Business ‘crusade’ built on leadership can deliver zero-carbon buildings, says NG Bailey

EXCLUSIVE: The biggest barrier on the pathway to zero-carbon buildings is a lack of "appropriate leadership" from Governments, although this has presented the private sector with an opportunity to train and retain the next generation of sustainability leaders.

That is the view of the largest independent engineering, construction and services company in the UK, NG Bailey’s director of sustainability Cal Bailey, who told edie that the family-run business was attempting to inspire younger generations to help meet future sustainability trends.

NG Bailey has been assisting firms such as Land Securities in reducing the carbon footprint of buildings and is also a founding member of the UK Green Building Council (UK GBC). As part of the World Green Building Council, the UK GBC has endorsed calls for a “monumental and coordinated” effort from business and governments to ensure all existing buildings by 2050 operate at net-zero carbon.

In order to deliver on this call, Bailey noted that both governments and businesses will need to develop a new generation of leaders and that current efforts weren’t doing enough to inspire young people into science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) jobs.

“The pathway to zero-carbon buildings needs leadership and the single biggest barrier is appropriate leadership, we think the Government can play a positive role if they’re willing to,” Bailey said. “However, we recognise the need to lead on this too.

“An awful lot of young people aren’t inspired to a technical training that we think gives them access to the most sustainable careers in the land, which are STEM careers. Fortunately, I’m not worried about the soft skills of our younger workforce, they have plenty of room to develop, and I find that millennials are very familiar in the area of sustainability. They are the ones pushing the agenda.”

Business crusade

Bailey, who was charged with introducing and integrating the sustainability department at NG Bailey in 2008, claimed that sustainability was evolving into a “business and moral crusade” that would be delivered through the next generation of millennials.

NG Bailey is reliant on its staff’s softer skills to deliver on environmental pledges. As well as achieving a 19% reduction in its net carbon footprint per employee since 2012, the company has helped its customers reduce CO2 emissions by more than 122,000 tonnes in 2016 – 20 times larger than its own carbon footprint – as outlined by its latest sustainability report.

The company has been training staff members on both technical and social skills needed to thrive in a company with an outward-facing profile that has to offer its services in a personalised manner to a range of clientele.

To achieve this, NG Bailey has turned to its apprenticeship programme, described by Bailey as the “single-biggest route” into working within the business. NG Bailey hires around 50-60 apprentices a year and has more than 150 working for them across 14 different sectors.

The aim is to generate and retain an inspired group of technical workers that can champion sustainability internally. NG Bailey’s managing director of engineering, Mike Darlington, for example, has risen through the ranks from an apprenticeship role.

“Apprenticeships are the first route and it is the technical route,” Bailey said. “They learn through this and develop technical skills. They end up with skills that are a passport to anywhere in the world. I would think that half of my colleagues on the senior management team are former apprentices in some business or another.

“The softer skills can come during the apprenticeship, but a lot of it comes after. During the apprenticeship, they’ll be leaders and in charge of installing certain parts of projects or designing. Afterwards they’ll likely become young managers, it’s here where we start developing softer skills.”

The company received more than 4,000 applications last year to the apprenticeship scheme, and has committed to spending £3m on training and development annually.

The development also has a clear focus on sustainability and Bailey is actively trying to get staff members to adopt a mindset required to deliver on carbon aims within the built environment. The company is rolling out an internal travel challenge that will limit the carbon emissions from commutes.

Paved with good intentions

However, it is the outward-facing services of NG Bailey where the training and development could have a transformational effect.

Bailey helped establish NG Bailey’s Offsite Manufacture, Rail and IT Services divisions in 1999. The aim of the offsite division is to move construction out from construction sites so that NG Bailey can ensure that projects are developed in a safe and efficient way that limits the impact on the environment.

The Offsite factory in Yorkshire, recycles 99% of the produce that it uses. The state-of-the-art facility has benefitted from more than £5m of investment into aspects like BIM modelling to improve the efficiency of design, while also offering costs savings of 40%.

The Offsite division is equipping NG Bailey workers with the understanding of how to produce projects while minimising waste and carbon emissions. With the built environment demanding around 40% of the world’s extracted materials and demolition waste representing the largest waste stream in many countries, the UK GBC is now calling on companies to take waste management further and champion the circular economy.

While Bailey admitted that the industry isn’t ready to embrace the circular economy, he mentioned that tagging modular parts of construction projects and tracking them via the Internet of Things (IoT) would become common practice at some point, he did claim that the Government should incentivise new business models to get the industry pushing towards better practices.

“Some businesses will do simply what the Government requires them to do, and if the Government relaxes its rules, which arguably it has done in the last five years, then the business relaxes. Not all have, and we haven’t, it’s the right thing for us to do even though policy changes.”

“It’s a wholly different way of designing a project, it’s the radical innovation that we’re excited about. It is the transformation of construction and we’re at the heart of it.”

Matt Mace

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