How to build a sustainability culture within the construction industry

Following edie's insight report on the construction industry, a one-hour webinar, sponsored by Reconomy, brought together industry experts, focusing on how they embedded sustainability cultures within their firms - and how they plan to take forward their agendas.

How to build a sustainability culture within the construction industry

The report is free to download for edie users

The webinar highlighted some of the overarching challenges and opportunities facing the sector in the drive to lower carbon emissions, waste, and resource usage. Construction is at a crossroads, and reinvigorated by unprecedented technological advancements and game-changing energy innovations, the sector now has a unique opportunity to ensure green business lies at the core of its future progress.


At the same time, 40% of carbon emissions are from the built environment, 60% of material use, and a third of all waste in the UK comes from the construction industry, so there is also urgency about moving forward with a sustainability agenda – something the speakers were all keen to stress.

On the webinar were edie content editor Matt Mace, head of sustainability at Willmott Dixon, Simon Tranter; head of business transformation at the UK Green Building Council, Alastair Mant, responsible business director at Mace, Isabel McAllister; and director of managed accounts at Reconomy, Jamie Roberts. 

Focus on the people and social value

One of the key takeaways from the webinar was how a company’s people – and its greater social value targets – form an intrinsic, vital element of the overall sustainability culture within construction firms.

Alastair Mant highlighted the UKGBC’s own research that showed more than half of its gold leaf members now measured the social value of the firm – and 38% also measured wellbeing of staff in the workplace.

He described it as the “hot topic” of the industry, and social value was a very new area where the public and private sector needed to pull together to make it a success.

Simon Tranter said working with the supply chain and subcontractors were crucial to embed a holistic sustainability culture. He also said “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and there was no point setting long-term carbon reduction commitments if there isn’t a “supporting culture that drives the motivation and leadership we need”.

He claimed organisations that instilled such cultures experienced higher levels of productivity, innovation and performance.

Responsible business – and going the extra mile

Mace’s Isabel McAllister agreed with the top lines about company culture, and said that being a responsible business was vital to the success of creating a successful sustainability agenda within a construction firm.

An instructive example that McAllister gave was around plastic. Although it wasn’t a core material concern for the firm, it was for its people and headquarters staff, so the company put in place an ambitious plastic reduction strategy, Time to Act.

This programme saw an 80% reduction in corporate plastics and a 20% reduction in construction plastics, through a reduction in a number of core metrics, including 30,000 disposable cups, 15,000 plastic bottles being deposited, 1,000kg of plastic membrane being repurposed and other similar targets.

The company is also part of the Climate Group’s RE100, which includes a commitment to use 100% renewable power by 2020. Mace are achieving this through their deal with Ecotricity and piloting innovations.

Making the most of new technology

McAllister also highlighted the need for using innovative machinery and technology at the forefront of the construction industry to create a sustainability culture. Diesel power was the “dominant challenge” for the business, and while energy usage elsewhere had been switched to renewables, when it came to diesel-powered plant and lifting kit, this was a still “a huge part of [the] power load”.

Mace had trialled photovoltaic lighting towers, hybrid generators amongst other solutions. But McAllister said such technology was still “modest in scale and hard to get hold of”.

Tranter agreed on the need for applying innovation to create a sustainability culture. He said Willmott Dixon had created a taskforce to do this and investigated “any opportunity to improve material use, methods of construction, or reductions in use” of plastics, aggregate alternatives and other supplies. “If it is out there, chances are we have had a go at it”, he said.

As an example, he explained how the firm had worked with everyone, including its preferred cabin supplier onsite, to see how elements of the business could be made more resource and energy efficient.

Strengthen what you already have – and collaborate

One of the core conclusions from the webinar was to strengthen the existing culture. Mant said that elements such as a nature and biodiversity strategy – which 44% of UKGBC gold leaf members had applied – was “really going up the agenda” in light of the forthcoming Environment Bill and consultation on net-gain biodiversity for all developments.

Mant also said that the challenges of creating a sustainability culture and achieving zero carbon on all new buildings by 2030 – and all buildings by 2050 – could not be done alone.

“These challenges are too big for any one organisation,” he said, “if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. But actually we need to go far and fast – and that is where collaboration will be important.”

Tranter said the way to build on a sustainability culture was to shape the attitudes and beliefs of people within the firm and “tap into the unseen aspects of culture” and get people to “think like entrepreneurs” when it came to sustainability, creating a culture of “competitiveness and action” on the issue.

Best practice – and learning from each project

Jamie Roberts from sponsor Reconomy, which provide outsourced recycling and resource management services, concluded the webinar by saying it is crucial to work with clients to make sure everyone understands a sustainability project – and that everyone is on board.

He said it was about evolution and always raising the bar on each project, so that when moving onto the next client they were able to implement improved best practice.

Roberts said it was about going “over and above” to develop plans that truly excel, and working in partnership, such as on one of their BREEAM projects with Morgan Sindall, which required close relationships with subcontractors and designing out waste.

“It’s about everyone getting involved and striving to make something different,” Roberts said.

Each speaker’s presentation chimed with the themes of edie’s latest Mission Possible insight report. Focused on the construction sector, the report demonstrates the steps that must be taken for construction firms to scale-up action across all areas of sustainable development. Specifically, the report explores exactly how organisations within the construction sector should be working, innovating and collaborating to achieve a sustainable future. Read the report here.

Sponsored by Reconomy, the webinar drew on some of the exclusive findings and best-practice case studies contained within edie’s latest Mission Possible sector insight report which explore the future of sustainability in construction.

Listen to it here.

The Built environment at edie Live

Sustainability professionals from Wienerberger, Wilmott Dixon, Landsec and Canary Wharf Group are among the expert speakers confirmed for edie Live 2019 – the UK’s largest sustainability and energy exhibition this year, 21-22 May.

The two-day show – edie’s biggest event of the year – has become a highlight of the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals looking for new ideas and solutions that will help them achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their business.

Register for your free edie Live 2019 pass here.

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