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Leading UK construction sector contractors, manufacturers, rental companies and technology firms used the recent Futureworx 2022 showcase and conference to appeal for greater collaboration across the industry, to help drive the sector towards achieving Net Zero.
The Futureworx event, which took place in Peterborough in March, focused on the latest advances in technologies such as autonomy, the human-machine interface, AI and connectivity, and looked at how embracing these can help make construction more sustainable.
Expert speakers from National Highways, HS2, Plantforce Rentals, Volvo, Costain Group, Skanska and the Supply Chain Sustainability School delivered key information and practical insight on lowering carbon emissions, to an audience of senior professionals from companies operating in and around the construction industry.
Discussing how companies can go about reducing their carbon footprint, Costain’s Group Climate Change Director, Lara Young, told conference attendees that companies should start by focusing on what they can change and focus on that before looking at other areas.
“There needs to be more industry consistency around; what we ask, what we’re focusing on, what we need to address first – so, yes there’s the electrification and the alternative types of low-emission plant where it’s available – and that’s a big part about how we can more efficiently use the machines…
“I think I relate it to how we actually generally procure. Because it’s all very well and good saying well actually we want to reduce emissions, we want to achieve carbon reductions, but we can’t retrofit achieving Net Zero into how our current business models work.
“So fundamentally, continuing to procure the way we procure is not going to lead to Net Zero.”
Although Costain’s climate change action plan is based on “decades of data” and includes targets for biodiversity, natural capital and social value, as well as targets for lowering carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2035, Young said that as much as Costain would love to tackle all of climate change, three-quarters of its sustainability targets relate to Scope 3 emissions.
“We fundamentally cannot achieve this [Net Zero] without our supply chain and clients coming to the party; with everyone working towards this,” she said.
Additionally, a point of consensus among the speakers was that whatever action is taken to lower carbon emissions, whether it be by contractors, OEMs or suppliers, these actions must be led by data, and be applied consistently, to have any kind of impact.
Technology knowledge gap
However, a major challenge for manufacturers and rental companies alike is increasing the construction industry’s use of more environmentally-friendly equipment and technology.
During a panel discussion, the conference speakers said that addressing the knowledge and skills gap around using the latest construction technologies, was essential to helping companies lower their carbon footprint.
Sam Mercer, COO of national equipment provider Plantforce Rentals, said, “There’s quite a big divide from the major projects to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers.”
He continued, “The way the technology’s advancing, if we don’t increase that knowledge share to the lower tier the gap for a new entrant – or an experienced person – is just actually going to get bigger and bigger. So we need to try and bring that up to speed.”
Mercer went on to explain that while technology, efficiency and carbon are at the forefront of what the industry is discussing, the reality is that “back in the office, we’ll win work on price.”
He added, the technology is put on it the equipment for a short period of time on a need-to-have basis, and once it’s not needed, were are asked to remove it because of the cost implications.
Barriers to electric equipment uptake
When asked if price was the main barrier preventing construction sector companies from investing in new electric equipment, Mats Bredborg, Head of Customer Cluster Utility at Volvo Construction Equipment, said that it is not the only point of concern.
“The main thing is that we need to change, and change in the value chain is hard,” said Bredborg.
Mercer added, “The uptake for electric machines is absolutely minimal. We don’t have any success in that area at the moment because there is no behavioural change in running a site.”
He continued, “It takes more planning, more programming to actually be capable of doing that and what we [people] are trying to do now is use an electric machine but change none of our behaviours… But an electric machine can’t work nine hours a day – or work for five and idle for four. It can’t do that.”
“So, it needs that behavioural change now otherwise we’re just going to be sat idling, burning – whether that be hydrogen or battery electric fuel – we’re just going to be wasting as we are now. We need to get on top of that.”