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How can the industry reduce emissions?

‘The construction industry has a unique opportunity to lead the way in delivering on net zero emissions.’ says Guy Battle, CEO, Social Value Portal.

This year’s progress report to parliament from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) made for difficult, but unsurprising reading, finding that tangible progress continues to lag behind policy ambition for net zero. 

As one of the largest industries in the UK, construction employs 3.1 million people and contributes £110bn each year to the economy. The size and nature of the industry means it is also one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions, both nationally and globally. 

Construction contributes £110bn each year to the economy. It is also one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions.

Guy Battle CEO Social Value Portal

The ultimate message to the government seems to be that greater emphasis and focus must be placed on the delivery of policy, which gives the construction industry a golden opportunity to lead by example, delivering on net zero and encouraging its vast network of suppliers to do the same.

Embedding environmental performance into procurement and the supply chain

For any real progress to be made, the construction sector must look at the impact of development before ground is broken, examining processes from start to finish to ensure each aspect is as carbon efficient as possible – and that starts with procurement.

Understanding the environmental impact of the supply chain, whether from the vantage point of supplier or procurer, is where the real difference will be made. The first step is basic compliance, making sure that there is no water pollution, hazardous emissions or long term damage to ecosystems caused by any link in the chain is a basic first step. 

The next, critical step is to actively award contracts to suppliers with a clearly implemented net zero programme. This has to include objectives such as; low embodied carbon materials, on-site renewables, energy efficiency, travel reduction, the elimination of avoidable waste and finally – and only if all else is sufficient, offsetting through regulated and approved carbon credits.

Suppliers with embedded sustainability programmes will in turn work with their own suppliers to identify opportunities to reduce emissions and adopt more sustainable practices, thereby increasing the network of suppliers committed to reaching net zero and extending the sense of responsibility.

The path to net zero – using social value to monitor, report and improve performance

In the decade since the Public Services (Social Value) Act came into play, social value – the term used to describe the positive value an organisation creates for individuals and society as a whole – has quickly become a priority in the UK, particularly for the construction industry. 

The environment, and what organisations are doing to ensure decarbonisation and a healthier world, is one of the five main pillars of social value, alongside job creation, responsible business growth, social improvements and innovation.

Measuring and reporting on environmental performance is therefore part of a standard social value strategy and holds the key to understanding what has been achieved, as well as where the opportunities for improvement lie. Evidencing activity through widely recognised measurement tools such as the National TOMs framework also ensures that an organisation has consistent proof of progress and can avoid any suggestion of ‘greenwashing’.

Through our work over the years with construction industry stalwarts such as ISG, Balfour Beatty, BAM Construct UK, Bouygues and Morrison Construction, we have seen a wide range of positive benefits of measuring and reporting environmental performance as part of a wider social value strategy. Companies who take the lead now will benefit in multiple ways; from winning new work to attracting and retaining talented employees as well as reinforcing a positive reputation.

The importance of collaboration

The CCC’s progress report highlights the poor availability of data in the construction and manufacturing industries (chapter five) and points out that this ‘critically limits monitoring and evaluation and policy implementation.’ Whilst it is undoubtedly up to the government to invest in decarbonisation data collection, we are all on this planet together, and, through reporting on environmental performance through a social value strategy, an organisation is able to contribute to the data that is evidently lacking.

As we continue to experience significant evidence of the impact of climate change – unprecedented heatwaves, droughts and flooding in countries ranging from India to Australia, Italy and the UK, it couldn’t be clearer that focus on reducing emissions and hitting net zero has to be a top priority for us all.

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