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Karl Brennan: Sustainable ways of working bring real businesses benefits

Sustainability has become one of biggest challenges concerning the construction industry, with companies coming under heavy criticism for their unsustainable models of development.

talking point karl brennan

talking point karl brennan

Karl Brennan is pre-construction director at Seymour Civil Engineering

The promotion of sustainable construction solutions has had a huge drive in recent years and in turn the demand for “green” construction projects is on the rise.

As one of the largest users of global resources and contributors of pollution, the construction industry has the responsibility to turn sustainability ambition into practice within our operations.

It may seem like a simple solution, but unfortunately sustainable changes can come at an initial cost to both the company and its clients, a cost that is often met with resistance. It’s not only businesses that need to implement significant changes, but also financial and governmental institutions working cooperatively to build an economy that encourages sustainable business practices.

Many companies and clients still uphold the “cost is king” mantra and look for bottom end prices alone. However, what these businesses need to realise is that they’re not securing their future trading ambitions by concentrating solely on the bottom line each year.

So, what difference can we make?

One of the biggest issues for project teams is dealing with the amount of waste produced, and it’s a real eye opener for any construction firm when they stop to consider how much waste various operations produce each year.

Over 30% of UK landfill waste comes from the construction industry alone. Looking at how waste products can be beneficially reused as a resource instead of being sent to landfill while also considering what recyclable materials can be introduced as alternatives, can lead to quite significant savings for companies and a much “greener” outcome.

High levels of carbon emissions are also a problem within the industry, but unfortunately, zero emission construction sites are still quite far away. A major issue is the limited options on the market to replace the diesel engines many companies currently use with electric power that has the same efficiency. Innovation and technological advancements in the industry need to become fully carbon neutral, but to achieve this there needs to be a drive and appropriate funding, which can be difficult to find.

Other great steps include creating a strong sustainable procurement policy, outlining a framework for how a company obtains goods and provides services in a way that generates benefits, not only to the business, but to society, the wider economy and the planet. We don’t want to just minimise the impact on the environment, we want to improve it.

What is really encouraging is the noticeable shift in client scoring matrices used for assessing tender submissions. Many clients now apply a significant weighting to the quality side of the submission which allows them to select contractors that are aligned with their values and behavioural ambition, often incorporating sustainability. Those with sustainable models are really putting themselves ahead of the competition.

It’s brilliant to see, and I hope that instead of sustainability being a preference or “nice to have”, it becomes a requirement that acts as the catalyst needed to implement change. The biggest step to achieving this is changing people’s mind set.

As a company, we are committed to introduce new sustainable initiatives each year, small changes that can make a huge difference to the wider environmental impact. The aim is to shift towards aligning our business model with sustainable development goals, not just measuring the bottom line figure at the end of the year but measuring our social value as well.

  • Karl Brennan is pre-construction director at Seymour Civil Engineering

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