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Sustainable construction – it’s not just about what you do on site

For the last decade, sustainable development has been a key consideration for most construction industry projects, from buildings to major infrastructure schemes. 

There has been a raft of legislation, regulation, and industry led initiatives to champion the benefits of sustainable design.

This has all led to major improvements in the way we perform throughout the design process and across the whole supply chain: from the engineer and architect’s designs on the drawing board through to contractors and sub-contractors activities on site.

What is all too often neglected, however, is the back office approach to sustainability. 

It’s all well and good making sure your building site has zero waste to landfill, but what’s happening with your waste bins back at head office, or the piles of un-used corporate brochures rapidly dating in a corner of a storeroom? 

If a firm is truly committed to adopting a sustainable approach, this commitment should extend to all activities – both those within its direct control and also those within its immediate sphere of influence. 

This will ensure that our organisations really are striving to benefit the environment, the communities we work in and our local economy.

A key head office function long overdue some attention is the marketing department.

Marketing activities tend to generate a large number of sustainability impacts (particularly in certain aspects of communications activity such as printing collateral, events initiatives, branded goodies and so on).

At present, the events industry particularly is under pressure, with the issue of BS 8901 and the upcoming release of ISO 20121, new management standards released to help marketers take accountability of their sustainability impacts. 

So what do you your marketing teams need to be thinking about to address potential sustainability issues?  The following ‘top tips’ provide a starting point:

Tip 1 - Reduce materials - careful consideration needs to be given to materials usage. Reducing the use of unnecessary materials is key, but it is also important to ensure local, recycled and re-usable materials from renewable sources are utilised.

Tip 2 - Food & water - many communications activities involve food and water consumption, such as client hospitality, industry events and so on.

For catering purposes at events, use local, fair trade and seasonal sourced products and use re-useable cutlery, glassware and linen. Provide healthy fruit as an alternative to sweet desserts. To reduce water consumption, use tap not bottled water. 

Tip 3 - Energy - again important for events activities.  If you are running your own events, try to select an energy efficient venue, and reduce energy usage where possible. 

Choose a venue which maximises natural lighting and ventilation, and use heating and air conditioning sparingly.

Tip 4 - Waste - marketing collateral can be a ‘worst offender’ for generating unnecessary waste.

Try to avoid over-production of printed materials and corporate goodies in the first place, but where these are deemed important, think about what will date quickly (for example exhibition stands with dates on) and as a bare minimum, use recyclable materials which do not end up in landfill.

Tip 5 - Transport - if you are attending business meetings or events, think about sustainable travel to minimise your carbon footprint.  Use public transport links where possible, if not, consider care sharing with a colleague.

Tip 6 - Support local communities - think about supporting CSR initiatives which are ‘marketable’ but also give back to local communities and maximise stakeholder engagement.

Tip 7 - Manage your supply chain - the marketing team is generally responsible for procuring a large number of goods and services for the business. 

Consider adopting sustainable procurement practices throughout this supply chain to ensure suppliers are adopting ethical employment practices and have robust environmental credentials, such as ISO 14001.

These might all sound like small-scale activity, but it is only by scrutinising every aspect of our business that we can live up to our objective of practising sustainable working practices.

Karen Walters is a marketing manager at Arup and a committee member of CIMCIG


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