Working together

The Construction Industry Council convened an important event last Thursday. Titled ‘Rethinking Professional Services for the Low Carbon Future’, the one-day conference brought together representatives from most of the built environment professions, government and industry to address possibly the most important issue facing us all.

There was a palpable sense of frustration in the room at Store Street but also determination. Frustration that pilot projects aren’t followed up, Government initiatives abandoned or downgraded, documented good practice ignored. Determination that things can be different.

Paul Morrell, chief construction advisor to the Government, pointed out that virtually everything in theUK’s Low Carbon Transition Plan* involves construction but the industry “does not have a plan for its own future.”

Morrell took over the work of the Innovation and Growth Team (IGT), commissioned by the last government to consider how theUKconstruction industry can rise to the challenge of the low carbon agenda. The team’s interim report was published in March and the new government has endorsed the initiative. A final report should be published at the end of this year.

The interim report calls for a “quantum change” in the industry’s response to the challenge if the commitments of the Climate Change Act are to be met. It identifies barriers to progress including: the structure of the industry; the need for “up-skilling” across the supply chain; the gap between the design criteria of buildings and their performance; and a continuing preoccupation with initial capital spend, rather than whole life basis cost.

In addition to its emerging findings, the report has just one key recommendation to Government: to commission a suitably qualified “programme manager” to prepare a detailed execution plan for the physical work assumed in the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan.

This recommendation is supported by 18 propositions and Morrell highlighted one of these – the need to include auditing of a building’s performance in a project’s costing. “Carbon is as important as money,” he said, “we must develop whole life carbon accounting.”

Morrell didn’t pull any punches when it came to vested interests which, he said, could slow progress. He was quite critical of the built environment professions which he said could be protectionist and competitive.

This point was picked up later, although more mildly, by Bill Bordass who called for more “learned societies” to develop and publish knowledge.

The internet has transformed our ability to disseminate information rapidly but is the Facebook approach right? No self-respecting project is now without a website, associated discussion forum and a presence on social networks.

This is fine if you’re living and breathing the subject but if you actually want to find out something it can lead to a frustrating virtual treasure hunt, following snippets of someone else’s conversation and picking up clues which often lead to another dead end.

We need to connect the knowledge locked-up in projects, research reports, and online document libraries across professional bodies, consultancies and many other organisations. This will require consistent tagging and a really good search engine plus unprecedented openness.

As someone said last week, knowledge transfer is a contact sport.