Collaboration – the key to delivering a net zero recovery?


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Managing Director of Morgan Sindall Construction, Barry Roberts gives us his opinion on net zero carbon.

In recent years, ‘green investment’ has proven to be a popular term with politicians and the private sector alike, as more city planners look towards adapting our public spaces for sustainable projects. Last year, Liverpool City Council announced its plans to turn a 28 acre landfill site into a green community to accommodate 1,500 eco-friendly homes, whilst much has been made of plans for Mayfield Park, Manchester’s first new public park for more than 90 years.

Now, recent research undertaken by the UK Centre for Climate and Social Transformation (CAST) has found that despite the distractions of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the conversation has only gotten louder.

Throughout lockdown, the report found that large numbers of people adopted a cleaner, low-carbon lifestyle, leading to heightened public concerns around climate change across the UK. As we seek to emerge from the pandemic into a happier and healthier society, there is growing pressure on Westminster to produce a COVID-19 recovery plan which is fully aligned with the UK’s 2050 net-zero climate target.

‘Build Back Better’ is one of the recovery initiatives that will lead us towards that goal. It has been lent support by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and the Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotherham, as a response to the impact COVID-19 has had on businesses across the North West.

The campaign’s goal is simple: to use the coronavirus lockdown as a way to re-think the way our economy works, and re-focus future investment into energy efficient and low carbon buildings.

External support is crucial. However, responsibility also lies with us as an industry. Buildings and construction are a major contributor to CO2 emissions, accounting for nearly 40% of energy related carbon-dioxide. In addition the industry is a significant user of construction materials that have embodied carbon impacts and we contribute to a significant proportion of the UK waste generated.

It’s easy to discuss our individual business efforts when it comes to environmental performances. But construction networks rely on a long pipeline, from main contractors and governing bodies; to sub-contractors and other SMEs. Until large scale manufacturers and other industry giants can lead the way in sustainable goals, it will be difficult for these smaller-scale companies to follow.

That’s why climate pledges are so important in helping to drive collaborative efforts and combat the issue, together.

Earlier this year, Morgan Sindall Construction was one of eight founding signatories for the UK Contractors Declare initiative, forming a partnership with other leading contractors to drive change in the industry. Engaging with Architects Declare and Engineers Declare, the union aims to initiate a joined-up and strategic approach within the construction industry by combining resources, lobbying government and driving meaningful and effective change.

There have been some notable steps in the right direction. Modular construction has become a regular feature in the design and build of community services such as hospitals and apartment blocks, limiting the travel emissions of sub-contractors who might usually visit the site and reducing on-site waste produced.

New immersive technologies such as VR and AR are also allowing for digital mapping during construction, helping to streamline the design process and reducing the amount of waste taken to landfill. Our own Digital Construction toolkit combines data into a single platform, upgrading the handover of projects to provide customers with quick and easy access to O&M information. Improved maintenance on new buildings is just another way contractors can reduce long-term running costs and facilitate efficient energy usage.

However, transitioning into a net zero economy means equipping employees with the skills to work within it. Amongst the biggest concerns generated by the pandemic is the issue of unemployment.

Recent estimates from the Learning and Work Institute show that as many as 243,000 jobs in so-called ‘shutdown sectors’ – including non-food and non-pharmaceutical retail, travel, childcare, arts and domestic services – are at risk in Manchester, and 113,000 in Liverpool. That’s a fifth and sixth of each city’s workforce, respectively.

We need to ensure that we are benefitting the local communities we work in. That’s why we recently became a founding partner of the Work Radar platform. The scheme allows small businesses and individual operators to access work opportunities on specific projects in their region, while simultaneously enabling large construction firms to develop their relationships with local supply chains for a sustainable procurement chain.

Recovery from COVID-19 will be a difficult journey. We still can’t be sure of just how much impact the pandemic will have on our home life, workplaces and community spaces. But as each day brings further clarity on what the future might look like, organisations should look to respond to what the ‘new normal’ means for contemporary needs.

Now is our opportunity to come together to champion creative construction solutions to a very modern problem.


Barry Roberts, managing director – Morgan Sindall Construction, North West

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