Changing Construction

Is construction changing?
Does it need to?
I’ve attended two events recently where the emphasis of the discussions moved on from the topic in question to these more debatable questions.  I’ll accept that both events were focused more on the future of construction, but what struck me was the growing consensus both of attendees that are adapting and those urging for quicker and faster change.
The first event focused on Big Data and the opportunities for construction. The key conclusion for me was that opportunity does exist, but we need to focus on just getting the basic data right first as well.  The most striking presentation was provided by Gideon Farrell who, as a recent graduate with no pre-conceived views, is using technology to advance construction.  He is not focused on changing construction per se, but he sees the business opportunity to use technology which will in turn change construction.
The second event was CIRIA’s Future of Construction event.  I was struck by the positive overtone from the majority of speakers demonstrating how they are driving change within their own organisations and in turn changing construction.  Briefly:
  • Alan Clucas explained how Laing O’Rourke have put DfMA at the core of their strategy going forward;
  • Graeme Shaw passionately inspired others with his talk about how TfL are embracing lean and process improvement
  • The vision for Britain is digital as outlined by the BIM Task Group
  • John Boultwood talked procurement and highlighted that The IUK have produced excellent guidance in Project Initiation Routemap
The one salutatory warning was raised by Tim Chapman who eloquently raised concerns about the need to reduce carbon and how little we are actually doing about it; yet the built environment can and does have a significant influence over all aspects of carbon reduction.  I’d encourage you to review Highways England Carbon Routemap and the infographic (available at the bottom of the page).
Does construction need to change?  As one speaker said, if we don’t someone else will come in and take over.
Is Construction Changing?  It’s evident that there is much positive progress being made and I am personally optimistic that we are on the dawn of new era for construction, particularly:
  • if we realise the importance of Tim’s message that we must reduce carbon and realise the opportunity for the built environment in influencing this change
  • if we can get more Gideons involved; the younger generations need to be engaged in taking the industry forward
  • if more clients embrace Graeme’s passion for taking a common sense approach to improvement
  • if the supply chain adopt a similar value-added philosophy espoused by Alan based on DfMA and digital engineering
  • if we follow the guidance of the IUK routemap
Do you share my optimism? Add your comments below
Click here for click to the Storify of my tweets of CIRIA Future of Construction

Keeling Curve hits 400 …

Keeling_Curve_Over400The Keeling Curve is important as it measures the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. It keeps rising as the graph illustrates. The data has been collated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography since 1958 when the level was approximately 315.

Why is this important?

Well the SAFE LEVEL of CO2 in the atmosphere is deemed to be 350, which was passed in the late-1980’s. This heightened awareness about climate change resulting in the Earth Summit at Rio de Janerio in 1992 and subsequently the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change. The inextricable rise of the graph indicates a growth of between one and two points per year (the long term trend is 1.5 ppm increase per year), and this trend is accelerating. It needs to be reversed, hence the initiatives to reduce carbon in the atmosphere (CO2 is not the only contributor to climate change)

So, what happens if it’s not reversed?

Well there is a TIPPING POINT of CO2 in the atmosphere which is deemed to be


beyond which level of atmospheric C02 will be irreversible. At the rate of increase in the late 1980’s this was anticipated to be 2050. Hence the Kyoto Protocol and commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. However, the rate is increasing; for the past decade it’s been 2ppm per year, so we are likely to reach tipping point sooner – 25 years or 2040!

Whilst we might be undertaking plenty of initiatives to reduce carbon, we as a planet are still producing more carbon. With, inter alia, population rise and the transition of less developed countries, the demand for carbon-producing activities continues to rise.

The rise of CO2 in the atmosphere is not abating and suddenly 2050 2040 is not so far away. It’s now 25 years since we broke through the safe limit, and unless we continue to act now, the prospects for future generations should the tipping point be reached are bleak.

Are we / are you doing enough?

CIC Happold Medal Lecture 2013

CICRobin Nicholson became the ninth recipient of the CIC Happold Medal, awarded jointly by the Construction Industry Council and the Happold Trust after delivering the lecture entitled “Collective responsibility for a sustainable industry”. Tues 29th Oct’13 at the Institute of Civil Engineers.

I’ve created a storify of the event and tweets.

Robin, a past Chairman of the CIC, gave a potted history of the CIC on the start of its 25th Anniversary which has coincided with a significant amount of fervour about industry reform and continues today.  His conclusion on reform was essentially ‘we know what to do, let’s stop talking and start doing more’.  I couldn’t agree more having just read another (good) report on Supply Chain Analysis of Construction by BIS that isn’t really telling us anything we didn’t already know.

The main focus of the lecture was on sustainability and Robin provided a plethora of amazing stats to make the point we need to make better use of our resources; we can’t continue being so wasteful. And for the built environment this means rethinking about how we reuse our assets.

However whilst sustainability is an absolute imperative, the collective challenge for the supply side of the industry is address the root cause of the many issues highlight by Robin that prevent the progress of, amongst other things, sustainability.  Interestingly the dilemma of CIC is the recognition that professional institutions reinforce a fragmented process and a silo mentality; yet the obvious solution of combining institutions or creating a single one is in the too difficult pile.

Robin apologised for the depressing nature of his comments, he is an optmist by heart. I felt as if the subsequent panel debate focused too much on the negative and failed to emphasise the many good things that are taking place within the industry.  As an industry we do many amazing things and I strongly believe we will continue to evolve in a progressive and postive manner.  BIM is undoubtably providing the catalyst to rethink how we operate and move towards more collaborative and integrated practices.

Never waste a good crisis

Value, not price

This is my second blog. The first was written less than 24 hours ago and read by two people: my wife and my SM adviser who suggested I write a blog in the first place. The idea was to write one and see how I get on and develop some plan for the next few blogs.  All very sensible stuff, so how come I’m writing again so soon? 

Well the power of social media came into play for me yesterday. Paul Weston keeps telling me “you’ve got to connect to the right people, you should join Be2camp“.  He tweeted me again yesterday to ask if was going to the Be2camp event that night and here I am blogging about it. 

The star attraction was Don Ward, CEO of Constructing Excellence who presented on his organisation’s report ‘Never Waste a Good Crisis’, published in Oct’09. 

 It’s a concise document that in part reports on the progress ten years after the Egan Report, ‘Rethinking Construction‘.  It looks at the evidence so far and highlights the blockers to further progress.  Don talked about some of these issues and focused on a couple, namely value not price and sustainability.

The value not price issue generated a lively Q&A session not least because we all understand the arguments for value, but the industry’s marketplace is based on lowest price.  And even more so in the current econmic climate with the issue of sub-economic/suicidal bidding.  This business and economic model adopted by the industry is one of the 4 blockers described in the report, but it is unclear how we change?  See Building Magazine’s Comment on the report for a different (more insightful) perspective.

Don was very clear that we need to work together, to adopt collaborative ways of working that are based on an economic model whereby a target cost is set for the project and the team focus, amongst other things on reducing the waste / unnecessary cost.  It’s evident to me that there is no transparency over what this ‘waste / unnecessary cost’ is and if you can’t see it, it makes it very difficult to start reducing it.  But this is for another blog!

The Q&A debate queried how the industry can make these savings and reductions and I refer to the example of the reduction of dead space within a ceiling void.  I was referring to Brydon Wood who have used BIM to make significant savings. One such saving resulted from the redesign of the ceiling void for a 3-storey hospital to integrate the services more effectively and minimise the dead-space. The net result is a reduction per floor of approxiately 500mm, meaning a saving overall of 1.5m. You can quickly see how this can demonstrate a savings of cost and carbon alike in the reduction of structure, cladding and all components that are affected by the height of the building. 
NOTE: Be2Camp Events – Brydon Wood presenting at CIRIA on 12 May 2011.

Don referred to the importance of the construction industry and that if you spend on £1 in the industry this generates £2.84 GDP – see Building’s Charter284 for a better explanation.


Another key aspect of Don’s presentation was on the environment and sustainability.  He referred to the report written by Paul Morrell on how the industry can deliver Low Cabon Construction.  And for me this is where the Q&A session generated a fascinating debate and indicates I’ve still much to learn about sustainability – which is what I was alluding to in my first blog!  As a little aside, getting into this blogging malarky, I had drafted my second blog on the train going into London last night, but that will have to wait and become the third blog – maybe tomorrow!

Can we achieve sustainability with the current business model?

Possibly, but unlikely. And as with the debate on value, the argument has to be broadened beyond an economic focus.  Everything I’ve read about sustainability focuses on the need to consider the triple bottom line of economics, but also social and environment.  The ever increasing cost of fuel – (by the way Mr Osborne, thanks for reducing the tax on my diesel by a penny, it’s only gone up 7p since the budget and seems to go up a penny a week!) Sorry focus, the ever increasing cost of fuel will force this issue, but when? 

SM adviser advice: Be concise, keep your blogs brief and to the point, so I’ve probably written too much! so for now thanks for reading and let’s see what happens in the future!

New to blogging? May the 4th be with you…

Where to start?

You know the scenario, you’re busy and you’ve got many things to do.  You need to start somewhere, but there’s so much background noise you can’t hear yourself think. It reminds me of the image from the Matrix, the one with all those numbers…how do you decipher what it all means?  You have your work commitments and priorities, your home and social life to live; so where do you find the time, the inclination to start writing a blog?


Where to start? How to start? Should you dip your toe in the water or dive straight in?  Have I really got something to say that anyone will want to read?  So many questions and so many much advice to help, but what’s right?

I like the one line adages and one comes to mind as I write this


No-one is forcing me to do write anything, but if anything is going to be written, then it’s up to me. And so I’ve begun.

And what exactly have I started?  Well in my mind I’ve started on a journey. And as with any journey, it’s advisable to know where you are going, otherwise you could end up meandering all over the place and end up anywhere! You’ll pleased to know that I do have a clear idea of my destination, although the plan is still being mapped out. 

So where am I heading? 

Well I’m not going to tell you just yet, suffice to say it is in part why I’m blogging. I want to record my journey and the challenges I face along the way. 

The key focus of my journey is sustainability in the context of the construction industry and academia.  Ray Anderson is the author of the radical industrialist and he writes about the need to influence one mind at a time.  Well I know he’ll be pleased he’s influenced me and in my next entry I’ll write about this influence.

So on Star Wars day, May the Fourth be with you …

Thanks for reading