Sustainability – the big conversation

Sustainability – the big conversation

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UK Industry is, by its very nature, a big user of natural resources. With growing concerns over climate change and the finite nature of these resources, there is increasing pressure on firms across a whole range of industries to reduce their environmental impact. This poses a new challenge and opportunity for businesses, as customers and investors judge companies on their ethical and sustainable credentials.

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UK CSR timeline[1]:


  • 2008 Climate Change Act: Britain commits to ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions by 2050
  • 2015 Plastic bag charge: Britain followed the lead of other countries to introduce a compulsory charge on supermarket plastic bags
  • 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: The UN General Assembly set out 17 ambitious goals to end hunger and poverty by 2030
  • 2018: The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that there are just 12 years to get climate change under control
  • 2020: The date by which the world needs to “change course” to avoid runaway climate change, according to UN forecasts
  • 2040: The date from which new petrol and diesel cars and vans will be banned in the UK under government plans
  • 2040: The date by which the IPCC warns the world could have warmed by 1.5C (2.7F), leading to widespread food shortages, wildfires and coral reef die-offs
  • 2050: The date by which the British Government aims to reduce emissions to below 80pc of their 1990 level

The challenge of sustainability in construction


The goals of sustainable construction are to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment. Sustainable construction methods include:

  • Using renewable and recyclable resources
  • Reducing energy consumption and waste
  • Creating and protecting a healthy, environmentally-friendly environment

From energy usage to emissions, the construction industry has a huge impact on the environment.  Heavy plant machinery still leans heavily on fossil fuels; the construction industry accounts for approximately 36% of worldwide energy usage and 40% of CO2 emissions[1].

The fabrication and shipping of materials can also have a great impact on carbon emissions.  Mining for raw materials can result in the pollution of local water tables, impacting local habitats.  The manufacture of concrete has resulted in over 2.8bn tonnes of CO2, a figure which is only going to keep increasing as 4bn tonnes of concrete is poured every year[2].

It's also an industry that is heavy on waste material, both during the manufacturing process and as part of the construction phase itself.  Whilst waste management and recycling strategies are much more commonplace, there is still more to be done.

Through a focus on both materials and technology, as well as working practices, positive steps are being taken to focus on more sustainable ways of working but it’s still only the start of the change needed.


The challenge of sustainability in logistics and supply chain


Sustainable logistics, much like in construction, is focused on lowering the ecological impact within the industry.  From habitat fragmentation as part of infrastructure development and accidental oil spillages and plastic waste in the marine world through to CO2 emissions and noise and air pollution, the impact is as sizeable as it is significant.

To achieve a sustainable supply chain, a company has to address environmental, social, economic and legal concerns across its entire supply chain.  By taking a holistic approach, this reduces waste and environmental footprint, while also improving labour conditions and health and safety.  A fully sustainable supply chain is one that ensures socially responsible business practices.  These practices are not only good for the planet and people who live here, but they also support business growth.

Through advances in technology and innovation in the transport sector, awareness of this impact is the highest it has evet been and positive, mitigating action is being taken where it can be, however there is still a long way to go.



Starting the sustainability conversation


Adopting sustainable methods, particularly in construction, is not an overnight process with the cost alone being one of the major challenges.  Until the dialogue around investment in sustainable solutions can be positioned as a cost-neutral option, rather than one that will cost an organisation more, it will continue to be a hurdle that many perceive they cannot afford to address.

The World Green Building Trends 2018 Smart Market Report reveals that almost 40% of UK firms reported that affordability was the greatest challenge presented by adopting sustainable construction practices. Almost 50% of firms stated that they expected green buildings to incur higher first costs.  Couple that with 34% of firms reporting that they face client demand for greener buildings and it is clear that many construction firms fear that they will be caught in the middle of demand and high costs.

With an increasing level of attention on the environmental impact of every industry, the profile of sustainability has never been higher.  What must come next, however, is action.

In our next piece on sustainability, we’ll be sharing Sigma’s ambitions for a more sustainable future and how we are working with our clients and partners to ensure we have not just having the right conversations but delivering in a more sustainable and responsible way as the one of the UK’s leading commercial space transformation specialists.

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