Leading the charge for sustainability in the Irish construction industry

by | Sep 4, 2022

The construction sector in Ireland is an industry of problem solvers. Clear-headed, practical and results oriented, there is perhaps no greater, nor urgent, challenge than creating a more sustainable industry. The industry must innovate to address the dual, and often contradictory challenges, of reducing overall carbon emissions while simultaneously achieving ambitious government strategies like the Housing for All plan. Construction Magazine hears from industry leaders about their efforts to build a more robust, sustainable industry that delivers

Marion Jammet

Head of Policy and Advocacy, Irish Green Building Council (IGBC)

Sustainability is a holistic concept which seeks to create positive outcomes for our planet and society. To avoid any unintended consequences, it must be embedded in all aspects of one organisation’s work. This is very much reflected in our sustainability certification scheme for new residential developments, the Home Performance Index (HPI).

The HPI goes well beyond the BER and takes account of other impacts, such as air quality, water consumption, ecology and the sustainability of the location. This year, our focus has very much been on developing a roadmap to decarbonise Ireland’s built environment across its whole life cycle.

To do so, we first commissioned a study in which projections to 2030 show that without urgently addressing the industry’s embodied emissions, the construction and built environment sector will exceed its carbon budget. The roadmap, to be launched in October, has been developed in close cooperation with the industry and includes a set of policy recommendations to address these emissions.

We recently launched the carbon designer tool for Ireland. This free and simple tool quickly shows the differences building designers can make to the overall carbon impact of projects. We also run whole life carbon assessment training for building professionals on a regular basis.

When it comes to climate action, we must all work together in close cooperation and with great urgency. A first step for every organisation should be to capture good quality data on current levels of emissions and to develop a decarbonisation strategy for their activities. This requires upskilling, but the good news is that a high number of training courses have been developed in recent years.

The Build Up Skills Advisor App, for example, was developed by the IGBC and the Technological University of the Shannon to allow building professionals and construction workers to identify training courses that suit their needs in a few clicks.

John Keaney

John Keaney
CEO of SIRO

SIRO is a broadband network operator rolling out a new full fibre network across Irish cities and towns. Beyond our fibre broadband network, sustainability is to the fore of how SIRO operates. This means looking at how we can make our all areas of our business more sustainable.

Last year, SIRO launched its first Sustainability Strategy, which we have published online, highlighting the actions and
initiatives we are taking to become a more sustainable company. Key aspects include switching the SIRO fleet to electric vehicles, waste and emission reductions, supporting biodiversity, and building a workplace which is diverse and inclusive.

In 2021, SIRO took the decision to fully convert our full fleet of vehicles from diesel to electric vehicles, as they were the biggest source of our company’s emissions. We aim to be fully electric by 2023. This transition is already having an impact.

In 2021, SIRO’s Scope 1 emissions fell by 29 per cent on 2020’s. The industry as a whole must fully integrate sustainability as a key priority in all business decision making processes. If something doesn’t enhance the lives of people, our communities and planet then it doesn’t have a place in your business.

In the construction industry, we also have a great opportunity to provide leadership and to push Ireland’s policymakers to accelerate the pace of change required for more sustainable construction in areas such as public procurement, digital adoption, training and upskilling, or enhanced building regulations.

Tara Grimley

Tara Grimley
Company Secretary, Cairn Homes plc

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do and we take action under the three pillars of ESG. For the environment, protecting biodiversity and reducing our carbon footprint are two key priorities for Cairn. Socially, we are committed to protecting our workforce in the broadest sense, incorporating a deep focus on exemplary health and safety standards including mental health.

Whilst good governance means we are held accountable by reporting our progress accurately, continuously monitoring our work, and looking for sustainable improvements to implement across our business. Our biodiversity policy influences our entire business from conception to completion and beyond.

Deeply detailed ecological surveys of our sites help us to meet our goals, in particular to achieve Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG). BNG is a robust and measurable approach to managing biodiversity – habitats are recorded and measured to create a tailored Biodiversity Action Plan to minimise impacts and optimise opportunities for new habitat creation. We are targeting BNG on 40 per cent of unit commencements by 2024.

Our first Light Gauge Steel buildings were commenced in 2021. The panelised off-site construction process is efficient, reducing waste. Steel is also more recyclable than timber or concrete, so the primary structure could be recycled and used again. Given Cairn’s unique position in the industry we can take advantage of our scale to further innovate with factory-made components in construction.

Our industry must continue to accurately track sustainability data, verifying the impact of our work. This is a process that will require diligence and patience. Paradoxically, we need to adopt an impatient mindset in our search for innovations that will help to decarbonise our sector.

Bríd O’Connell

Bríd O’Connell
CEO of Guaranteed Irish

Sustainability means supporting local businesses, buying locally produced products and services, while positively contributing to the local community. All of which is required to be awarded with the Guaranteed Irish licence. The Guaranteed Irish House initiative is the country’s first national digital listing of construction sector businesses based in Ireland.

The sustainable initiative offers architects, engineers, quantity surveyors and interior designers a listing of locally produced raw building materials and home furnishings for both private and commercial builds. The Guaranteed Irish House initiative encourages the use of shorter supply chains, aiming to support construction businesses in Ireland in reducing their carbon emissions.

We are currently designing a sustainability strategy, guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which will provide us with a guide in each of our pillars: jobs, community, provenance and the addition of a fourth pillar – environment. Construction businesses in Ireland can buy locally produced products and purchase from businesses that create impact in the community.

We encourage the construction sector to look out for sustainable credentials on products or services, such as the Guaranteed Irish symbol, before their purchasing decision.

Alasdair Henderson

Alasdair Henderson
Executive Director, BAM Ireland

BAM’s strategy ‘Building a sustainable tomorrow’ will enhance people’s lives by working closely with our clients and industry partners to identify new solutions that deliver environmental, economic, and social value. BAM is on a journey to become a net-positive company.

This means we are committed to reducing our impact on the earth’s climate and natural resources, as well as ensuring that our activities leave a lasting legacy for local communities. Our 160,000m2 New Children’s Hospital (NCH) is the largest public infrastructure project in the State. Sustainability elements include the glass biomes and panels that permit natural light throughout the building.

Another feature includes the Automatic Opening Glass Vents (AOVs) which enable natural light, ventilation and temperature control in the concourse area. Both these energy efficient systems will deliver a 60-70 per cent reduction in energy running costs. Also, the BAM Community Benefit Fund at NCH was launched in 2020, the fund will see €500,000 distributed over three years.

Grants are awarded to projects that focus on building stronger, greener communities. Our industry by its nature poses significant environmental impacts, but many opportunities exist to reduce them. BAM is embracing a circular approach to the way we design, construct and operate buildings, ensuring that waste and pollution are kept to a minimum across the life cycle of an asset and that materials can be reused on other schemes.

It’s not just about our own behaviours and actions. It’s about working with industry bodies to develop best practices and also supporting our clients, partners and end users to achieve their sustainability-related goals and embrace the circularity principles.

Alan Cawley

Alan Cawley
Senior Sustainability Manager, SISK Ireland & Europe

I have been in the Environmental and Sustainability field in construction for over 10 years and this is an area which has always interested me. In my current role I provide sustainability support to a wide range of Sisk projects across Ireland and Europe. I am also involved in developing and implementing our Sustainability strategy.

In 2020 we launched our 2030 Sustainability Roadmap – ‘Building Today, Caring for Tomorrow’ where we committed to being a Net Zero business by 2030. Our roadmap is committed to 21 stretch targets that are aligned to the UN SDGs. We have recently completed the first phase of Bonham Quay, The Alcantara, and The

Santiago in the docklands of Galway City. This modern, mixed-use development incorporates LEED Gold, Gold WELL Building Standard, BER A3 Rating, One Planet Living (OPL) and Wired Score Platinum. The overall development incorporates 92 per cent green space public realms, landscaped roof gardens, and is built and will operate to the principles of the OPL framework – bringing sustainability to life in communities and developments around the world.

By implementing OPL, this helps the businesses and organisations in Bonham Quay do good – good by people, good by place and good by planet. Our ambition is to lead in the industries in which we work, with the sustainable management of our operations throughout their entire life cycle, whilst upholding our core values and delivering excellence for our people and our planet.

To improve you have to look at what impacts you are having and what can you just change. Then you look at best practice and who is doing things well – from there you learn and collaborate. Adopting sustainable construction methods will reduce the industry’s impact on the environment.

Lorraine Fitzgerald

Lorraine Fitzgerald
Head of Sustainability, Glenveagh

I take a broad view of sustainability which encompasses environmental, social, economic and governance issues. To me, sustainability is about addressing societal needs in a way that protects our natural resources, is financially viable and is done in a way that is transparent and ethical.

Reflecting that within Glenveagh means embedding sustainability into all aspects of the business so that everyone can understand what sustainability means to them and what exactly is expected from them. We are well progressed on developing on our Net Zero strategy, which will map out how we aim to reduce our emissions across our value chain over the coming years.

We calculated our scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and published these in our 2021 annual report and are working right across the business to come up with innovative solutions to reduce these emissions. We have been investing prudently in taking greater control of our supply chain in recent years to help meet evolving customer needs and deliver quality, sustainable homes while controlling costs in the process.

This investment has taken the form of supply chain partnerships, investment in our own manufacturing capabilities and recently an acquisition. Controlling key components of the home building process allows us to evolve our product offering through innovation and have greater influence over the quality and environmental impact of our homes.

I believe the industry needs to collaborate and think creatively to address the sustainability challenges that we face. Partnership, research and the sharing of knowledge will be key within the sector as nobody can solve these issues working in silos.

Paul Monaghan

Paul Monaghan
Sustainability Manager, Mannok

We take a wider view of sustainability than what many may see as simply an environmental issue. Of course, environmental sustainability is critical for all of us, but we have embedded in our thinking a more holistic view of sustainability, which considers social and economic matters as well as environmental.

This is reflected in the three core pillars of our sustainability strategy, which are People, Planet and Partners. The development and launch of our Mannok 2030 Vision is an important milestone, and it outlines a series of 36 comprehensive targets to achieve by 2030. It signifies a firm commitment to sustainability, and highlights our focus on decarbonisation, particularly given the carbon intensive nature of cement production.

On the decarbonisation front, we’ve been working with an international group of experts to develop world first solutions. We’re very close to seeing that come to fruition and that is likely to have benefits for cement production globally. We’ve done a lot in relation to biodiversity, working with Ulster Wildlife to develop a very comprehensive Natural Assets Action Plans for our circa 2,000 acres of lands.

We’re also very proud of our Kestrel Cam initiative, which came about through our partnership with Queen’s University and Netwatch. We’ve been live streaming from inside the nest of a pair of breeding kestrels in one of our quarries to help raise awareness of the red listed species and support the research of the scientific community. It’s really been a firm favourite with customers and local schools in particular.

Decarbonistaion is, of course, an industry wide and global challenge, and that has to be a priority. For me, industry collaboration and innovation to advance new technologies, particularly in the alternative fuels space, will be key to success. The Irish industry can absolutely be leaders in this space and at Mannok we’re firmly committed to achieving that goal.

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