Last month world leaders gathered in New York for the UN climate change summit, shining the global spotlight once again on the ‘green’ agenda – and with the 2020 deadline for the UK government’s carbon reduction commitments fast approaching, the construction industry is feeling the pressure to improve its environmental performance.
It certainly seems that every new product or initiative that comes to market these days has a grand sustainability claim to make, but is this down to real industry progress or is it simply that ‘greenwashing’ has become an endemic part of the marketing dialogue? The answer, like most things, is probably not that simple.
The truth is that sustainability in the construction industry is on a continuum. The high achievers – the truly sustainable construction products and companies that deliver Passivhaus, BREEAM Excellent rated buildings, zero carbon homes and the like – are at one end of the spectrum. On the flip side however, the harsh economic realities of delivering a building on time and on budget mean that often it’s the sustainable ‘niceties’ that get cut first.
In general most companies sit somewhere between these two extremes, yet the trend does seem to be moving towards the greener end of the scale. This is due at least in part to increasing legislative pressure, as revisions to the Building Regulations slowly nudge the industry towards better energy efficiency and carbon performance.
Perhaps a greater influence however, is the fact that simply being green is not that much to shout about anymore. Sustainable credentials are now almost accepted as a given, so manufacturers and contractors HAVE to consider their environmental impact in order to stay competitive. Indeed, many local authorities and public sector bodies now incorporate strict, demonstrable sustainability requirements into their tender process – so half hearted greenwashing no longer cuts the mustard.
In these cases, the companies that are winning the most work are the ones that have firmly embraced the concept of sustainability as the triple bottom line – delivering real economic, environmental and social value. This is most effective when these values are fully embedded in the culture and vision of the company, and that sort of authenticity is hard to fake.
The construction industry is constantly evolving and undoubtedly greenwashing is still a problem at some stages of the process. However, the industry as a whole seems to be moving steadily beyond this limited understanding, with a more rounded definition of what it truly means to be sustainable as the end goal.