Travis Perkins’ head of sustainability, Megan Adlen, on how our handling of the Covid situation will make business stronger in the long term.

IF THIS YEAR has taught us anything, it’s that we can adapt when we need to, and that the evolution of our mindsets is something we should hold onto. From carbon emissions to waste, from wellbeing to diversity; the construction industry has a huge impact on the environment and society - and we can make it a positive impact by working together.

In September I spoke with the Builders Merchant Federation members at their Annual Conference on ‘Building a Sustainable Britain’ in order to share ideas and encourage continued collaboration and adaptability in our approach. Sustainability is about managing economic, social and environmental risks and opportunities. Our industry, like many others, must play its part in dealing with the impact of climate change - buildings represent over a third of UK emissions. However, the Sustainability agenda is about so much more than this: the war on waste, a lack of diversity in the construction industry workforce, mental health challenges and modern slavery risks must also be on our roadmap. We must adapt early, adopt new methods of construction, be proactive in

our recruitment and promotion strategies and actively manage our global supply chains to ensure that standards are kept. There are many upsides to the successful management of sustainability and we must start now.

COVID-19 would have been an outlying risk at best on many corporate risk registers, yet it has materialised. This has focused attention within businesses and also from investors on ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) performance as they seek to prevent significant impacts from known and high- impact ESG risks, not least climate change. COVID-19 has been a huge test of resilience and has underlined the importance of our industry - providing essential services to keep people warm, dry and safe whilst supporting the building of important projects in response to the pandemic. COVID-19 has impacted the use of buildings for many of us, with more now working from home, the need to redesign COVID-safe workplaces or offices standing vacant. As such, questions start to arise - How can we make our homes more efficient, lower-cost, comfortable and fit for our new lifestyles? How can we repurpose office blocks so there is better

utilisation of space? How can we build better to reduce emissions and waste, improve wellbeing, strengthen communities and prevent future risks from materialising?

As we mobilise to drive the recovery, we need to keep these questions front of mind. COVID- 19 has shown us that we are capable of evolving, and that is something we will need to do. To prevent the worst of climate change we need to reduce global carbon by the same amount as was seen in lockdown every year for the next ten years and we can’t do that by doing what we’ve always done.

Positive thoughts So, we must pose the question: what can we do? Firstly, we need to hold on to the positive changes from what has been a hugely difficult few months. By supporting workers, where possible, to work from home and by increasing our digital connectivity, we are able to reduce carbon emissions (and costs!) from daily commutes and business meetings. Digitalisation goes hand in hand with decarbonisation; whether moving age-old paper-based operations onto digital and reducing

deforestation, or building digital efficiency to our operations and construction processes to reduce waste and improve resource use, digitalisation is key to future sustainability. We need to keep our focus on the whole value chain - the sustainability of our supply chain partners will in many ways determine our own. We’ve always been an industry founded on relationships and that collaborative mindset has helped us to navigate these last few months together. If we all retain the ‘must change, will change’ attitude, as witnessed over these last few months, we can move forward - not just growing, but growing sustainably.

Secondly, as we build back the economy we must build back better. The Government is ring fencing funds and launching initiatives such as the new £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme which will fund up to two-thirds of the cost of energy saving improvements for eligible homeowners in England. The current window of opportunity for this scheme only extends to March - risking a ‘boom and bust’ outcome as seen with the

16 November 2020

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