The descent into chaos last Thursday of the Construction Industry Environmental Forum's seminar on sustainable construction should ring alarm bells within both the industry and Government.
During two workshops designed to formulate a view of achievable sustainability, targets and ways of measuring them, delegates had to fight to make themselves heard. The workshops involved consultants, contractors, architects and academics. None of the four groups of 10 people succeeded fully in agreeing sustainability targets, and the afternoon ended in an atmosphere of intimidation and bad temper.
In fairness, the delegates had been set an almost impossible task. Only five minutes were allowed for groups to agree on broad policy issues such as 'What are the most appropriate targets for achieving sustainable improvement?' and 'How can progress against targets be measured?' All in all it was more like a test than a structured consultation exercise.
Although the seminar was only one strand of the process to develop a sustainable construction strategy, some involved say the Government is in danger of making the same mistakes on a larger scale. But few want to knock the Government openly over the way it is developing the strategy, because the initiative is widely regarded as positive.
Privately however, some are concerned that New Labour's rush to get results is preventing a meaningful and considered discussion from taking place.
'The detailed thinking which is needed on how to actually assemble targets and indicators still hasn't happened,' said one critic. 'Given current progress I think a lot more time is needed to develop the strategy.'
There are also concerns that neither the Government nor the industry is taking clear ownership of the initiative.
'Construction companies just want to make money and would like to be told what targets they have to meet,' said one source close to the process.
Last Thursday's seminar demonstrated that there are still many broad questions about sustainability to be answered. It also showed that the process of achieving consensus over sustainability targets cannot be rushed and requires strong leadership to get meaningful results.
A sustainable construction strategy will have profound impacts on both the environment and on the bottom lines of construction businesses. Government and industry need to face up to this and step on the brakes of the consultation band wagon.