Second Nature

David Tennant, group environmental manager for Gleeson, explains the company's approach to environmental risk management

With rising levels of environmental legislation, construction services and property group Gleeson, realised that good environmental risk management is at the heart of good management. In 1998, an environmental policy was established and, as a response to the risk management need and demand from enlightened clients, its first environmental management system was drawn up.

Environmental management at Gleeson has three themes:

  • To demonstrate leading performance – internally to prove the value of environmental management and externally to add value to submissions to clients and stakeholders.
  • To support the business at an operational level, giving advice and support to divisions and at group level, ensuring the company is adequately addressing
    environmental issues.
  • To manage the EMS so that the company adheres to its own procedures and maintains its certification to ISO 14001, at the same time developing the EMS to ensure it remains relevant, effective and valuable.

Group approach

From the outset it was clear that for the EMS to be accepted and used it needed input from across the group. Each of the ten divisions/subsidiaries nominated an environmental representative. As these representatives were not all from an environmental background, they received IEMA-accredited training for the implementation and auditing of internal EMS.

With the diversity of projects being undertaken by the various divisions/subsidiaries, ranging from the London Underground to the Scottish Highlands, the system had to be flexible and thorough, but at the same time accessible and user friendly. It also meant that piloting the EMS in one division before rolling it out to the others had no merit. Each division had their own requirements and these were best met by thorough involvement in the planning stage of the system.

In this way, the original system was reworked and a consultant was seconded from WSP Environmental on a part-time basis for six months to ensure the system was aligned with ISO 14001. The system was launched in spring 2001 and certification achieved in November 2001 – to the admitted surprise of SGS Yarsley, the certification body.

On site

The system is far-reaching and has its greatest relevance for construction sites, which in our industry have the greatest potential for environmental impact. For example, Gleeson’s special contracts division is currently designing and building a school in East Sussex, which has been designed with the environment in mind from the start. No excavated material has been removed from site as it has been reused in the development of the site landscape, reducing the effects of transport on the local community. To help prevent rainwater discharge adding to the burden of off-site storm drainage, a buried storage system and a series of ponds provide a visual feature and attenuation.

During the past year, the engineering division has encountered all manner of protected species including bats, badgers, snakes, newts, slow worms, water voles, and nesting birds. Through staff being environmentally aware and following the guidance provided in the EMS, all encounters have been handled appropriately.


From the beginning, it was recognised that much training would be needed to change the age-old culture which existed within Gleeson and the construction industry in general. The attitude faced was one of resisting change and of seeing environmental controls and procedures as an unnecessary interference. There were established ways of working, which had always been acceptable in the past: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The trick would be to convince the sceptics that the world was changing and they had to change to keep up. This presented the biggest obstacle to implementation and an external trainer was drafted in. Training courses were devised between the department and the trainer, with the aim of making every individual aware of their responsibilities. A range of courses continue to be developed and enhanced:

  • Environmental awareness training (mandatory for all employees within six months of joining the company);
  • Directors’ briefings;
  • Supervisor environmental training for those with day-to-day responsibilities on-site;
  • Custom training for designers, estimators and planners; surveyors and buyers; and
  • Environmental briefings for selected specialist contractors.
    In addition there is a suite of toolbox talks given to both Gleeson employees and sub-contractors covering topics ranging from wildlife and archaeology to noise and vibration.


The expected benefits were mainly client-focused, including the ability to bid for work that required an ISO 14001-certified EMS, as well as reducing the risk of regulatory action. It has also energised Gleeson to remain at the forefront of best practice, for instance, by being active members of the Construction Confederation Environmental Forum. Being
up-to-date with best practice ensures potential problems on individual sites are identified at an early stage and dealt with correctly, thereby preventing environmental and health risks and preventing possible delays and unforeseen costs.
Overall, implementing an EMS has enabled Gleeson to better manage environmental risk, increasing its attractiveness to clients, partners and other stakeholders. It is possible that the environmental culture creeping into Gleeson has been a factor in the company being voted 19th in the Sunday Times 100 best companies to work for 2004.

Successes and set-backs

The main success of the system is that it has become integrated into day-to-day business management. It is easy to imagine how such an initiative could fail if it were not for the strong support it has received from top management.

Contractors tendering for work with Gleeson are assessed using service provider questionnaires on health, safety and environmental performance, among other criteria. Following this they are ascribed a ranking, and a low score in any of these categories can mean that the contractor will not be used. On completion of a project, subcontractors are evaluated on their performance.

Gleeson was listed on the FTSE4Good Social Responsibility Index for the first time in 2003 and the group’s first corporate responsibility report, detailing corporate governance, health and safety, environmental and social information was published on the internet in December.

However, the path to success has not always been smooth. Gleeson received an official caution from the Environment Agency in April 2002 for contravention of Section 85 of the Water Resources Act 1991 and more recently an oversight caused the pollution of a stream in Leeds with sewage last December. The company’s attitude is one of learning from mistakes. For example, the Leeds incident has resulted in improvements to the system including the “Envirotag”, designed to make certain all elements of the site with environmental significance are inspected more frequently.

The environmental department has grown to 20 employees across the divisions. The EMS has been revised into a document half its original size that works with guidance notes covering topics from tree protection to waste management.

The future

The construction industry is known as one of the most polluting in the UK and, in line with that, Gleeson has identified its main aspects to be waste management, pollution prevention, supply chain management and wildlife.
Measurement of waste volumes is being trialed with the aim of highlighting where the major waste streams are created and taking appropriate action. A target of a 10%
year-on-year reduction in pollution incidents will be a long-term theme, as will closer scrutiny of subcontractors’
environmental performance and its effect on their relationship with Gleeson. Development of a policy on biodiversity is on the agenda for 2005 as well as environmental issues gaining even more influence on purchasing decisions.
With all this already achieved, the company is moving towards its environmental vision of creating a company culture where the environment is second nature.

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