The Road to COP – and Looking Beyond

Hannah Vickers, Chief of Staff, Mace

The road to COP – and looking beyond

As the world prepares for COP26 and hopefully some tangible global progress on commitments to reduce carbon emissions and invest in our future, it is important for us in the construction industry to take stock and consider what the conference really means for us.

As the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) we began this year by framing the challenge facing the sector across transport, buildings and construction activity through defining our nine priorities based on the Climate Change Committee’s sixth Carbon Budget. It is through this lens that we now approach COP 26; with our ‘Road to COP campaign’ profiling two priorities each week and reflecting on what we have achieved together and what there is still to do for us and Government.

The breadth of the nine priorities gives everyone in our sector a role and I hope you will join us and share your learning and commitments when you see the priority relevant to you.

Our first priority this week is to accelerate the shift of the construction workforce to zero emission vehicles and onsite plant.

Across the UK, early in the morning, construction workers in all sectors begin their commutes, often traveling long distances to remote work sites; and when they arrive they largely use diesel-powered plant to power machinery and deliver their projects.

The reality is that construction as a sector has a proud history of ‘make do and mend’; driven by historically low margins and a practical and pragmatic approach to overcoming challenges. In the case of our vehicle fleets and on-site plant, though, this attitude will have to change – and fast.

A significant amount of the carbon we generate as a sector comes from the fuel we use to move our people and materials around the country; and the energy we use to power our machinery on site. There isn’t a cheap fix to this – it requires investment in new technology and equipment – but it’s one of the places where we can easily make the biggest shift.

There already some excellent champions across the industry delivering on this priority – from Costain, who are in the process of transitioning to an electric vehicle fleet with 83% of their vehicles already electric or hybrid, to Clarison Group; who are working with plant hire firms to offer electric and vegetable oil plant on their projects and finally to JCB who are using technology and software to offer Net Zero plant to their customers including the world’s first hydrogen powered 22-ton excavator.

From the biggest firms to the smallest, everyone can make an impact here – whether you’re investigating a switch to electric vehicles or exploring the potential for the use of hydrogen energy on site.

Supporting the sector, the Construction Leadership Council will be working hard to help accelerate the installation of grid connections to sites, helping to move plant over to mains electricity faster; and lobbying Government to support tax incentives to help make investment in electric fleets and plant more cost effective for smaller firms.

Our second priority is to optimise the use of Modern Methods of Construction and improved onsite logistics, in doing so reducing waste and transport to sites. We are all well versed in the productivity challenge laid at the door of the industry, however the solution is not a single MMC shift in every case.

There is a tendency to see this as a binary issue; that either you’re building using modular techniques or you’re using traditional methods – upon looking closer this can perhaps be better articulated as enhanced planning and digital design ahead of time for what should be manufactured offsite (measured in PMV, or pre-manufactured value), improved on site logistics and productivity for work that needs to be in-situ and finally a focus on removing avoidable waste from the process

Delivering this transformation and shift in mindset won’t be easy – or without cost – but we need to change perceptions and ensure that on every project teams are asking themselves: where are the marginal gains in pre-manufactured value that we can deliver? which elements of the project generate the most avoidable waste? This has benefits for everyone: shorter, more reliable programmes, a more stable labour profile for the industry and (hopefully) a reduction in emissions and waste.

We are beginning to see genuine change as firms across the industry have invested in new technology and process that are beginning to show transformative results. Our Business Champions showcase excellent progress already – from Keltbray, who are partnering with Imperial College to introduce digital monitoring of onsite logistics and emissions, to Cast who are taking a vocal leadership role in encouraging MMC whilst being able to offer clients practical advice through their PMV estimator , to Ibstock who have committed to zero waste to landfill in their manufacturing process and finally at my own company, Mace (well I had to!) where we can demonstrate the potential carbon savings of MMC having delivered superstructures with 75% less embodied carbon than traditional design and build.

This isn’t a change that the construction sector can make alone. The investment required means it must be championed by clients, who are ultimately the ones who decide how a project gets built. The publication of the Construction Playbook and the ‘presumption in favour of offsite’ has driven public sector clients in the right direction, but it remains an imperative for everyone in the sector to support and enable real change.

COP26 will mark a major watershed moment for global efforts to reduce climate change – but we mustn’t lose sight of how that international agenda impacts our sector and how people in our industry travel and work every day across the UK. As the Construction Leadership Council we have made a clear commitment to the sector we will be there to support through this transition.

So, over the next few weeks you’ll be hearing more from us about the work we’re doing to support our colleagues across the sector – and how we’re working with Government to drive the right policies that will help to transform our delivery and drive the right outcomes for everyone. Well done to the industry – and let’s keep going!

Hannah Vickers

Chief of Staff


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