Perspectives

Why our industry needs to become more responsible

We live in challenging times. The impacts of climate change and population growth are real, urbanisation is increasing at a dramatic rate, more than five million people are dying prematurely each year as a result of air pollution and by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.

Corruption and poor working conditions permeate through some supply chains, with more people in slavery now than at any time in human history, and trust in businesses has diminished.

However, many businesses are adapting and adopting more purposeful business models, beyond purely profit-led to ensure they deliver even better financial returns without compromising people or the planet.

Shared value is the principle of generating economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. And those businesses that are acting responsibly, and delivering shared value often out-perform their peers.

For example, in 2016 Patagonia and Unilever cemented their positions as the world’s most sustainable brands, topping the list of responsible businesses. Their financial results have proven to be similarly impressive.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand, famously launched its ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign in 2011, persuading its customers to buy less, and wear their existing clothes for longer. Yet Patagonia’s profits tripled in the last five years.

Unilever’s Sustainable Living branded products are growing 30% faster than the rest of its business, and delivered nearly half of its total sales growth in 2015.

Unfortunately, much of construction, generally considered to be a dirty industry, is still playing catch up. We must change this status quo, and re-position the industry as one that develops solutions, rather than creates problems.

The challenges presented by changing weather patterns, growing populations, skills shortages, urbanisation and diminishing availability of resources together present opportunities for disruptive change in the built environment.

We need to promote and trial new models of architecture, transport systems, products and lifestyles, with the successful ones becoming the new normal. Automated transport and mobility services, next-generation innovative building materials and the use of natural materials, plants and natural light in building and public realm design could – and should – soon be commonplace.

The project site of the future could also look very different to the one we are used to today, with more automated workflows, fewer people and faster programmes. Quieter and cleaner activities will use lightweight, lower impact materials that have built-in climate resilience.

Through collaboration and active investment construction could compete as a desirable career choice, and become the industry that took hold of workforce challenges by addressing skills and wellbeing shortfalls and adopted a robust approach to responsible procurement.

Going forward we will be expanding our responsible business footprint, not only to ensure our own activities are bold and progressive, but to take a more active role as influencers.

Over the coming years, we will be evolving our operations and building on previous successes. We want to align with, support and encourage our clients, partners and suppliers to do the same.

We will share best practices and innovations, support relevant research and development programmes, and work to find a better – and more responsible - way. We hope others do, too.

In conversation today

Isabel McAllister

Isabel McAllister Director of Sustainability

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