Ever-closer supply chain collaboration and communication could be the keys to success
In a recent Construction News article, Barrett Byrd Associates’ Mike Walter reported on a top-level round table discussion in which he was chair of a panel including Department for Education Head of Energy, Environment and Engineering Hershil Patel, HS2 Head of Environmental Sciences Neil Wait and National Highways’ Outcomes Director for the Lower Thames Crossing project, Andrew Kidd, among many other equally illustrious names.
It is, of course, an incredibly complex subject – in fact the idea of fundamental change in time-honoured and deeply entrenched working practices is often so daunting that it results in inertia. But without diminishing in any way the challenge the industry faces, the panel’s discussions, which were hosted by Construction News, made it clear that ‘going it alone’ is never the answer. On the contrary, as Mike Walter puts it, everyone in the industry must ‘work together, otherwise we are beaten’.
Why? you might ask. Well the general consensus between those on the panel seems to be that it’s not just about working together collaboratively – it’s about everyone communicating better too. No one person, organisation or even industry sector has all the answers – but the greatest, most game-changing of innovations is limited if its benefits aren’t shared. In fact it’s something of a fallacy that innovation per se is what we’re all looking for. It’s more often the failure to implement it effectively that’s the problem.
As Hershil Patel, Head of Energy, Environment and Engineering at the Department of Education explained, carbon innovation is about much more than technical novelty… ‘About 80% of technology to decarbonise already exists’. So the industry must now make better use of contractual and project-management channels to communicate right through the supply chain in order to achieve its decarbonisation goals.
It really is that simple – in principle at least. An idea that’s not widely shared doesn’t get implemented. In other words they don’t get built! This was touched on constantly in the panel’s discussions – and Neil Wait, HS2’s Head of Environmental Sciences pointed out that new ways to reduce carbon often come from the supply chain and that his own employer was showing the way forward by ‘working closely with other arm’s-length bodies’ like National Highways and East West Rail to highlight fresh thinking.
On the supply side, Altro flooring and wall-cladding provider’s supply chain consultant Elaine Reynolds urges customers to, ‘…Get us in at the really early design stage and see what innovative products we can give you… We love to work with people to show what carbon benefits we bring’.
Overall, the report is encouraging in that it highlights genuine willingness at the most senior supply chain levels to embrace, share, promote and implement far-reaching change in the entire construction industry. This in itself is a big step in the right direction towards the future described by BAM’s Head of Procurement Daniel Billinge in which ‘repeatability and consistency’ in building help to bring down carbon consumption by using a ‘kit of parts’ approach.
Of course, merely sharing great ideas for effectively and efficiently isn’t going to get the construction industry to net zero – but it is a very good way to start.