Can construction find its purpose?

3 min read

In just twelve months I’ve seen UK contractors changing their operations at a scale and pace I never expected. When the Farmer review in 2016 was calling for rapid construction modernisation or risk facing extinction, this is what it meant.

But we have such an exciting opportunity as an industry to go beyond just adapting, to transforming the way we shape cities and skylines around the world and creating a new purpose for ourselves.

We’ve been facing the great challenge of our generation, climate change, and we’re trying to create a more diverse global society. Meanwhile, governments around the world have placed infrastructure delivery at the heart of recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. It’s no wonder construction has been trying to adapt to these different pressures.

And is this enough? I firmly believe we can fundamentally transform to make a positive difference on how we deliver the built environment. Contractors and our partners can work collaboratively to achieve this.

The recent Construction Playbook, with Government guidance on contracting public works projects, sets out a vision for building safely, faster and greener.

What that means in practice is that construction needs to tackle its efficiency challenge: building faster and aiming for net zero carbon emissions, and its quality challenge: delivering high quality buildings and infrastructure that are compliant first time – all while keeping costs in check. And it also needs to create a diverse workforce to reflect the communities we build in.

First, we have to emerge from the post-pandemic economic crisis. But to go back to the same levels of pre-pandemic economic growth we have to do so sustainably, cutting down the carbon intensity of the way we build.

I see no other way than much more rapidly adopting true ‘construction-to-production’ approaches to delivering buildings and infrastructure. Manufacturing components in factories and transporting them on sites can radically reduce emissions while driving up productivity. There is no reason anymore to continue with the same traditional way of construction and clients have to keep an open mind and an eye on the bigger goal, which is tackling climate change.

If manufacturing buildings can maintain the same quality standards while lowering carbon emissions, I believe we have a responsibility as an industry to change how we operate as fast as possible.

With up to £37bn of public infrastructure project coming to market this year, it’s important we deliver it sustainably. Working with clients and supply chains, we can develop the best modern methods of construction solutions and take a Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) approach to delivery.

Second, we have to tackle to quality challenge. Recent issues around building safety have thrown into sharp relief the importance of being able to consistently demonstrate quality and compliance on every project. To address the recommendations in the 2017 Hackitt review, contractors and their supply chains can work collaboratively to hold themselves to high safety standards, keeping our employees and communities we build for, safe.

The way I see it, we have such a great opportunity to act. We can create places and infrastructure that’s high quality and safe – for the people we build and for the people that work on our projects.

So, in response to these great challenges our generation needs to tackle – climate change, recovery from a global pandemic and building an inclusive society – Mace set out a new 2026 Business Strategy.

We’re going to work with clients to help them reduce carbon emissions by more than one million tonnes. We’re moving from construction to production in the way we deliver projects, and we are setting a safety example for the whole industry to follow. We want to become a leading global contributor to reducing carbon in the built environment, invest in digital, new technologies and the skills we need to transform how we build and operate on behalf of our clients.

I’ll go as far as to say that 90% of our projects will be delivered with modern methods of construction by 2026.

But we’re not stopping here. We’ve set bold targets for ethnic and gender diversity at all levels in our company to transform the built environment with a wealth of backgrounds and perspectives.

In our industry, it’s important to lead but lead with a purpose. Our purpose is to redefine the boundaries of ambition.

A version of this article was originally shared by Construction News