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THE UTILITY SECTOR: SUSTAINABILITY AT ITS CORE
The construction industry has always been one of the world’s largest contributors to single-use plastic consumption, energy use and overall environmental impact; but for many in the utilities sector the pressure is on to deliver more sustainable and energy efficient projects than ever before. As a result, it is important for contractors to work with suppliers that align with the same values and monitor their own environmental impact as well as challenging their supply chain to do the same.
Over the last few months, the environmental and economic side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the outlook of many industries and businesses who have seen this period as the ideal opportunity to implement change with regards to environmental policy. US and British economists have suggested in a recent report that businesses should take advantage of fiscal recovery packages to orchestrate a ‘green recovery’ as that would be the most cost-effective and lead to increased long-term savings. UK business leaders have since called for governmental financial packages to have a green outlook and in response the Prime Minister has urged that the UK’s commitment to delivering net zero emissions ‘remains undiminished’. The Government has also recently announced its own £2 billion investment package to encourage cycling and walking in London. Moving forward, it is expected there will continue to be a global surge in investment with regards to environmental strategy from governments and industries alike.
Historically, construction has been a huge contributor to world carbon emissions, energy and waste production. It remains the UK’s second largest producer of plastic waste after the packaging industry itself, producing 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste each year. Furthermore, according to the Technologies Strategy Board the construction, operation and maintenance of the built environment currently accounts for a massive 45% of the UK’s CO2 emissions. This highlights that not only is the construction phase of a project detrimental to the environment, but often a completed project does not perform as intended.
While it is clear that change is needed throughout the construction industry, for projects in the utilities sector in particular this level of emissions and waste production is no longer acceptable. In June 2019, the UK government passed laws setting a target of net zero carbon emissions for the country by 2050. This has had big implications for the utilities sector, which is itself a massive contributor of carbon emissions.
For energy companies, meeting this target necessitates significant change. In particular, provisions need to be made to increase electricity production by 100%, as the country makes the switch from fossil fuels to electricity for all power needs. Energy companies will also need to ensure that going forward all power is produced from low-carbon sources.
Water companies had already set a more immediate target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and are making progress with incremental steps dictated by Ofwat’s business plan determinations. While some water companies are currently buying their energy from renewable sources, others are taking steps to install the means to generate their own. However, other changes also need to be made; for example, reducing water consumption through a reduction in leakage, which will in turn cut emissions from treatment and distribution.
For those in the utilities sector that face these changes and have these targets to meet, working with supply chain partners that can calculate the environmental impact of a project from their perspective is a crucial step. The impact of a project does not only include the emissions generated by the construction work but also those generated by the manufacture of the products used and their transportation, so using a supplier that can monitor and count every element is crucial.
As part of the Travis Perkins Group, at Keyline Civils Specialist we take our environmental responsibilities seriously, not only claiming to share the values of our customers - but holding ourselves accountable as proof.
We have maintained the ISO 14001 accreditation on Environmental Management for more than ten years and as part of that we are committed to:
● Reducing waste and enhancing reuse and recycling programmes
● Measuring our carbon footprint and seeking alternative renewable energy solutions
● Better understanding the environmental impact of our product range and adapting to reduce it
From our experience, engagement with suppliers is crucial for a merchant to fully quantify and manage the environmental impact of its products for customers. This is a key part of our own environmental strategy and we regularly challenge our suppliers on their environmental credentials. In particular we ask them to:
● Operate environmental management systems
● Only supply legal and certified (FSC or PEFC) timber
● Undertake environmental impact assessments if the supply of their products involves the extraction of natural materials Measure and reduce their own carbon footprint
● Measure and reduce the embodied carbon in their products
● Measure and reduce water consumption Measure and reduce waste production and improve packaging materials (particularly targeting the elimination of single-use plastic)
As well as influencing better behaviours in the supply chain, we also work hard to support our customers in meeting their own sustainability needs. For example, we provide waste services such as on-site skip hire, backhaul of packaging waste or an in-branch waste compound. We stock and sell product ranges which support sustainable construction and can help our customers to select the better options. We collaborate and consult with key customers to support their own goals.
We recognise that transportation emissions are also a factor that needs quantifying. At Keyline, our vehicles are Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) accredited to the Gold standard. This is unique among merchants and demonstrates that we have achieved exemplary performance in fuel efficiency, economical operations and vehicle emissions. By using this scheme, we were recently able to fully quantify our carbon emissions to customer Highways England when asked and will be able to do so for all customers that require emissions figures going forward. Also, we help customers to understand the carbon impact of our deliveries to their sites.
For utilities sector projects with stringent emissions and sustainability targets to meet, working with a supplier that can demonstrate its sustainability credentials along with that of its suppliers up front is crucial. By taking these steps to measure our progress and challenging our suppliers to provide proof of theirs, we can do the ground work with regards to emissions calculations and sustainable product research so our customers don’t have to.