Rethinking project management can facilitate net zero in construction

Ashwini Bakshi, Managing Director Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa at Project Management Instituteexplains how professionals can rethink their project management principles to foster a sustainable culture in their organizations and pave the way to net zero in construction

When it comes to achieving net zero in construction, the industry is feeling the heat. With the built environment – of which construction is a protagonist – currently contributing 40% of UK carbon emissions, the country’s progress towards its net zero ambitions will be heavily influenced by how efficiently and quickly the construction industry can go green.

From a glass half full approach, the journey to net zero in construction is well underway. The sector has made significant progress over the past 30 years. The concrete and cement industry, for example, has provided a 53% absolute CO reduction2 emissions since 1990faster than the UK economy as a whole.

Yet with demand for 300,000 new homes to be built each year in the UK, the sector is faced with the balance of maintaining productivity, meeting targets and meeting budgets, while facing the monumental challenge of becoming more sustainable. .

Ultimately, the complexity of the net zero challenge means there is no silver bullet to propel the construction industry into a greener future. While the sustainability agenda often revolves around materials, technology, waste management and the use of brownfields, construction managers would be remiss to underestimate the role that project management can play in the progress of their organization. In the UK there are 75,000+ construction project managers who can all impact net zero travel if they add a sustainability perspective to the way they compile and manage their project teams.

Delivering net zero in construction requires net zero skills

You cannot achieve net zero ambitions without net zero skills. While that may sound like a statement, it is a significant threat to the UK’s wider progress towards a greener economy. Just last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) warned the government that the construction sector “recognizes that it does not yet have the skills it will need” to contribute to net zero ambitions.

Faced with this challenge, the construction industry must seize the opportunity to rethink its approach to learning and build a more sustainable workforce – with a modernized skill set – to navigate the net zero journey. With 750,000 construction professionals set to retire in the next 15 years, the pool of new talent entering the industry should have a sustainability mindset built into the foundations of their skills. By ensuring green skills are an integral part of formative training, next generation industry leaders can operate with the “sustainability first” approach required to ensure projects contribute positively to the net zero plus mission. wide.

Along with developing green skills, companies can also benefit from reconfiguring how they value existing qualities that their employees may possess. The construction industry has traditionally been a sector focused on hard skills, but while they remain important, the needle is moving towards a demand for soft skills. Such is the value of these skills – which include adaptability, collaborative leadership and an innovative mindset – in modern project management, we have renamed them “power skills”. Those who combine their technical skills with a powerful skill set will be best positioned to adapt to the ever-changing challenges of the construction industry – net zero included – and cultivate agility in their organization.

How to Cultivate Agility to Meet Ever-Changing Challenges

Placing an increased load on the development of power skills is a key characteristic of an agile organization. Our research revealed that more than half (54%) of agile companies favored powerful skills over technical skills, compared to just 42% of their more traditional counterparts. The last 24 months have shed light on the need for organizations to adopt agile principles to navigate the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (or VUCA) that characterizes the modern construction landscape.

Becoming agile is also a critical process for organizations looking to manage complex change. Few challenges have characterized this more than the transition to a net zero economy. It’s a trip like no other undertaken by British professionals. The answers to his questions remain murky in the unknown, and the processes trusted by experienced construction professionals are unlikely to deliver the results needed to quickly achieve goals.

Only by adopting a hyper-agile and open-minded approach to net zero will organizations set themselves up to achieve climate goals. In practice, this requires business leaders and project managers to systematically go through all the issues first, identify where they may have gaps in expertise or technologies, and build teams cross-functional project managers with the skills to get the job done. The focus should be on results – and the approach, new or old, needed to achieve them – rather than exclusively following processes that have worked in the past.

Traditionally, adopting an agile approach has been a challenge for the construction industry. Our The pulse of the profession The survey found that the amount of construction organizations using agile approaches (14%) was 11 percentage points lower than the average for all companies (25%) in Europe. The concept of taking the time to make incremental changes to a strategy to solve a problem – which often requires taking one step back to take two steps forward – has often come up against tight deadlines, limited budgets and pressure from stakeholders under which construction companies operate.

Yet, in the case of net zero, this approach is non-negotiable. The level of complexity presented by this challenge means that adopting agile methods of operation will save time in the long run – even if it seems like a slower process at present – as project managers will avoid investing too much time in a strategy that does not produce the desired results.

Why should climate goals be integrated into organizational strategy?

For any organization aspiring to achieve net zero progress, the development of green skills and agility must be underpinned by an explicit and universal recognition that its long-term health depends on the health of the environmental and social system of which it is a part. Only once this has been established can organizations begin to integrate sustainability into their structure and broader strategy.

One way for construction companies to integrate climate goals into their organizational strategy is to adapt their business structure. By introducing a sustainability director to the leadership team – with a view to integrating sustainability into each of their pillars and processes – climate change mitigation and emissions reduction immediately becomes a top management priority. A positive example of this is Wilmott Dixon, who achieved carbon neutrality less than a year after hiring Julia Barrett as director of sustainability in 2012, and is now working on his bold Sustainable development strategy now or never for 2030.

While elevating climate change in the executive suite should be a priority, it’s also important that different business functions take ownership of the execution of a company’s net zero strategy – instead of placing responsibility in silos. – so that it is part of every process and decision, and every upstream and downstream interaction. To make this happen, organizations can break down the ways in which different business areas can contribute to broader sustainability ambitions – with their own tailored goals – through a clear strategy and roadmap.

This collaboration model can also be implemented industry-wide, as evidenced by The VELUX Build for Life initiative. The manufacturer’s commitment provides a “compass” for built environment professionals – from builders and site managers to architects and interior designers – on how they can solve some of the most pressing sustainability issues in the world. industry. This is an archetype of how the industry should come together to rethink its legacy building strategies and address the net zero challenge in unity. Each organization ultimately has unique expertise and skills that others can benefit from and bring to their own project teams to facilitate more sustainable practices.

Finally, a question we frequently hear from business leaders is how they quantify the environmental impact of their ESG strategy. We want to encourage a landscape in which companies can proactively celebrate their progress towards climate goals, rather than rushing at the last minute to meet deadlines set by third parties.

Builders can follow the example of the Construction Leadership Council, which has published a CO2nstructZero Performance Framework last year to measure progress toward net zero across the industry. Data and metrics from the report will be published in quarterly reports to monitor and encourage ESG principles in the construction industry. Although this is an industry-wide initiative, it could be replicated internally to track progress across different business areas and keep project team members engaged and accountable for progress more large parts of the organization to net zero, regardless of their role.

Ultimately, the construction industry should see net zero as an opportunity to rethink its principles, skills and project structure, to prepare for the future in the face of complex challenges and to build a greener future. for the communities in which it operates.