27 July 2021 • 5 min

Ben Greenwood

The Road to COP26 – Technology & Sustainability: In conversation with Rolls-Royce

By Ben Greenwood, HM Consul-General Milan & Country Director Italy, Department for International Trade (DIT)

Rachel & Ben

Italy has long been a strategic centre for Rolls-Royce, with a commercial and manufacturing presence that stems from a 60-year history in the country. Rolls-Royce’s predominant strengths are in Civil Aerospace, Advanced Engineering and Power Systems. 

Sustainability is at its heart with the company’s commitment to the decarbonisation in its core markets and joining the UN’s Race to Zero campaign.

Ben Greenwood, Director of the Department for International Trade (DIT) in Italy, sat down with Rolls-Royce’s Head of Sustainability, Rachael Everard, to talk about the company's sustainable projects in Italy, COP26 and diversity.

Rolls-Royce has recently published its pathway to Net Zero report, demonstrating how it will focus its technological capabilities to play a leading role in enabling significant elements of the global economy to get to Net Zero carbon by 2050. As part of this journey, the British engineering company is increasing its production of sustainable power solutions and in Italy is doing this in partnership on fuel cell systems with the Technology Centre of the University of Genoa. 


Ben: What has Rolls-Royce committed to in decarbonisation targets? 

Rachael: Rolls-Royce is leading on the sustainability agenda by reducing fuel consumption, emissions and noise, developing new low carbon technologies and capabilities and delivering zero greenhouse gas emissions from our facilities by 2030. 

Through significant investment, Rolls-Royce has committed to reaching net zero carbon on net zero greenhouse gases in our operations and facilities by 2030. For us that target means increasing our energy resilience, our energy security, reducing our environmental impacts and some of our energy costs.

We will be looking at making sure that the energy we use is green and renewable, whether that is solar power or ground source. High performance renewable tools such as heat pumps will allow Rolls-Royce to install new renewable energy projects.

We also need to be looking at how we can make the processes we have in our facilities as efficient as possible. It is key for us to be able to use waste, while at the same time generating less waste and turning it into resources that could contribute to our carbon savings. We also have a 2050 commitment to reach net zero carbon across our value chain and have joined the Race to Zero campaign supported by the UK government.

It is a fantastic initiative for businesses that want to take bold action on climate change. Our near-term actions include making all our new products compatible with Net Zero by 2030, and all of our products in operation compatible by 2050.  We have also introduced short-term targets – linked to executive renumeration - to accelerate the take-up of sustainable fuels, which have a key role to play in the decarbonisation of some of our markets, especially long-haul aviation. 


Ben: Civil Aviation is facing the need for a green and sustainable recovery from the global pandemic. Through one of your Italian subsidiaries called PoEMA (Polo Europeo Microfusioni Aerospaziali – Aerospace Microfusion European Pole), Rolls-Royce has established a network of 16 Civil Aviation companies. This is a great example of UK–Italy collaboration, what have you learned from that so far and what are Rolls-Royce’s plans for the next phase?

Rachael: This business network is designed to foster collaboration and innovation between partners. With a high investment effort, Rolls-Royce has co-located and is leading 16 organisations with very similar kinds of capabilities, to benefit from being in a shared space and working environment, next door to our facility. 

From an environmental perspective, we have been able to benefit from not having to ship and move goods around the country or around the world, which has also saved on costs and helped increase productivity. From a social perspective, we have been encouraging that collaboration and proximity, which have definitely speeded up the shared learnings. There is definitely an opportunity for Rolls-Royce – and indeed other organisations - to learn from what we have done in Italy.


Rolls Royce

Ben: Under its Italian subsidiary MTU, Rolls-Royce is creating cleaner energy supply through micro grids and hybrid power generation systems. How does this create a cheaper and more sustainable energy alternative? 

Rachael: The key idea is off-grid energy solutions. This means that remote regions and communities not connected to the normal energy grid infrastructure can use a micro grid to support their energy needs without having to go through the infrastructure challenges of being connected to a National Grid.


Ben: Looking at COP26 this year, taking place in Glasgow and preceded by the Pre-COP in Milan, a big theme is youth and sustainability. What is Rolls-Royce’s approach to youth?

Rachael: There have been massive increases in the expectations of younger generations for companies to take sustainability seriously, and that resonates in every level of our organisation. Our senior leadership is excited about sustainability strategies because they are thinking about the impact on their children and grandchildren. 

Looking at the Milan Pre-COP events focusing on youth, it is going to be an exciting time and companies need to be able to respond to that. Rolls-Royce has a long history of engaging young people.

We have had apprentices for over 100 years, and they provide a valuable, vital injection of talent, energy, enthusiasm and diverse perspectives into the company. We can learn from them and must allow ourselves to be challenged by them. 


Ben: How is Rolls-Royce supporting sustainability and women in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)?

Rachael: We can all benefit from having a more diverse and inclusive working environment, and we know this leads to success. At Rolls-Royce we have a really stretching target through our STEM education outreach programmes to reach 25,000,000 of tomorrow's pioneers, with an objective to steer young people to pursue careers in STEM. 

Young people make their career choices at a young age. We need to be able to influence them at the right school level age to pursue the right qualifications or make the right choices that mean careers in STEM are an opportunity for them. Not only are we focused on reaching young people, but also parents, guardians and teachers, because those are real influential voices. 

We are making sure we reach more females, showing that an engineer is not always a man in a uniform. It can be a whole spectrum of different personalities, characteristics and different roles.

We are proud that our site in Italy is a third female, which is quite high for aerospace companies and has great provisions to help women in the workplace, like more job sharing. We can learn from that across our global estate.


Ben: Finally, on a personal note, what has inspired you to pursue a career path in sustainability?

Rachael: I grew up in the North East of Scotland and was always inspired by the beauty of the environment around me, and I developed a strong desire to protect it. I also wanted to work within a large company where I felt that any small difference I could make could actually have quite a large difference on a global scale. 

That is what keeps me going every day – the ongoing desire to make a small change to help steer a massive company like Rolls-Royce. The work we do has the potential to help us to decarbonise our global ecosystem and make a major contribution to a more sustainable society. It makes me very happy to try and do my little bit to make that happen.



  • Rolls-Royce spends £1.3bn every year on R&D
  • 20,000 engineers
  • UK’s leading patent filer (900 a year)
  • The world’s most efficient aero engine (Trent XWB)
  • Developing an all-electric aircraft designed to break the air speed record 

For an executive summary of the Rolls-Royce Net Zero Report click here.