COP26: Building the foundations of a better future

Gill Kelleher
Gill Kelleher 22-11-2021

COP26 brought the world to Glasgow to discuss the climate crisis and how we change the way we work to address this existential threat. But it wasn’t the first forum at which the Hub was represented. UK Construction Week, in which the Hub was a delivery partner, gave professionals from across the construction and built environment sectors a chance to meet and discuss the challenges we face. Here, in the first of two articles, the Hub’s Impact Director Gill Kelleher looks back at the panels she chaired and the lessons we can take forward.

After more than 18 months of Zoom meetings and muted mics, it was great to get out to UK Construction Week and see people face to face. Representatives from across the built environment came together to discuss every facet of design, build and product innovation. As part of this debate, I chaired two panels, discussing the topics of ‘Building Back Better: improving quality in construction for a safer future’ and ‘Digitalisation of the construction sector’ to improve productivity.

Building Back Better – improving quality in construction for a safer future

To discuss how we build back better, I was joined by Ian Richardson, Sector Lead in the Built Environment team at BSI; Vicki Reynolds, Chief Technology Officer at i3PT and CertCentra; Eddie Tuttle, Director of Policy, Research & External Affairs for the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB); Johnny Furlong, who is leading on the BIM strategy in L&Q and Gary Clark, HOK London Studio, Regional Leader of Science, Technology and Sustainability.

With the UK government’s focus on ‘build back better’, the panel identified that there is a drive to improve well-being and inclusiveness, aligned with long-term emission reduction goals, factoring in resilience to climate impacts, slowing biodiversity loss and increasing circularity of supply chains. They shared their insights on what they are doing to improve quality in construction for a safer future and why it’s fundamental towards future proofing against climate risks and net zero goals.

Quality Management & Industry Collaboration

In September 2019 CIOB published a ‘Code of Quality Management’ based on detailed research and an industry-wide consultation. The Code was made available in digital format and is free to download.  Based on feedback from CIOB members and the wider industry, a new Guide to Quality Management, focusing on site production and assembly and aimed at site operatives – The Quality Guide went live in January 2021.

A range of other standards, guidance and tools are also being produced through BSI, Construction Innovation Hub and others to improve quality management and assurance, such as the BSI Quality Management Standard for Built Environment. A suite of Construction Product Quality Processes and planning tools produced by the Hub will be available next year.

Golden Thread

There was much debate also across the panel about how a culture of building safety needs to be positioned at the forefront of our minds throughout the lifecycle of an asset and embedded within the day-to-day operations of our organisations. Improving our relationship with data and information management is one way to drive change quickly and with massive positive impact. Individuals and organisations must absorb and understand the definition and principles of the Golden Thread and ask ourselves if we have the digital competence needed not only to implement it, but to continually evidence that best practice.

The Golden Thread should not only facilitate a clear understanding of a building now and in the future, but also plays a key part in the wider digital transformation of the built environment, which will deliver economic growth, better public services, and help lower-carbon emissions and greater sustainability.

We also discussed policy. With the government’s net zero strategy prioritising the development of tools that will decarbonise government supply chains and boost the green economy, we debated what a future blueprint for construction should look like if we are to ensure a safer future and if they had a magic wand what was necessary to improve quality in buildings and gear up to save the planet.

Industry and businesses have introduced their own initiatives to support delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as we need to act now. For instance, RIBA has developed the 2030 Climate Challenge setting a stepped approach towards reaching net zero through a series of targets for practices to adopt to reduce operational energy, embodied carbon and potable water.

The three areas we identified that would improve quality and help towards climate goals were:

Skills and digital competency – The right people with the right skills and resources having the right information at the right time to make the best possible decisions. Resourcing and training key.

Access to data & Accountability is essential – Everyone is responsible, and until we take on that shared accountability as an industry then we’ll never achieve a culture in which safety is key. Other industries like aerospace, mining, and formula one has complicated supply chains but a much more stringent approach to safety and quality – there are lessons to learn there, we just have to be willing to learn them.

Technologies – This session really amplified the benefits data, design tools, and digital twins offer towards achieving operational excellence in buildings. But we must use these tools to help focus on solving problems and delivering low-carbon outcomes. Using product data, Digital Twins and BIM can significantly improve how we understand and manage our buildings; achieving operational excellence through better design, build and operational phases. However, it is a mistake to believe that we can bring tech in as a silver bullet solution if there’s no solid foundation of information management and good process for it to sit upon. A digital twin should be a happy output of using data to solve and pre-empty problems, it should not be the targeted end goal within itself.

Blog post was written by Gill Kelleher, Impact Director for the Construction Innovation Hub. 

This is part one of Gill’s ‘Building the foundations of a better future’ blogs. Please see part two here.