Construction and sustainability: your questions answered

5 June 2017

Embedding responsible sourcing and sustainability into procurement policies has become a critical as the industry faces tougher scrutiny on where materials come from.

At CIRIA’s launch of their handbook, Minimising risk through responsible sourcing—A handbook for the construction industry, a panel of industry experts gave insights on how companies can tackle the issue.

Contruction companies were also urged to prioritise responsible sourcing over traditional cost-saving ethos, SM reported on Thursday.

How are construction companies successfully embedding responsible sourcing ethos into their procurement policies? 

“Through a construction perspective a lot of companies are getting specific sustainable procurement teams rather than just having sustainability teams. Some are much more advanced with how they are embedding this sort of thing with what they do around procurement and others have just started. Some sustainability teams are still struggling to really engage with procurement teams and instil them with these sorts of policies. What’s probably more important is how you embed sustainability overall into your core competency in the company. So as job specs and professional development reviews start to roll out across organisations, if you can get sustainability embedded into there, whatever your discipline, you start to see sustainability become part of your role and how you do business.”

Ian Nicholson, Responsible Solutions


Why is embedding sustainability policies into procurement practices harder in the UK construction industry than elsewhere? 

“If we trace it back, it starts with specifications—if everything was embedded in the specifications then you would easily be able to classify that down. It’s the model of construction in the UK. In other countries, they complete the design to an absolute degree and then they procure, whereas in the UK we want to gain time and have a different model, which means the specifications cannot always be explicit. So the role of the principal contractor comes in to ensure that the vision of their client and their culture—because we have our own minimum standards—can be almost retrofitted on the specifications and that’s where there can be difficulties for the commercial teams. They have the specifications and then sustainability to work in on top of that. So what we need to make sure, and what we are actually doing, is providing a special course for the commercial teams to make sure that they are absolutely comfortable with the terminology and the language, the aims and how to do it.”

Eva Gkenakou, Multiplex


How does value engineering play a part in responsible sourcing? 

“If you do value engineering properly you should get a much better value solution, which includes sustainability, but for so many value engineering equals cost-cutting, so refining needs to be a part of the process. Another thing to do is work with designers to get them thinking about sustainability and these sorts of things in their designs right at the beginning stages, so it works right the way through the build process.”

Ian Nicholson, Responsible Solutions


My company hasn’t got a sustainable policy—where can I start?

“A quick and easy way might be to look at a similar organisation that is quite advanced with where they are with sustainability and that might give you some idea as where to start.”

Dave Knight, One Planet, on behalf of CARES


“I suggest having open conversations and exploring this issue. Try to form a view based on these principles. Ask around and talk with other organisations at a similar place as you.”

Jacqui Glass, Professor of Responsible Sourcing at Loughborough University


How do you set responsible sourcing priorities?

“I would suggest getting in a room with stakeholders—some of your stakeholders are going to be your employees or customers—ask them what’s important for them and what’s important for your business, because that’s going to be the most important. If you want to stay in business, what is it you have to do? You can change your business model or you can keep your business model. Just put it down on paper and float it around as a starting point. Is it climate change or is it just reducing your energy plan? Because if you’re reducing your energy plan, you’re reducing the cost of your business and you’re also doing good at the same time.”

David Morrell, Marshalls


Other than minimising risks, what else can responsible sourcing and sustainability give to a company?

“It comes back to financial performance because if you differentiate yourself and proactively demonstrate what you are doing to address stakeholders’ sustainability concerns, whatever that may be—global warming, modern slavery etc—then you’re differentiating yourself to the right people when it comes to tendering and your business will become more successful.”

Ian Nicholson, Responsible Solutions

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