A whole world of local skills

If communities are to become sustainable then they are going to have to be given new skills. Sir Michael Latham - chairman of ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry - outlines the role training can play in this

The issue of sustainability is changing how we look at the built environment – from the way we design buildings to how we build and maintain them.

It’s clear we now have a duty to reduce the amount of waste we are producing, the amount of energy we are using, and the products we are choosing to buy.

In 2006 alone, the energy used in constructing, occupying and operating buildings represented about 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. The waste produced in construction and demolition represented 19% of total UK waste.

One measure being implemented by the Government to help construction companies address waste issues is making Site Waste Management Plans a legal requirement of all build projects of more than £250,000.

With the rate of construction in the UK set to increase over the next few years, reaching a peak in 2011, sustainable construction is more important than ever, particularly in helping deliver the government’s targets of a 60% reduction in the 1990 level of emissions by 2050.

It is important to remember sustainable development is about more than ecological issues – it also offers a business opportunity. Reviewing activities with a more sustainable perspective often means that companies can benefit from improved and more profitable operations. In addition, the companies’ reputations, both in the community and with customers, will be improved. Increasingly, a sustainable build is being demanded by environmentally aware clients, driving the business opportunity forward for construction firms that excel at this.

Alongside reducing carbon emissions and using greener forms of energy supply, sustainable construction also ensures communities develop the skills required to maintain any new sites, as local people are given the right level of training and nurturing.

National Skills Academies for Construction (NSAfC) are project-based, employer-led models for learning that take place on large projects and offer on-site training to workers, many of whom will be local. The training is delivered in partnership with private firms in the construction sector, and partnerships of public and private training providers.

Two high-profile National Skills Academies that have recently been launched are at Eton Manor – the Olympic park in East London – and Pinderfields Hospital in West Yorkshire. It is initiatives such as these which put the construction sector well on the road to delivering a future of sustainable building. Our aim is to make sustainable construction the norm by 2014. To do so will take a combined effort from both private firms and public-sector bodies such as ourselves.

The implementation of sustainable development projects will need to come from businesses. By working in conjunction with both the industry’s large and smaller employers, public-sector organisations can play a vital role in putting sustainable construction firmly on the map.

The sector employs more that two million people, making it the country’s largest employer, and contributes more than 8% of the nation’s GDP – that is why we need to set a shining example for other industries to follow, and to start building a more sustainable future.

Sir Michael Latham is chairman

of ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for construction


Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie