GUEST ARTICLE: Has the construction industry checked out on sustainability?

  • 28 Aug 2019

No-one could reasonably argue that the sustainability agenda doesn’t receive due airtime; barely a week goes by without another Extinction Rebellion protest; same boat, different city. Earlier this month, the group even popped up in the Cornish seaside town of St Ives, clad in ghoulish red robes to highlight the danger of rising sea levels.

When it comes to the construction industry, its role in the impending climate disaster is no secret. The figures are stark – one third of all UK waste is generated by the construction industry, while 10 per cent of carbon emissions are a direct result of construction-related activity.

It’s only a matter of time before public attention turns toward an industry with so much culpability – and the power to make a difference.

But is the construction industry committed to limiting the harmful fruits of its labour, or has sustainability entered buzzword territory; a problem for someone else to tackle?

Our research, for which we surveyed 1480 construction and supply chain businesses, suggests the industry has more work to do when it comes boosting sustainability beyond box-ticking.

For example, just 30% of businesses measure their carbon footprint, and only 9% complete a carbon footprint measurement. However, there has been a 4% increase in companies identifying their operational impact on the environment, and a 2% increase in suppliers with a BIM policy in place.

It appears that intent is a large part of the problem – the sustainability agenda is very much top-down, spearheaded by contractors who make clear their expectations when appointing their supply chain. Too many are following suit only when the project demands it, requiring specific targets and reporting to be met.

It’s an approach that is prevalent, the result of which is a sporadic approach to sustainability.

Despite the environmental challenges we face – and the role played by the construction industry – the pace of change is glacial, the appetite to take a proactive approach grudging at best, with sporadic, empty initiatives being pushed forward under the tired banner of CSR, or by communications teams conscious of reputation.

The failure to introduce accountability for sustainability measures – and solid targets – is widespread.

Just 40% of businesses have an employee dedicated to environmental management, while 23% have no environmental management system in place at all. 8% reported that the environmental impact of their work is measured, although the methods used to do this is unclear.

What is clear is that the construction industry is falling short on sustainability, and failing to take ownership of its environmental impact.

Our research has been useful in pinpointing areas where more work needs to be done, but also areas of opportunity. The unification of the Common Assessment Standard is a chance to make sure we’re all working with the same method, with analytical capabilities that are more meaningful.

We can now highlight the areas where gaps need to be plugged, providing a more accurate view of progress which hasn’t been possible before.

Sustainability must be a universal responsibility.

Lee Brunsden, Head of Construction, Achilles

One comment on “GUEST ARTICLE: Has the construction industry checked out on sustainability?

  • An ongoing problem indeed, until today. These workers are the very reason construction projects are being built, and since they do most of the dirty work they would need a maximized opportunity to stay safe, productive and reliable to the materials as well. Thanks for the post!

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