Building towards a sustainable future

Great strides are being made to decarbonise the built environment industry and push sustainability even further up corporate agendas, panelists in the first of our ‘Green Construction’ series of webinars heard on 12 October.

But more effort is needed by industry to measure the carbon emissions involved in building new assets. Stakeholders must also focus on considering if existing infrastructure can be reused instead, and ensure that whole supply chains are fully invested in maximising environmental awareness.

National Highways’ director of environmental sustainability Stephen Elderkin told the session: “Every time we produce a cost estimate for one of our schemes, we produce a carbon estimate too.”

Such an approach adopted more widely should ensure that design houses and contractors know the carbon associated with a design and how it will be scored, allowing for the client to consider more fully carbon reduction ambitions in a contract, he explained.

Our very own Chair, Phoebe Sullivan, asked panelists for their views on the built environment sector’s ability to help meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050.

“We are at a point where everyone knows they need to be doing something,” remarked Mace’s global head of responsible business James Low. “We know where we need to get to; now we must deliver on our promises and where possible, accelerate them.”

Faithful+Gould’s sustainability technical lead Annabel Clark agreed. “We know exactly what we need to do, it’s just a question of how we get there.” She added that many companies understand the challenge of reducing carbon emissions and have made “really big commitments” to do so.

Measuring embodied carbon

Conversation turned to ‘Scope 3’ emissions, which are those produced not by a business itself, but by others along a supply chain. “Scope 3 is becoming all important if we are going to reach net zero by 2050, otherwise we are ignoring a big chunk of emissions,” said environmental think tank Green Alliance’s policy analyst Verner Viisainen.

“Without measuring those Scope 3 emissions or having mandatory reporting on them, we won’t get to where we need to be.” Everybody needs to be responsible for their Scope 3, across the board, he added.

But the industry should not wait to measure emissions before taking action to cut them, warned James Low. “In the built environment, people know the pound value of their asset and the square meterage of what they are building. We should equally know a third metric: the carbon involved in everything we are doing.”

Stephen Elderkin told the session that one of National Highways’ flagship schemes, the Lower Thames Crossing, is set to be the first major infrastructure project to use hydrogen construction plant at scale.

There is a push, he explained, to spend more on such technology to help “prime the market, so we can get these technologies available for the rest of our portfolio”.

But he also said: “We need a large investment from the plant industry if we are going to turn over all plant on our sites to zero emission by 2030.

Expanding carbon literacy

RSK’s senior carbon consultant, Jamie Blunden, said there is a collective need for the built environment sector to increase its ‘carbon literacy’.

By “joining the dots together within design teams” he noted, and “with a bit more communication”, real value can be achieved from measuring carbon. “If we can continue to increase our carbon literacy in the way we have seen in the last three years, we will see it naturally become a part of how people work.”

Stephen Elderkin added that the built environment sector has to “question if we can use our existing assets more productively, so we don’t need to build more”.

In the case of strategic roads, he asked, can more motorists be accommodated without building additional carriageway and can the longevity of the asset be increased?

Beyond focusing on materials, Stephen added, “there is a strategic level dimension” to cutting carbon which is really important.

Verner Viisainen concurred, “We need to think about whether we need that construction in the first place and there needs to be much more emphasis on retrofitting existing buildings, extending their lifetimes and ensuring we are making best use of the existing stock before we go out and build.”

Jamie Blunden spoke about a spatial development strategy in one UK city which considers a ‘whole life’ carbon assessment for buildings, which is encouraging greater collaboration to renew assets rather than rebuild.

He gave an example of a major retailer who was set to knock down its flagship store, until the city authority intervened and called for a review. This showed, he added, that “pressure is being applied to make sure they are considering the reuse of the building.

Collaboration and developing skills

It was also said that companies are starting to work more closely in order to share knowledge and help tackle the environmental challenge. “We have never seen better collaboration across industry,” remarked Annabel Clark of Faithful+Gould.

She pointed out that professionals involved in designing, building and operating building projects are increasingly thinking about the ‘circular economy’ and considering how structures could be adapted for different uses.

Attention turned to the skills needed by the built environment sector to deliver on the decarbonisation agenda. “We know there is a skills shortage in the industry, so we must come together, quickly, to help upskill and create opportunities for more people to support the climate challenge.” said James Low.

Innovating for the future

Phoebe mentioned that the industry circles around the need for innovation and asked whether the panel thought the sector is making sufficient gains in developing innovations to help it to decarbonise.

James Low quoted findings presented by the management consultant McKinsey which suggested that 80% of our journey to net zero can be delivered with mature technologies that exist today.

“Innovation is important, but let’s not ignore the fact that most of the solutions we need already exist.”

Stephen Elderkin agreed that mature technologies can get the sector most of the way to net zero and wondered whether innovation is not the challenge, but investment in new technologies is.

Net zero: a matter of interpretation

But what does achieving net zero actually mean, asked Annabel Clark. “It means completely different things to different organisations.

“We need to be able to compare better to get benchmarks in place. Just saying ‘net zero carbon’ isn’t enough.”

Jamie Blunden added that “the more that we share information” around carbon, “the better the benchmarks”.

James Low added: “I really don’t think you will be able to design something that is not net zero in the next few years. No matter what your role is, I think you are going to have a part in this.”

Future Energy Wales 2022 was bustling, buzzing and brimming with optimism.  

A renewed focus on the Celtic Sea auction was the main story in town. But it was more than that. Wales has a huge role to play in shaping a future around its natural resources, tapping into its industrial talent, and working together on a critical purpose – generating clean energy and reaching net zero.  

As we know, net zero is not easy. There are billions of pounds of investment waiting to go into Wales, political will and (almost) all the right policies. The planning process is in place too.  

There are six themes which came up at Future Energy Wales: 

  • Ports – Wales has some excellent ports and the Celtic Sea leasing round offers an opportunity for scale. Government’s Freeport’s policy also presents an opportunity to ensure ports are diverse, vibrant centres of innovation. 
  • Grid – for Wales to maximise the opportunity for generating electricity from its natural resources (and new nuclear), new connections are needed. Although an uncomfortable truth for some, the lack of suitable capacity is a hand break on the Welsh economy. 
  • Long term market and skills – the next Celtic Sea leasing round is unlikely to be the last. Onshore wind is supported by the Welsh Government. In order to sustain long term investment in the green economy, industry needs a long term market. When asked, most delegates felt the Welsh Government should have a GW energy target, not an energy consumption target. The sentiment behind this is an opportunity for Wales to be a net exporter of renewable energy and in return a booming market.  
  • Skills – Wales’ industrial heritage means it also has an opportunity to build a new skills profile in renewable energy generation for the 21st Century. This would enable Wales to become a global market leader of green energy, as when Cardiff port handled more coal than any other in the world at the beginning of the previous century. This requires investment from stakeholders across the board. 
  • Welsh government owned energy company – the Welsh Government plans to set up its own energy company by 2024 with the aim of generating more than 1GW by 2030. This is a similar policy to the Labour Party’s position in England, announced at the party’s conference by Sir Keir Starmer in September. While it makes sense for government to want to take a more active role, private business will require clarity about access to sites and planning.  
  • Hydrogen and decarbonisation – Wales has an opportunity to play a globally leading role in decarbonising its core industries, especially in South Wales – steel, energy generation and port operation. New technologies, CCS, hydrogen production and transport are major opportunities. 

 

Future Energy Wales demonstrated the commitment, intelligence and latent investment ready to go into Wales’ renewables market. As one delegate said, aside from Wales not delivering on this opportunity, the biggest failure would be for turbines to be shipped into Wales without any content created domestically. 

Black History month is designed to raise awareness of the contributions that black people have made by highlighting the achievements of notable black people in various fields throughout history.  

This year, the theme of Black History Month is ‘Time For Change: Action Not Words’. We are being encouraged to come together and take action, because by coming together, we can make a change for the better.  

Black History Month is an opportunity to recognise the positive influence black people have in our communities, schools and workplaces, but also recognise the challenges that black people face every day. It is  an opportunity to reflect on how far we still have to go when it comes to equity and diversity.  

The construction sector underpins our economy and society. Few sectors have such an impact on communities and have the potential to provide large number of high skilled and well paid jobs. It touches all of our lives. According to the UK’s Governments data 14% of the working-age population comes from BAME background but only 6%  are employed in the construction sector. The stats show the industry is unrepresentative of the UK population and is missing out on many talented people and we’ve been researching how workplaces and organisations in the construction sector are turning words into action to develop a diverse workforce.    

J.Murphy & Sons know that the key to success is making Murphy a fulfilling and diverse place to be, so their people strategy focuses on creating a great place to work where everyone, regardless of background, feels secure and comfortable to be themselves. 

Embodying this year’s Black History Month theme of ‘Time for Change: Action not Words’, Dawn Moore, Group People and Communications Director at Murphy, was involved in the development and implementation of the Inclusive Employers Toolkit back in 2020, speaking at the launch event with Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London. 

Dawn says, “We developed the Inclusive Employers Toolkit to help companies increase the recruitment, retention and progression of young black people within their workforces by equipping employers with practical tools and examples of good practice. 

“Since its launch, Murphy has used the toolkit ourselves to support the recruitment of a range of other under-represented groups and are delighted to say that Murphy now has 25% of our employees from groups that are traditionally under-represented in the construction sector.”  

Examples of where the toolkit has been used include in Murphy’s apprenticeship recruitment, which in 2022 saw the business recruit its largest intake ever of over 70 apprentices across the group. The business was also the first construction company to take an active role in the UK government’s Kickstart Scheme to create jobs for 16-24-year olds – with over 50 opportunities made available via the Kickstart scheme. 

Dawn says, “We recognised that the construction sector was an area that may previously have seemed off limits to some under-represented groups so have worked hard to ensure that as few barriers as possible exist to people joining us.”.  

A big part of this support is the development and roll out of our unique One Murphy BIG Inclusion programme. This is not training, but a bespoke programme being rolled out to all our employees which involves them proactively by asking them for their input and aligning with our goals to turn our strategic commitment to inclusion into real and lasting change. We began this programme nearly 18 months ago and it continues to go from strength to strength, with cohort number 12 having recently started the programme.” 

J Murphy and Sons is a positive example of a company putting words into actions and developing initiatives that create a lasting impact and a better future for the black community by supporting diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Starting at the grass roots, The Construction Youth Trust in 2021 launched an initiative to kick start the careers of young Black men aged between 16 and 25. Through construction focused employability interventions, the Construction Youth Trust aims to expose young people to the incredible breadth of careers available across construction and the built environment, and support them to make a successful transition into it.  Participants take part in employer-led talks and events, work experience, and focus groups. Focus groups are held to explore the experiences of the young people on the programme. The programme has been centered on meaningful and relevant employer engagement to maximise the outcomes of the those involved.   

It’s encouraging to see companies and organisations moving their support of black communities from words to actions and developing initiatives that go beyond simply supporting Black History Month but create a lasting impact. We are most empowered when we empower each other and those seeking to create a better future for the black community by supporting diversity, equity and inclusion is uplifting to see.  Many of us already know that diverse voices, diverse viewpoints and diverse experiences are good for business, therefore by truly establishing a diverse workforce at all levels makes sense and more companies and organisations need to focus on actions and not words and commit and invest in meaningful change.  

Here a three simple way in which you can do something positive and make a positive inclusive workplace. 

  1. Seek positive and meaningful change and not one-off quick fixes by putting in long term plans. 
  2. Engage with groups like The Construction Youth Trust to help grow your business in an inclusive way and learn from companies in the sector like J Murphy and Sons. 
  3. Inclusivity doesn’t just come from hiring more BAME people: ask BAME people already within your organisation what you could be doing better 

 

 

Sources  

Department for Work & Pensions – Local Enterprise Partnerships and BME workers: A practical guide to addressing skills challenges 

J Murphy and Sons believes in equal opportunity and the value of being inclusive. For more information visit: Equality, diversity & inclusion – Murphy Group  

BPIC Network is a built environment inclusion business working with industry organisations to improve ethnic minority representation as well as retention.  The Business Case | BPIC Network  

On Thursday 20 October, Copper attended the OxCam (Oxford-Cambridge) Arc Development Conference in Milton Keynes.

The OxCam Arc is a globally significant area between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge. It is formed of five counties – Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire – and five areas of focus: economy, place-making, connectivity and infrastructure and the environment. It is hoped that these areas of focus will help develop the region, through new transport links, housing, businesses, logistics and building communities[1].

While the Arc has been in progress for many years and Government support has fluctuated, there is still a huge amount of support for the concept and building new infrastructure to boost development and investment in the region. East West Rail, a new rail connection between Oxford and Cambridge, is being built as I type, which will provide a new connection for communities and businesses.

But what next for the Arc?

Ultimately, there is still an appetite for the project, whether it’s managed by central government or local and private investment.

The conference highlighted the issues around political instability but had a positive outlook, stating “investors are ready” – there’s a pent up demand to supply good quality infrastructure along the Arc.

The main issues around progress appear to centre around the planning system, government support and story-telling. While the first two can be resolved and steps are being taken to do so, story-telling featured heavily throughout the day. As one of the key speakers said, “we are not good at being proud and telling positive stories. We need to share more.” Alongside this, a need to enthuse young people and develop a skilled workforce will be important for the construction industry as a whole.

When considering the main challenge that may limit the Arc, price inflation and macro political uncertainty came top among the attendee poll, with both reaching 23%. In contrast, a lack of government support, funding concerns and net zero scored lowest at 4%, 4% and 2% respectively.

Despite the challenges, many believe infrastructure will be the catalyst for developing the Arc. In a poll of attendees, 52% said infrastructure would be the catalyst, with economic growth sitting at 30%, housing 10% and skills 7%.

Other themes throughout the day included biodiversity and transport connectivity, with sustainable development bringing risks and opportunities when it comes to improving the environment along the Arc. Social prescribing and social value are both areas that need to be woven into plans. Social value is no longer a buzzword – it covers a wide range of approaches and activities. Copper are experienced at reporting on social value outcomes and delivering tailored activities and recognise the importance of this for the Arc.

Overall, the conference signified a positive next step in the OxCam Arc’s journey but long-term thinking, a strong narrative in communities and a joined up approach is needed for continued success.

To discuss areas of opportunity for your organisation, development of communications strategy and social value, drop zoe.mclernon@copperconsultancy.com and phoebe.sullivan@copperconsultancy.com an email to discuss.

 

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/oxford-cambridge-arc/oxford-cambridge-arc

While Conservative Party Conference took hold in Birmingham, elsewhere in the city, UK Construction Week (UKCW) 2022 kicked off at the NEC. The UK’s largest build environment event, UKCW connects the whole industry supply chain, with stands and a packed schedule across all stages.  

This year’s Birmingham show was opened by Channel 4 presenter and architect, George Clarke, and expects around 25,000 attendees across the three days (4-6 October).  

Day one saw the unveiling of a commissioned poem, ‘Bricks and More Than’ by renowned poet and storyteller, Casey Bailey, to raise awareness of the issues currently faced by the construction industry. The poem also creatively covers the vision for the industry and encourages young people to consider a career in construction. You can read the full poem here 

These themes were threaded throughout the day, with many of the main stage discussions focusing on the skills gap, how to attract young people into the industry and retaining a diverse workforce. In a panel session, ‘Culture change in construction: skills, data and diversity’ panellists, including Rebecca Lovelace, Dr Janet Young, Christina Riley, Rosanna Lawn and John Welch, discussed how to meet the skills shortage, ensuring a diverse range of people join the construction industry, stay in the sector and how employers can support their teams to make the workforce inclusive and safe.  

Elsewhere, there was a heavy focus on social value, with discussions centred around social value becoming a significant part of business cases, rather than simply being “nice to have”, what does good look like for contractors and delivery partners, and bringing about behaviour change and unlocking social value through changes in the construction process. 

Other highlights from the day included dozens of presentations and CPD sessions covering net zero and carbon reduction, retrofit, digitalisation, public procurement, stamping out modern slavery, and improving diversity, health and wellbeing across the industry.  

UK Construction Week continues until Thursday 6th October, London and it’s not too late to register to attend. For a free ticket, go to: UK Construction Week: Overview | LinkedIn

Copper Consultancy clients, National Grid and Siemens Energy, are supporting Marie Curie and Mind. 

While working on the Hinkley Point C Connection Project, the National Grid and Siemens Energy team have cycled over 350 miles in four days to raise money for terminal illness support charity, Marie Curie, and mental health charity, Mind. 

The six-man team started the cycle on 1 July in Heaton, Newcastle and finished four days later in Sandford, Somerset – where a brand-new substation is being built as part of the Hinkley Connection project. The 351-mile route went through busy cities and towns on the way, including Birmingham, Rotherham, Derby, Gloucester, and Bristol. 

The team included National Grid’s Hinkley Connection Project Director, James Goode, and Siemens Energy Head of Transmission Systems (UK), Mark Tiernan. 

On completing the challenge, James Goode commented: 

“It was an absolute pleasure to successfully finish over 500km of cycling for such worthwhile causes. A huge thank you to everyone involved and for the generosity of those who helped us raise the money.” 

Mark Tiernan said after the event: 

“It was a tough few days of riding, but knowing it was all for a good cause helped the team pull through together.” 

The motivation behind supporting these worthwhile causes was close to the hearts of all involved, helping to power the team over steep hills and across tough terrain. The six riders were followed by two support drivers who provided food and drink and resolved any problems with the bikes. 

The team ended the ride on a high, having raised over £12,000, which will be shared with the two charities to support their valuable work.