Chief construction adviser Paul Morrell has called on the industry to learn from history and reform itself to meet the challenges of the future.
Delivering the Joint Contractors Tribunal annual Povey lecture, Mr Morrell identified six key areas the sector must focus on.
He said whole life value; the value of good design; benchmarking; supply chain integration; better use of information technology; and leadership should be priorities for an industry facing the twin threats of public debt and the monumental task of carbon reduction.
Hinting at the content of his upcoming report on carbon reduction and the construction industry, Mr Morrell said: “We need to accept sustainability as an absolutely intrinsic part of the definition of good design. A definition of sustainability that can serve as a design tool needs to concentrate on things that count, and things that can be counted, and upon a weighting that reflects their importance.
“Here too it is for the industry, rather than its customers, to lead. What has until recently been ignored is the enormous challenge facing us in retrofitting the existing building stock to achieve higher levels of energy efficiency. Without doing so we have no prospect of meeting our carbon reduction commitment – which is now a matter of law.”
Mr Morrell said he was confident the industry would find a solution to the carbon question and it was now vital to create consumer demand for improved energy efficiency.
This, he said, would be the role of the government, who could “apply levers” to encourage demand.
But he warned the industry must be ready with a trustworthy and skilled supply chain to deliver “compliant and accredited products and services when and if that demand comes”.
“Given the scale of the task, this will be challenge enough,” he added.