Following our recent work with HS1 and other shared mobility providers, we reflect on the future of sustainable train travel and argue for the need for the rail industry to look beyond infrastructure and refocus on customer experience.

In February, the government launched a strategy document starting the process of creating a plan for the decarbonisation of transport with public transport at its heart. ‘We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.’  The rail industry is already decarbonising, exploring renewable energy sources and the generation of sustainable traction energy in the search for alternatives to overhead power lines and diesel engines.  In autumn, the UK’s first hydrogen-powered train made its maiden voyage.  We are only talking about a 25-mile round trip with maximum speed of 50 miles per hour but it’s definitely a positive start!

Beyond decarbonisation

Decarbonisation though is only one piece of the jigsaw.  By its very nature, sustainability has to have the customer or client at its heart, needs to bring together all stakeholders and involve all areas of the business.  This is something that HS1 Ltd embraced when we recently worked with them to create their industry-leading sustainability strategy.  The UK’s only high-speed railway recognised the need for collective action with key stakeholders; and a joined-up approach to address climate change, energy and resource use, social impact and biodiversity.  HS1 is the ‘Green Gateway to Europe’ but the company understands that people will only continue to choose trains over aeroplanes if the whole experience is positive.

The whole customer journey

The concept of customer-focus presents a real challenge for an industry that is traditionally slow to change, more focused on the systems and network than the end user, and has a very complex network of stakeholders.  One particular challenge is around the integration of train with onward travel.  For some time now, railway franchise agreements have required franchisees to consider onward travel arrangements as part of their winning bids but arguably this has not been fully embraced and certainly not enforced.  Train travel can’t become truly sustainable though without considering the rest of people’s journeys.  Digitisation of ticketing and the growth in e-mobility can facilitate this home-to-destination agenda but it requires public and private sector to work together.  Only through true collaboration will we see mobility as a service with customers able to buy end-to-end tickets and a shift towards shared rather than personally-owned modes of transport.

Through our work, not just in shared mobility but across many diverse industries, we know that sustainability and circularity only work when the customer is at the heart.  The rail industry is trying to get to grips with this and we feel we are well placed to support them in the future of sustainable train travel.

Can we help your business?

QSA Partners is a specialist team of circular economy and sustainable business experts with extensive experience in mobility, infrastructure and consumer markets. We have worked with many well and lesser known brands including adidas, HS1 Ltd, Samsung, riversimple and Ikea.  Our extensive experience across a broad range of industries gives us a unique perspective that benefits all our clients.  We believe that better business models – whether based on sustainability or circular economy principles – help our clients stay relevant, grow market share and open up different markets in this rapidly changing world, providing business resilience against the impacts and risks of climate change. Find out more about our services or contact us to see how we can help your business benefit.

Jennifer Decker/

I enable businesses to reduce their business and product impacts from setting out a sustainability strategy to supporting the delivery of circular business models. Businesses I have supported include High Speed 1 Ltd, Cotton Incorporated, Argent, Heathrow Expansion, Northern Trust Bank, EDF New Nuclear Build, EY, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence.

I specialise on working within an organisation which has included my tenure as sustainability specialist at EDF New Nuclear Build and at WRAP developing their Textiles 2030 agreement and produced their 2030 circular textiles pathway working with the major retailers, reuse & recycling businesses and charities.

Prior to QSA, I was an associate director at Mace Group where I enabled built environment clients to deliver their carbon reduction programmes and sustainable construction strategies by setting measurable KPIs and targets; creating tools to monitor; embed performance standards in procurement and communication.

Previously, I led the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan at WRAP setting the 2020 targets, strategy and implementation for the UK clothing industry.

Kristina Bull /

I led our project with Laudes Foundation and ReLondon on the Circular Fashion Fast Forward project that saw us develop circular models with adidas; FW and Farfetch as well as lay the foundations for Ted Baker’s work in this area.

I am leading the development of a fibre specific recycling programme within Europe which will be launched in early 2022.

I am an apparel durability expert with track record of change implementation at Whistles, ASOS, COS and worked with WRAP and John Lewis to produce a durability and quality guide for brands.

I have advised low carbon, resource efficiency and sustainability strategy development at Heathrow and High Speed 1 Ltd, and continue to lead the support work for HS1 through to their participation at COP26 in November 2021.

Before QSA at WRAP I delivered the market engagement and recruitment drive for the WRAP Halving Waste to Landfill agreement in the built environment sector.

Gerrard Fisher /

I have a strong track record in sustainability with a wide range of clients. My original background is in process and chemical engineering so I’ve been in to process and resource efficiency since graduating a long time ago!

I’ve supported circular business model transformation in companies such as adidas, Argos, ASOS, B&Q (Kingfisher), FARFETCH, FW, Samsung, MuJo Fitness and more: I led a team that created WRAP’s original circular business model project called REBus.

I have extensive experience working with electrical and electronic products, and I worked with many major global brands on improving design for durabiltiy and repairabilitly. Examples of projects I led include:

  • Groundbreaking research into the nature of mercury hazards in flat-panel TVs (leading to industry voluntary labelling)
  • Creation of design guides for retail buyers so they could improve the durability (and reduce warranty costs) of their own-brand products.
  • Delivery of communication campaigns that increased e-waste recycling collections by over 40% in target areas.

Through my past work at WRAP and beyond, I’ve also advised a range of governmental and NGO organisations on resource efficiency, ecodesign and circular economy including Defra, BEIS, Zero Waste Scotland, ReLondon and Oxfordshire County Council. I provide technical advisory and independent expert advice to UKRI, the European Commission, the US Government’s Department of Energy.

I get a kick out of helping businesses understand and meet their customers’ needs better - whether that’s through better business models, better product design or better communication and transparency.

This has also led me to take an interest in privacy and data management - which can be a big barrier to people reusing and recycling some of their old electrical stuff. As a result, I set up a business called Astrid to provide cost-effective privacy advice to small businesses so they can better protect their customer information.

Mark Hodgson /

I specialise in the innovation and proposition development of new customer orientated, commercially driven circular and sharing business models to market. I have a particular experience of working on circular models with sectors that are impacted by the change in lifestyles, consumption, digital mobility, electric infrastructure and NetZero, have on place. Examples range from retail; IKEA, adidas, B&Q, ASOS, FarFetch, developers and OEM’s; Landsec & Samsung, mobility; Riversimple, HS1 & Co Cars and authorities; Oxford County Council and Exeter Velocities/Exeter City Council. Across all of these, I have helped deliver the propositions, services, operations and infrastructure to enable deployment.

As a founder and ex-director of a multi-modal shared e-mobility provider of EV cars, e-bikes and e-cargo bikes, I have first-hand experience of the impact and change these business models can have on people and place, through working with clients, local authorities and housing developers.

I understand what processes and techniques to apply, how to encourage growth and change mindsets, and how to build a customer-focused, commercially viable business model that delivers circular and environmental benefits. My background is business development, technology and markets having worked for international companies to local SMEs. I've worked in a wide range of projects from global business propositions, sales as a service, sharing and circular business models, ‘low carbon’ LEP economic strategies, climate change adaptation, renewable energy, clean tech sector development and public sector partnerships to technical research, international development and project delivery management.

Being a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and geographer at heart I've worked on sustainable development projects and film productions in locations in Africa, Asia and Europe.