Earth Day 2024 - transforming construction and the built environment

Adam Mactavish, our group sustainability director, writes about Earth Day, sustainability, and how those of us working in the built environment can make a positive impact.

Each year, Earth Day provides an opportunity to consider what we are doing to protect and restore our planet so that it continues to support and sustain us.

Transformation of construction and the built environment is fundamental to meeting our global greenhouse gas targets and in adapting to the climate changes already underway. We have a critical role, providing the confidence and clarity to enable sustainable built environments for all. We are committed to playing our full part – advocating, leading and sharing our expertise.

As group sustainability director, I’m proud of the huge range of impactful initiatives that we’ve undertaken in the last year. Find out more about this work below, with thoughts also about how we can amplify our impact in the coming year.

Delivering essential infrastructure

Around the world our programme, project and cost management teams are working to deliver essential infrastructure that will help meet net zero goals and respond constructively to the changing climate.

We are providing programme management and other services for the River Thames Scheme, a major flood risk reduction initiative in west London. The works will safeguard homes and businesses from flooding while creating new biodiversity habitats and amenity space.

Our risk management team are helping deliver the +£30Bn new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. This facility will ultimately meet 7% of UK energy demand with low carbon power.

In the United States our cost management teams are delivering new battery manufacturing facilities at the heart of the transition to electric vehicles and are also delivering utility scale renewable energy projects.

Advocating for and leading change

We are working with clients and industry bodies across many sectors to help deliver higher sustainability standards in both new built projects and existing estates. Our teams are using their practical and strategic knowledge to help find solutions that enhance asset value while saving carbon and supporting biodiversity.

At COP28 in Dubai, the new Sidara brand was launched with sustainability at the core. As we are part of the Sidara collaborative, it was inspiring to hear our Chairman talk so passionately about the ways he wants to see us all work together to address global challenges.

We had a strong presence at COP. Andrew Castle, our health care lead in KSA, joined Perkins & Will to discuss zero carbon healthcare. He spoke powerfully about how the approach to healthcare delivery can be as significant as the direct impacts of hospital buildings, illustrating that our strategic view can help ensure focus is targeted where it can make most difference.

Later in the week I was joined by Mark Wartenberg from our US business to discuss the carbon footprint of data centres drawing on the outstanding research undertaken by Mark and his colleagues. Their analysis has identified million tonne carbon saving opportunities by thinking differently about data centre design and roll out and I’m excited to see where this year’s follow-up study will lead.

Getting our house in order

While we work to further sustainability in our sector, it is important that we take responsibility for and minimise our businesses impact on the environment. I think we are making real progress here although there is still much to do.

This year we reported on the energy and carbon footprint of our global offices for the first time as part of the Sidara Annual report. It is good to see that where we have data on our actual performance it is typically much better than the benchmark for the offices in that location. Our forthcoming Social Value report will provide more detail about our performance and plans to ensure we are a leading responsible business in our sector.

Our US business is in the process of joining the US Green Building Council and making a formal commitment to zero carbon by 2030, joining the Europe region which published its first progress report to the World Green Building Council at the end of 2023.

I’m delighted that, as in previous years, we are continuing the Currie & Brown Canopy initiative, working with One Tree Planted to plant a tree for each member of staff. Trees planted through Currie & Brown Canopy will capture over 1,000 tonnes of carbon over the next 20 years. These trees are planted in all our global regions enhancing biodiversity, stabilising soils and reducing flooding as well as locking up atmospheric carbon.

While the climate imperative remains at the forefront of our thinking, it is important to remember that our actions impact on the natural world in many other ways. Not least through the ongoing issue of plastic pollution, the theme of this year’s Earth Day.

It is staggering to think that a million plastic bottles are bought each minute with over 400 million tonnes of total plastic waste produced each year. This is an area where we can collectively make a real difference through our everyday purchasing decisions and actions. Our Tokyo team have already led the way here with a street clean-up around their office, and I know that many more of our offices are planning plastic clean up and reduction events. I’d encourage anyone concerned about plastic waste to join me in a plastic detox - the WWF publish some useful ideas about how we can take simple steps to reduce consumption.

Amplifying our impact

While we have lots of good work to look back on, we can and must do more. I’m a firm believer that our commercial expertise places us at the heart of decision making and that we can use this position to make the business case for sustainable solutions. This will demonstrate the value of our service in helping our clients meet one of their key challenges.

In the coming year I’ll be prioritising the growth of our capability so that we can use our expertise to help clients take positive action.

I hope that you are able to spend some time in nature this week and can enjoy its magic.

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