Sustainability provides competitive differentiator for Interserve

EXCLUSIVE: A proactive approach to sustainability is giving Interserve a competitive edge in winning contracts, according to the construction firm's director of sustainability strategy.

The Reading-based construction company has a workforce of more than 75,000 people worldwide

The Reading-based construction company has a workforce of more than 75,000 people worldwide

Speaking to edie, Mat Roberts said the firm’s track record of embracing green initiatives has been “a great differentiator” against rival companies.

“The expertise we bring to this area is very valuable to our clients, and by extension, us,” he said. “More and more clients want sustainability. They’re asking us a lot more questions about how we can help them reduce emissions and improve efficiency in their new buildings.

“Not all our customers are asking us this, but as we have had to develop this knowledge, we share it with everyone. Clients now get it without asking.”

Big wins

Roberts was speaking upon of the launch of Interserve’s latest sustainability report, released today (15 June), which details a successful year of emissions cuts, water saving and reduced waste in the firm’s UK operations.

The biggest win of the year, according to Roberts, was the development of big data. “It may not sound exciting, but we’ve now got really comprehensive and accurate data which was a real challenge in the first report,” he said.

Another big success for Interface this year came in decoupling business growth from emissions growth - the business grew by 10%, while emissions went up by just 1.5%.

But despite these successes, the report claims that “transformational change” is still needed to meet Interserve’s 2020 sustainability targets. 


A point of emphasis going forward for Interserve is collaboration - according to the report - and Roberts plans on wasting no time.

Fellow construction giant Carillion released its sustainability report last week, claiming its green initiatives have added £27.2m to profits. Roberts said that Interserve had not yet figured out a way to place a monetary value on its own sustainability program, but he emphasised that he would be keen to collaborate with Carillion to copy their accounting techniques.

“If they have a way of counting that, and it works, then we have no qualms about sharing it. We’ve all got the same supply chain, so anything that can benefit the industry as whole, that would be great,” he said.

One of Interserve's 2020 targets is to halve carbon emissions compared with 2013. One area of focus will be business travel emissions – which accounted for more than three quarters of Interserve’s UK emissions.

Roberts added: “We’re looking into replacing our business travel with technology. For example utilising conference calls instead of meetings, or using telemetry to monitor equipment rather than sending a man in a van. For a company with a lot of vans, we’re going to be using a lot fewer going forward.”


With an aim to reduce water consumption by 20% in three years, Interserve's UK operations reduced water use by 4.3% last year, but in the international businesses, water use increased by 12.9%. Even more concerning was the fact that international operations had a water intensity more than a hundred times higher than the UK.

Roberts explained that much of this difference was due the amount of hydro-testing done on oil pipes and industrial pipes in the Middle East. Essentially, hundreds of gallons of water are pumped through the pipes to make sure they are watertight.

Roberts said that the company’s engineers were investigating testing the pipes with air, but that the process was essentially unavoidable.

The report claims that an important lesson from 2014 is that “the cost of water is often low and technological changes don’t always deliver a payback in purely financial terms". When asked if this had impacted funding for water-saving initiatives, Roberts replied: “Yes and no.

“The business case for water is different. There’s still a payback, but it just take longer. One thing our water efforts have helped us do is identify more leaks, both for ourselves and clients. We have saved a significant amount of money and water from finding and plugging leaks.”


Interserve is also moving towards an ambitious target of “making waste a thing of the past”. In 2014, internal operations reduced construction waste by 10%, while the amount of waste sent to landfill in the UK was reduced by 23%.

The report also professed a commitment to the circular economy, claiming it would become increasingly important to the sector. Roberts said: “It’s become a point of pride in the industry that there is almost no waste from the demolition process.

“The days of the wrecking ball are long gone, now buildings are dismantled and the materials are re-used on the building site. In that sense I think businesses are ahead of consumers in that there are already a lot of circular concepts in place.”

Brad Allen


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