within the business, but we were struggling ourselves, particularly after the impacts of COVID, to find our feet again and to say what should be the next step for a business in terms of setting a strategic challenge in the context of the merger. We were working on things like, what’s the ambition? But we were also looking across the business and saying, how do we prove it? What are going to be the proof points in future? What are going to be the methodologies that demonstrate that? And I think one of the challenges within the sustainability sphere is getting to credible proof points. We don’t just want this to be window dressing. We want it to be of substance. We are not trying to market the 10% we are doing to overshadow the 90% we are not. We want this to be legitimate and intrinsic across the whole business. That meant working with Oliver Wyman to find different elements of proof that would engage different parts of the business and agreeing the methodologies against which they would be tested.

This transcript has been edited for clarity

How Eurostar Is Overcoming Challenges To Be A Market Leader
 

6:02

Often we feel like a mouse trying to shove an elephant in the direction we need it to go because we’re setting an ambition that’s leading the pack
Gareth Williams, General Secretary and Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer at Eurostar

The spirit of collaboration between Eurostar and Oliver Wyman was a key element in the sustainability engagement, leading to a collective contribution that resonated positively with everyone involved. As Eurostar progresses on its sustainability journey, it faces challenges both externally, with infrastructure dependencies, and internally, due to a necessary culture shift. However, the standout aspect is the bottom-up initiatives and ideas from the teams, demonstrating a high level of engagement across the entire business. This collective commitment to sustainability truly unifies Eurostar as a whole.

Gareth Williams

If I draw out one more positive for me around the work around the engagement, it was the spirit of the engagement and the way the Oliver Wyman team and our own team came together, because this is one of those topics that everyone feels passionate about, and they’ve all got pretty set views of what you do and how you should go about it. And that often includes consultants who are coming into a business who have either a house methodology or their own external experience that, of course, they’re going to bring to the party. That’s why you’re hiring them. And you watch those two things come together and it starts with that tension of how everyone thinks they should be going about it. And one of the positive things for me was how that developed and was used creatively to come up with an end product that wasn’t just putting into a pretty PowerPoint the answer that one of the parties had already thought of before they started on the process. It was about bringing together a collective contribution for something that everyone felt very positive about. I was proud to stand up at the board and present that strategy, the output of that work, and how the work was done. The spirit in which the work was done, was important for me.

Cornelia Neumann

That’s wonderful to hear and it was definitely a pleasure for us as well, Gareth. Now we all know that if you do a strategy project and a lot of the work, the hard yards that you need to make are in implementation. You’ve already mentioned a few of the next steps that Eurostar is taking on your sustainability journey. What are the areas that concern you most? What do you see as the biggest challenge for you?

Gareth

We are dependent on the infrastructure managers, and they are huge undertakings. Often, we feel like a mouse trying to shove an elephant in the direction we need it to go, because we’re setting an ambition that’s leading the pack, which means we are going to be ahead of where a lot of others on whom we depend are, in terms of their own development.

One of the challenges is having the right kind of conversations, getting the right kind of engagement to bring others with us to deliver what we need, whether that’s around rot waste, or electricity, or whatever. But there are also the internal challenges, because everyone says, “Oh yes, great, we should definitely be doing this.” And then you start handing them their responsibilities for delivery. And it’s a bit of a culture shift.

If you’ve ever worked on a railway, you know safety is paramount. Every single weekly board meeting starts with safety, down to, if you haven’t worked in the industry, a degree you would not believe. I know who in this station had a bag drop on their foot last week. It’s that kind of culture. And to deliver the scale we are talking about of ambition in terms of sustainability, you have to have a sustainability culture that is as embedded as the safety culture.

Cornelia

One last question. If you have to pick one thing that you are extremely proud about, what would you pick?

Gareth

On sustainability, I think I’m proudest of how the impetus comes from the teams now. And you talked about it being straight at every stage: board, CEO, and so. But actually, it’s as much going up the chain that way as it is the other. One of the challenges within the sustainability team as we were trying to find the strategy, was the number of people coming to us, challenging us, saying we can do more, the onboard teams were already thinking about how they can reduce waste. The technology teams talking about the emissions from server use, and so forth.  The thing I’m proudest of is, when I talk about being responsible for sustainability within the business, I feel that connects me to the whole business because the level of engagement on this topic from everyone across the business is amazing, it’s astonishing. It’s one of the reasons they’re proud to work for the company.

Federico Ucci

And that’s great, Gareth. As you said, I think the industry needs frontrunners and be it a mouse or an elephant, any operator can do it.

Gareth

It’s in our high-speed DNA, we might as well be high-speed about sustainability as well.

Cornelia

Thank you very much for your time to have this conversation, Gareth.

Gareth

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Federico

Thank you, Cornelia.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.