Reduce carbon; reduce cost - engage the supply chain for success

Skanska UK chief executive Mike Putnam has co-chaired the government-industry Green Construction Board with construction minister Michael Fallon since it was launched in 2011. He talks to Infrastructure Intelligence about the work of the Board and the challenges ahead.

Speak to virtually anyone involved in the task of switching the UK construction industry on to low carbon solutions and the mantra is now very clearly about understanding the economic and business benefits. 

Green Construction Board co-chair Mike Putnam is no different. In fact, as the boss of the UK arm of global contractor Skanska he is very well versed in the need to ensure that all innovation translates to the bottom line. 

At Ecobuild this week, the UK’s biggest gathering of low carbon tech and ideas, Putnam takes to the stage to explain the challenges facing the industry as it works towards driving the carbon out of infrastructure while at the same time boosting the efficiency of operations.  He explains the thinking and actions needed.

Q: Construction 2025 talks about the need to develop “greater clarity and certainty around sustainable and low-carbon construction opportunities”? How is the work of the GCB helping to achieve this?

A: As part of Construction 2025, the life of the Green Construction Board has been extended by a further two years.  The Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP and I have agreed to continue as co-chairs and my position on the Construction Leadership Council is designed to provide the link to the Green Construction Board.  We have made a lot of progress over the last two years – see the excellent Two Years On Report (attached).  Going forwards, we are in the process of refreshing the Board and prioritising our future focus to align more specifically with the themes and targets of the 2025 strategy (attached). 

Q: The overarching goal of the GCB is to help to drive carbon out of the built environment. Is there now a greater understanding that low carbon equals lower overall cost in infrastructure? What has to happen to reinforce this point?

A: The Infrastructure Carbon Review (attached) is an excellent example of what can happen when the public and private sectors come together in a partnership to drive the green agenda.  The overall message is simple and straightforward:  Reduce Carbon = Reduce Cost.  The work of the Infrastructure Group, under the chairmanship of Chris Newsome through the Green Construction Board, coupled with the adoption by Infrastructure UK and Treasury and then the endorsement by many influential infrastructure leaders, is a powerful demonstration of support. Going forwards, it is about Leadership and mind-set to help make this gather momentum, as the Green Construction Board’s effort is concentrated upon widening the involvement across the infrastructure sector.  It is the first time that low carbon has been shown to be directly linked to low cost. 

Q: Why is the Infrastructure Carbon Review so important in driving low carbon change in the industry?

A: The review provides tangible evidence and guidance across the whole value chain.  It recognises the need to focus on a whole life basis (another theme of Construction 2025) and the need to engage each part of the chain with the key areas being:  Leadership, Innovation and Procurement. 

Mike Putnam will be speaking at the ACE annual conference on 21 May to help drive home the low carbon challenge and help explain the solutions during a open floor panel session. For details of the conference and to reserve a place click here

Q: In what way has the economic downturn set back delivery of the green agenda in the UK construction?

A: I have seen evidence to suggest that the green agenda dropped down the pecking order of priorities from around No. 3 to No. 10.  This was a global phenomenon and it was not surprising given the unprecedented scale of the economic crisis.  However, many businesses at the forefront have continued with the same focus and in my view, they will be well positioned to take advantage commercially and competitively as the economy grows again. 


Q: You talk about the need to improve client capability and procurement – is there sufficient commitment from clients or do they still remain focussed on cost?

A: There is a real mix.  Thus, the review and the Construction 2025 strategy as a whole recognise the need for SMART procurement to realise the full potential and benefits across all of the themes and targets.  I passionately believe that the key lies in early engagement and strong leadership – being clear about the outputs expected and bringing together the relevant sections of the supply chain to make it happen.

Q: You also commit to developing “market and technology based plans to secure the jobs and growth opportunities”. What evidence is there of progress in this area and what do you expect to be the key achievements by the GCB in this area over the next two years?

A: There is evidence that the green economy is growing and the global green and sustainable building industry is estimated to grow from $103 billion in 2012 to about $288 billion in 2017.  We have started to identify the skills needed and indeed, have commissioned a project to investigate the knowledge and skills challenges to deliver sustainable outcomes in the built environment.  This needs to continue to be an area of focus in the years ahead.

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