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Low carbon construction: Nurturing green practices

The green agenda continues to be talked about and written about with urgency but is it really being taken up at the grass roots level? NCE Graduate of the Year 2011 and member of the Green Construction Board Promotional Working Group Claire Gott discusses the challenges ahead.

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Better working: All projects, from small to grand ones such as the Shard, must adopt a sustainable approach

The government’s Low Carbon Construction Action Plan (2011) highlighted the need for a more unified approach to the green challenges facing our industry, particularly the need for strategic leadership and better promotion of existing examples of green construction excellence.

This concern led to the establishment of the Green Construction Board (GCB), co-chaired by a government and industry representative - a truly collaborative approach.

The GCB has a clear message: a green construction sector can deliver both business opportunities and economic growth. However, in reality, adopting sustainability remains a challenge for most firms, requiring them to green their own operations, pull green practices through their supply chains and provide better buildings and infrastructure to facilitate improved sustainability performance across the economy. Because of this perhaps, few companies have taken it further than they have to and compliance is the common level of commitment.

This shouldn’t be seen as a negative, it’s a very good start, but it does indicate that the significant and real business opportunities of shifting to a green economy have not been effectively demonstrated or understood. To address this, the GCB has initiated an awareness campaign to highlight the value that this shift can add to society, the environment and to the economy as an important agent for growth in the UK and abroad.

An important part of this campaign will be a summit event in February showcasing the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award 2012 shortlisted civil engineering and construction projects. This will also highlight that it’s not just big projects that can benefit from green construction, something I have realised working on different size projects at WSP.

I am fortunate to work for a firm that is a leader in sustainability, from delivery of projects to environmental research and future cities capabilities, but also in its own practices. Thinking green is embodied in every aspect of how we work, from the iconic projects like the Shard, to much smaller community-based projects.

A good example is a retail redevelopment in Solihull where we looked at the reuse of existing foundations to reduce the embodied carbon content - a small project with big green thinking.

Ultimately, however, success is going to be about sharing these best practice examples among ourselves. There are many companies who have already taken the leap of faith, and are demonstrating the lessons learnt, they should be supported and used to the advantage of the rest of the industry.

Quantifying the benefit of delivering best practice, beyond compliance, generates recognition for the achievements of UK construction at all levels and the need for more tangible actions and return on investment for SMEs.

When we break down the commercial barriers that tend to prevent open sharing of experiences we will see real progress - as a unified industry.

 

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