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Middle East  
 
 

Sustainability - what does it really look like?

There is a lot of talk about sustainability in today’s society particularly in the business world. So what does a truly sustainable company look like asks Rob Carr, Director - Environment & Sustainability.

 

In the Middle East construction industry there are two types of players – the global brands with local presence and the homegrown businesses, sometimes with global presence. The challenge with the former when it comes to sustainability is that most global organisations have green credentials at a global level, but it can be hard to ascertain from the outside how that filters down to the local operations here.

I can say this because we are a global company, with global sustainability programs as well as local initiatives and so we tackle this challenge daily. I often ask myself, if I were a client and I wanted to find a truly sustainable and ethical company how would I be able to identify them? How would they know that we really have embedded sustainability as part of our culture, not just as a tick in a box somewhere in a corporate document?

If you look at organisations websites you will find the same terminology and promises across the board, and I would hazard a guess that the information we put in our bidding material is largely standard as well. So what is the differentiator?

We can all do the operational check list – monitor our energy usage, our waste, encourage sustainable travel and other efforts to reduce carbon, print less, recycle more. But, controversial as it might be, the reality is that these actions have a very small sustainability impact compared to the impact we have through the projects we work on. So yes of course we do all these things as well, this is normal practice, but where we are focusing our attentions is on the work we do - the advice we give, the designs we produce. This is where the real impact is and this is how consultants can develop their contribution from the mediocre to something more.

The answer to my earlier question I have concluded is that you need to look for it in the behaviors of the people in the organization. Do they wait to be told by you, the client, to include sustainable measures or do they challenge you to adopt them before you’ve even thought about it? Is it part of their everyday behavior, in every decision they make and every output they give you?

This is where we strive to be and we have a solid plan to get there based around four key deliverables.

The first is that learning opportunities about how to take this embedded sustainability approach to every project we work on are available to all through our internal university. Not just designers, not just those who sit in my team, but everyone.

Secondly, we have set ourselves a target that five percent of all our designers - whether they work on buildings, rail or power plants - have a professional sustainability qualification. This will ensure that this business wide mindset will prevail and we hope in future that five percent will be a minimum standard rather than an ambition.

We are also going through a process of updating all our specifications and standards so that they don’t just reflect the regulations in the market but reflect our ambitions for sustainability as well as the leading innovations and trends. This means that as a client, no matter what area of the business you engage with, you can be assured that the standards we work to will already include provision for sustainable design and practice as a minimum. In some cases this will have cost benefits, but in all it will at very least be as cost effective as the regular specifications.

Finally, we have embedded sustainability into our core business management system, which impacts everything that we do from the way we log a new prospect or project to the way we address sustainable design.

To me, this is what it means to be green to the core – sustainability isn’t an add on, it should run through the veins of the organization, touching every aspect of the way it operates. To reinforce this, accountability needs to rest with the design teams not a separate ‘sustainability team’, and governed all the way up through the company.  When we discuss projects, operations and strategy at a leadership level, we always consider our sustainability performance.  

So next time you’re asking yourself how to find a company that is truly operating with green credentials, ask them how they think about sustainability in the business and listen for the clues. Is it still considered an extra or is just part of who they are?

Because that’s what you really want – a business so sustainably minded it can no longer separate their services from sustainability at all. 

 

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