10th November 2021

Collaborating for climate action

With the eyes of the world on Glasgow and COP26, Head of Sustainability Simon Richards, reflects on the need for cross-industry collaboration to help address the climate crisis.

Climate change isn’t going away and it isn’t something we can resolve on our own. We need to come together now to create meaningful change.

We’ve seen recently that when faced by a common threat, governments, businesses and societies can work together. We all had to change and adapt, and just like the pandemic, climate change does not discriminate and will impact us all if left alone. We all have an investment and a part to play. A green future, which places emissions as the driver for all decisions, will look different, but we cannot be scared of the unknown.

No singular organisation or individual can solve the challenges that climate change has already begun to present us with. Real positive action will be achieved by collective momentum. Of course, such a large task is daunting.

Where do we start?

The Government has already begun to move in the right direction with policies like the Streamline Energy & Carbon Reporting, and the recent Procurement Policy Notices. It’s a start, but this needs to go further to give business the incentive to implement the necessary change.

Businesses cannot wait for the Government to develop policy; we need to get ahead of the legislative curve. By moving forward autonomously, businesses can begin to understand their emissions, start implementing reduction initiatives, and insulate themselves against future legislative reforms.

And once we know our emissions and the task ahead, what's next?

It is essential you get leadership and your whole organisation on board. Leadership sets the direction with consistent messaging and puts in motion an empowered staff base that can then implement change. Failures and successes should all be communicated along the way. We won’t get everything right at first, but that should not stop us. We are all going to have to do things differently to turn the tide, meaning risks will need to be taken and lessons learnt.

Our industry has played a part in causing climate change. The built environment accounts for 40% of carbon emissions. However, this also means that the impact we can make in combatting the issue cannot be underplayed.

Construction is defined by individuals grabbing technical problems head on and delivering exceptional results. When I look at the engineering challenges we have overcome, I cannot help but be positive for the future.

So, how do we move forward together?

Firstly, this is not just a problem for our sustainability teams. Whilst they play a crucial role in leading and shaping the direction, in order to create meaningful change in an organisation, businesses must collaborate, consult and engage widely.

This was illustrated recently to me when, at Sir Robert McAlpine, we took the decision to replace diesel on our sites with hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) from this month. Following an initial trial on one of our sites, we discussed and agreed a companywide roll out with leadership. Then working together with our procurement teams, operational staff and our Plant Department leveraged existing relationships and expertise to realise the aspiration. I have no doubt that without this internal collaboration this change for the business would not have been realised. In my experience, when you’re trying to do things differently collaboration makes sure that the change sticks.

We must collaborate with those traditionally considered ‘competition’. The industry needs to address climate change. Therefore, the industry needs to come together.

By being open about what we are doing in all corners of the sector, we can progress together as a collective. I sit on a number of steering groups and committees with my peers which foster an optimistic collaborative mindset. This is a great start. However, to push things further we need to remove some of the ambiguity in our messaging and requirements.

From a principal contractor perspective, we must come up with a singular voice to our supply chains on what we need and what we expect. That way our supply chain can confidently amend and align their business model to deliver the solutions that the industry is asking for and needs.

The supply chain is also an exciting area of opportunity. Within our supply chains lie a wealth of experience and data we could turn towards the climate challenge. For example, half a decade ago embodied carbon emissions of materials were difficult to find. Now, with an increased demand for reducing embodied carbon we are developing the dataset to allow us to make upfront informed decisions and become proactive in addressing this requirement. The need to get ahead in this challenge cannot be understated, continued reactive action to the climate will only run out the sand.

At a project level, some of the biggest carbon successes we have had so far at Sir Robert McAlpine have come in collaboration with our clients. An engaged and informed client is valuable in driving the necessary change, setting the stall out from the top.

We’ve been fortunate to work with Clients who see the benefit of collaboration and early engagement to contribute to and implement change where needed.

This Early Contractor Involvement is becoming more commonplace in a transformative period of time, allowing us time and access to fully understand both the risks and opportunities of each project, meaning we are able to design solutions and take ownership of the deliverable and not just passing design and delivery risk down the supply chain.

At Sir Robert McAlpine we’re “Proudly Building Britain’s Future Heritage” and for climate change, we’re doing this together with our people, clients, peers and wider supply chain partners. Addressing the climate crisis needs collective, open and transparent action. I’m proud that we are showing ourselves to be a part of the solution.

Long may that continue.

Simon Richards on collaboration for climate action

We are committed to net zero carbon