Nathan Richardson

UK & Europe

Dr Nathan Richardson is a biologist who has been working in the environmental sector for over 20 years. He is a director in Atkins leading our water management consultancy practice. Nathan also chairs the futures initiative at Atkins which supports thought leadership around understanding and addressing some of the major environmental challenges we face in the future.

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The energy system of 2030 is being shaped by policy decisions made today. These decisions are being made in a rapidly changing world where we’re seeing major advancements in our engineering skills, technology and communications capabilities. At the same time public expectations are changing and our understanding of our relationship with the environment is increasing. As we head towards a May 2015 General Election in the UK, I’ve identified three big challenges for policy makers around future energy.

Challenge one is the question of balance. In the UK energy policy has three main goals. Improving energy security and ensuring energy is affordable are two key areas that have been consistently driving policy decisions and investment for generations. However, over the last two decades the third goal of needing to reduce carbon emissions to lessen the scale and impact of climate change has also been recognised. The challenge we now face, as we set the path for the next generation, is to ensure that we maintain the appropriate balance across all three energy policy goals. For example, access to new fossil fuel resources has become possible through advances in engineering and scientific understanding housed in organisations like Atkins. These developments can improve energy security and reduce costs to consumers. However, we need to guarantee the right checks and balances are in place to safeguard progress on achieving the third policy goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Challenge two is the question of scale. In the UK we’ve inherited a national energy generating and transmission infrastructure with the “big six” energy suppliers responsible for operating much of our energy system. Whilst there are undoubted economies of scale, many observers believe in the future our cities should be playing a greater role in how energy is generated and used in their communities. This includes integrating decisions around energy more efficiently and effectively with their local economic, social and environmental needs and policies. The result would be a more decentralised, distributed energy system. How can policy makers encourage the emergence of new business models and partnerships in energy provision, whilst not undermining the long term commitments we have made to national energy infrastructure?

Challenge three is the connectivity conundrum. The explosion in data availability and the systems that can utilise the information to inform decision makers has been dramatic in recent years. It enables us to exert far greater and finer control over how we generate, supply and use resources such as energy, for example through smart grids. We can make better connections between energy management and how we manage our water resources and transport infrastructure. We have new ways to access, understand and influence customer needs, behaviours and preferences. Can policy makers and industry keep pace with the rate of change in this area to ensure that our policies and actions are connected and achieve the best outcomes?

The challenges and opportunities we face around the future of energy are significant and the decisions we make today will have a significant bearing on how that future turns out. As a practice director here at Atkins, I know how committed we are at making sure we play our part. We have recently launched a thought leadership programme, Future Proofing Energy: Environment which will explore the interactions between our future environment and our future energy. Watch this space for more on the programme throughout 2015 or email me to find out more:

UK & Europe,

The Financial Times has just published the first article in an investigative series looking at water scarcity[1]. It focussed on the financial risks to businesses from future changes in water availability and on how companies are increasingly having to address the issue to safegaurd their operations and to protect their brand. In the last three years companies including EDF, Coca Cola, Nestle, Ford and Rio Tinto have spent more that $84bn worldwide to improve the way they conserve, manage or obtain water according to data from Global Water Intelligence. Whilst the price of water may be cheap the cost of it not being available in the right place, in the right quantity, at the right time can be very significant.

Many of our clients are starting to recognise that the costs associated with water scarcity risks materialising can be high. A survey of over 500 of the top global companies (including many of our clients), undertaken on behalf of investors controlling £57 trillion of assets in those companies, was published last year and makes interesting reading. Over 70% of companies identified water as a substantive business risk with anticipated financial impacts from a single event as high as US$1billion[2].The table below shows the top three water risks identified in the survey by companies from different sectors.

However, although water risk is increasingly being recognised by businesses across a range of the sectors in which we operate, many of them still just have a short term focus on their own operational water efficiency. I am not saying this isn’t important, but I believe businesses need to consider water risk on a broader scale, looking at the catchments in which they operate, looking at their supply chain and looking at future risk and resilience. The last point is crucial if they are to take into account factors such as increasing population, urbanisation, climatic variability and resource availability. The importance of this is highlighted by a prediction that by 2025 two thirds of the world’s population will be living in water stressed countries (up from one third today).

I think companies need to be developing their awareness of water risks to inform their strategy, business plans, investments and their R&D, increasing their resilience and helping Future Proof their business. This is something Atkins can help with and I am leading an effort to promote how we can help corporate organisations address their water issues.

But what do you think? I am keen to hear from others within Atkins who see potential to help their clients address water risk. Leave a comment below or get in touch with me to let me know your thoughts.

Atkins Water Risk Table

[1] Financial Times 14 July 2014

[2] Carbon Disclosure Project. 2013. Moving beyond business as usual. A need for a step change in water risk management. CDP Global Water Report 2013. Carbon Disclosure Project, London​

UK & Europe,