Deep green? Or just vanilla?

Posted by Richard Wade on
Richard Wade, partner and head of Construction group, looks back at the final in the series of Construction Green Breakfasts held in our Oxford office.

"The Oxford spring series of Green Breakfasts came to an inspiring conclusion this week with Mike Putnam, President and CEO of Skanska UK taking a whistle-stop tour through his company's ongoing journey to "deep green".

Skanska is one of the world's leading construction groups and so when it 'walks the talk' in relation to sustainable construction, the rest of the industry tends to sit up and take note. Indeed, the issue of leadership was a key part of Mike's message. The built environment presents a massive opportunity to help the UK get near (or, dare we dream it, even hit) the (lets not forget) legally binding targets that the country is committed to in relation to emissions reduction. Indeed, it is not just emissions that form a key part of Skanska's green strategy; there are also significant improvements in terms of water and carbon use to be gained.

So what is the 'journey to deep green'? Skanska's mantra is that it wants to be the leading green developer and contractor, using a three-point agenda of social, environmental and economic issues. It has a series of global strategic indicators and, importantly, its plan has been to imbed its principles in the culture not just of the company but also of the people working within it, 24/7. In other words, it is not just looking to pay lip service to the green agenda but to make it a fundamental part of its people's daily lives. As Mike says, "because people think green they believe it."

The most striking tool that it uses to demonstrate this is its 'color palette' (an American concept, hence the iffy spelling). Projects that are 'vanilla' (ie at one end of the green spectrum) are merely achieving 'compliance'. However, a project that is 'deep green' (ie at the greenest level of the palette) is one that is 'future proofed' which means that both the construction process and the product’s performance have a near-zero impact on the environment, the priority areas being energy, carbon, materials and water.

Of course, one of the recurring issues that comes up at the Green Breakfasts (and in other similar meetings and discussions) is that of how such attitudes can work their way into what might be termed 'mainstream thinking' - in other words, how can 'deep green' projects become more regularly the standard way of doing things? Leaving aside the thorny issue of funding, the key, according to Mike Putnam, is leadership. He is in a good position to say and do this, not least given his role as co-chair (alongside Michael Fallon, the Energy Minister) of the Green Construction Board, which is working on a low carbon route map to help the UK try and hit its climate change targets. Appropriately enough, he ended the series on an upbeat note by stressing that, almost imperceptably, standards (and what is accepted as the 'norm') are improving, perhaps inevitably so. This must, however, be tempered by the reality that, on current projections, even if the UK construction industry does everything possible to 'green up' all this will do is play a part in helping the UK just about hit its targets.

Finally, watch this space for details of the autumn series of green breakfasts..."

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Photograph of Richard Wade

Richard heads Blake Morgan's Construction group. Specialising in construction law, Richard’s practice combines both non-contentious work and dispute resolution.

Richard Wade
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