We can (and must) be a force for positive change

4 min read

While there appears to be a mountain to climb in the fight against climate change, I believe the construction sector can, and will, be a force for change.

By adopting transformative solutions, many of which are available to us today, we can revolutionise how, what and where we build – but it’s going to take a momentous effort from every corner of our industry.

Small steps and big marketing campaigns won’t win the race. And, thankfully, the last year has demonstrated a shift in awareness and understanding that has led to greenwashing and empty promises being called out, and more substantial efforts being made.

Our recent annual carbon survey, conducted in October, highlighted that 85% of businesses have increased their carbon reduction efforts in the last year, and there has been a 23% rise in businesses setting Scope 1, 2 and 3 targets for 2025 across their property or infrastructure portfolios.

Furthermore, 68% of global business leaders think the property and construction industry has made more progress in carbon reduction in the last year than ever before. It seems clear that talk has moved to action.

In the wake of COP26, the media attention may have died down but the conversation thankfully isn’t over. I believe we might just have a movement on our hands that will finally see our industry come together to tackle the biggest challenge of our time.

A glimmer of hope

In addition to our industry carbon survey, we conducted further research with senior business leaders through YouGov. The findings paint both a promising and honest picture.

Bigger commitments, new strategies, and, importantly, a rise in reporting; it appears that businesses are in a stronger position to make major changes to how they construct and operate their property and infrastructure portfolios.

Without knowing where we are, how can we claim to know where we are going? Knowledge is power, so they say, and we must take the time to understand the data we have so that we can quantify our individual efforts. It’s this information that will provide the motivation to keep pushing the boundaries.

At an industry level the Construction Leadership Council’s ‘CO2nstructZero’ initiative has set out a framework that we can all adopt, with a measurement process to gather much-needed industry-wide data. The better we collaborate, the better we will all perform.

The journey that the industry has been on so far appears to be giving many leaders the confidence to challenge each other. We have seen a 180% increase in businesses supporting their clients with their carbon reduction commitments and it’s that collaboration that what will lead to eureka moments that will deliver the change that’s needed.

Certainly the scale of the challenge appears to be hitting home. Over half of the organisations that responded have already changed, or plan to change, their business model to respond to the climate emergency.

Fundamentally changing how a business is run and, possibly, even what its core purpose is, shows a phenomenal shift in organisations recognising the true value of acting responsibly.

A hidden opportunity?

In June, the CITB announced that the construction industry will require 216,800 new workers by 2025, and in October the UK Government published its Heat and Buildings Strategy that referenced the need to create 240,000 skilled, green jobs by 2035.

Realising those numbers is going to be no easy feat, given the skills gap we have from less people joining the industry, and a war for talent that it has led to.

The CLC Industry Skills Plan for 2021-2025 addresses the need to improve the attractiveness of careers in construction and develop the skills needed to deliver net zero carbon targets. So, if we marry these up, could we have a solution?

There is growing hunger for change throughout the industry, from graduates and apprentices to project leaders and directors, although the findings from our survey indicated a 20% drop in leaders recognising the impact that acting sustainably can have on recruitment and retention.

It’s up to business leaders to create the culture and platform that lets our people challenge and transform us. This can only be achieved if we work with governments and academia to develop a system that encourages people to join our industry and have lasting careers.

We need ambitious carbon targets with simple measures, and we need inclusive programmes that bring people together with different skills and experiences.

And we need to take others on the journey with us. Whether it’s our clients or supply chain partners, we can achieve so much more together.

We’re finally picking up the pace which should be a comfort to all, but we must be relentless in our pursuit to decarbonise the built environment. We still have a long road ahead of us and carbon reduction is everyone’s responsibility.

*This article was first published in Building Magazine.