IEMA CEO, Tim Balcon, explains why the construction industry must adopt “circular” ways of working if it is to become smarter, more efficient and ultimately more responsible.
Straight lines make sense to humans, at least at first glance. They have a beginning, a middle and an end – like every story, every process and the lifespan of everything on earth. That includes materials, structures and buildings as well as living things. Well… at least in the way we’re currently using them that is.
Thinking in straight lines, particularly in construction has kept us in a linear trap; taking the traditional approach, digging up raw materials, manipulating them into something useful, then dumping them at the end of – what we perceive to believe is – their life. The old-fashioned inefficiency of this entire way of thinking and working should be something any of us that work in this sector should be concerned about. We operate within incredibly tight margins, not to mention the high environmental impact of our work all along that linear process; from extraction of resources, construction, destruction and dumping the waste back into the ground. We need to break out of this way of thinking, to embrace “circular” ways of working so we not only become smarter and more efficient, but we change our environmental impact from negative to positive.
The industry has come a long way in recognising its environmental obligations but let’s be honest, we still get stuck somewhere on that long line between the needs of profit and the needs of the planet. The way I see it, there is no need or sense in “calling off” those factors. Meeting guidelines and standards to work in a sustainable way levels the playing field and takes some angst from the dilemma. But all too often, these activities are seen as tick-box exercises to meet statutory and regulatory obligations and are not onboarded in a way that not only makes the organisation more efficient but also more profitable. There is no doubt that the environment, society and the economy are quickly changing around us. So, to stay in business have to keep ahead of the game, not just keep up with it. The demands coming from customers and clients are changing; they have a right to cleaner water, purer air and they want to see evidence of real responsibility and stewardship from organisations. The straight-line thinking of old won’t meet these needs or expectations. When we move to thinking in a circular fashion - considering where and how materials are sourced, whether they are recycled or repurposed rather than extracted, through to how they are used and what happens to them when they are no longer needed in their present state, we start to innovate, to change and to become truly smart.
Thinking differently – less linear, more circular - is a learned skill – arguably not natural to many of us. But the more it is practised, the more effective and efficient it becomes. As we get further into the 21st century, we will experience very different demands which means we have no choice but to think differently. But that’s exciting – it presents a huge amount of opportunity to achieve what we need to in ways we want to – not how we have to. Is your organisation ready for this? If not quite yet, you could become the catalyst. Let’s talk about it at UK Construction Week.
For more on this topic join Tim and a host of industry leaders from the likes of WSP, Skanska and Balfour Beatty at IEMA's Sustainable Construction Conference at UK Construction Week on Wednesday 10 October. Book your FREE ticket now.
With solid expertise on professional skills and growing organisations, Tim is leading IEMA towards achieving its global ambition to transform the world to sustainability.