Oct 06, 2021 | Gillian McKee

Spotlight on Sustainability as UK Construction Week Opens

This week saw the first major, post-pandemic, in-person construction event take place in Birmingham as UK Construction Week kicked off at the NEC.

For those of us that work to support and enhance the sustainability efforts of others, seeing the topic take left, right and centre stage on day one was something of a thrill. The net zero and decarbonisation agenda were popular agenda items, with the controversial topic of retrofitting also up for discussion and debate. Circular Economy principles and biodiversity considerations sat alongside more ‘traditional’ construction topics like skills, procurement and design, but every topic was offered and discussed with a sustainability lens, ensuring that the subject filtered through the entire event and all the contributions.

It’s a welcome leap from just a few years ago when sustainability could reasonably have been considered more of a side topic at big industry events like this. So, in theory at least, we’ve come a long way, but we have some way still to go to fully embed sustainability principles into every aspect of the construction value chain. In less than two weeks’ time, SustainIQ is the lead partner of another sustainability-focused construction event – the Building Net Zero Britain Conference being run by Built Environment Networking (BEN) on 19 October online. Nothing outstanding about this in itself – as we’ve said, this has become a more mainstream topic within the sector, particularly this year in the run up to COP 26 – but this is a second outing for the topic by BEN, who first ran it in June this year and were so overwhelmed by demand, they deemed it worth a re-run just four months later. With a strong line-up of leaders from across the property, construction, energy, retrofit and infrastructure sectors, we’re looking forward to some robust discussions, rigorous debates and an appetite for sharing and collaborating to ensure the construction industry does its bit to tackle climate change.

There are of course multiple drivers for this enhanced focus on sustainability within construction, not least the fact that, according to the Technology Strategy Board, the construction, operation and maintenance of the built environment accounts for some 45% of total UK carbon emissions. 100% of UK public tenders now include sustainability factors, with private sector tenders some way behind, but catching up fast.

In the real estate market, sustainability has just this week been reported in the Project Scotland Newsletter as the third most important consideration in Scottish investment decisions by 74% of respondents to a survey by Lismore. Paul Curran, CEO of the Qmile Group said “The ESG demands of organisations are no longer a nice to have, but something that is required of them by investors, clients and staff. Prospective occupiers now understand the benefits to their organisation of having a sustainable building and are willing to pay a rent premium to secure the best buildings in the best locations to attract and retain talent to their business.”

We can be sure that sustainability is no passing fad or fashionable movement. It’s critical to every aspect of our lives and the lives of our children and future generations for as long as the planet can support the human race. How long that will be, is down to us. It’s down to the efforts we make to understand where we are, the impact we’re having and how we can reduce our increasingly unreasonable demands on the planet.

Last night I watched the first episode of The Earthshot Prize. It’s an inspiring look at the five big challenges we face on earth and the innovations being developed around the globe to tackle them. Prince William summed it up perfectly in his opening words “the modern world we’ve built is at odds with the planet we live on”. It’s time to rebalance, recalibrate and rebuild and at SustainIQ, we’re helping clients do that by showing them through data where they are now and what they can do to improve and get their sustainability efforts on track. It’s a small step, but a crucial one and we’re proud to be part of the solution for those companies.

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The ESG demands of organisations are no longer a nice to have, but something that is required of them by investors, clients and staff. Prospective occupiers now understand the benefits to their organisation of having a sustainable building and are willing to pay a rent premium to secure the best buildings in the best locations to attract and retain talent to their business.


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