Balfour Beatty: ‘The supply chain wants carbon clarity’

Carbon emissions being reduced
Image: 219963543 © Nicoelnino |
The construction supply chain needs clarity on carbon measurement to reach net zero targets. That’s the key finding from a survey conducted by Balfour Beatty and the Supply Chain Sustainability School (SCSS).

Balfour and the SCSS jointly undertook a survey of 270 members of the supply chain in August, September and October 2022. This included companies of all sizes, based across England, Ireland and Wales, with a separate survey carried out in Scotland.

Respondents highlighted the bureaucracy surrounding data collection and reporting. Many of the respondents highlighted that they are asked for the same data in multiple different formats, which can act as a distraction to their businesses.

Some questioned the value of the time they spend cutting the same data into these different submissions, some for contractors working on the same scheme with the same ultimate customer.

Supply chain feedback

Karen Hills, head of carbon and sustainability programme at Atkins Global, said: “What ‘good’ looks like is not necessarily clear. Sometimes it’s sufficient to tick a box saying we have a carbon reduction target and other times clients want more. Some desire PAS 2080 certification, others evidence of science-based targets and detailed carbon reduction plans. While we are addressing all of these, standard reporting and data formats would be helpful.”

Ashley Bell, head of HSQEP at Polypipe, added: “We have 6,500 products, so to get an Environmental Product Declaration for each one will take time. And then we don’t know whether the information being asked for is useful.

“Sometimes we’re asked for the same information for different companies working on the same job, but in different formats. Are they using the data or filing it away? If all the Tier 1 [contractor]s were to agree to ask for the same information in the same format, that consistency would really help and would allow us to focus our energy elsewhere.”

Green skills shortage

Survey respondents also reported a skills shortage as a blocker to achieving net zero. Some 96% of the survey respondents said they are experiencing a shortfall in access to skilled people in the construction sector to meet net zero by 2050.

Hills at Atkins said: “Experienced carbon professionals are really hard to come by and there’s huge competition in the market. We are developing a Carbon Academy to upskill staff and widen carbon capability. We then hope to share access to this resource with clients and other partners.”

Andy Regan, director of major projects and earth solutions at GRS Roadstone, added: “There’s definitely a skills shortage in roles relevant to sustainability in the broadest sense. Engaging with the Supply Chain Sustainability School, of which we’re a partner, is one of the ways we’re showing commitment to the agenda and making sure we have access to resources and information. Having someone who can measure and monitor carbon and can do something about that will be a priority going forward, but we’re not there yet.”

Collaboration necessary

Furthermore, a call for collaboration across the supply chain was clear, even to the point of ignoring competition.

“A massive thing for the supply chain itself is the collaboration piece. We can’t do some of this as single companies because the problems are too big and the possible solutions too expensive. And, in a way, it isn’t efficient for us all to be trialling the same things,” said Katie Atherton, environment and sustainability manager at structural steel engineer William Hare. “We need to drop the competitor barrier just in terms of sustainability – we’re all edging towards the same thing. It would make more sense if we did it together.”

Balfour’s analysis of its reliance on its supply chain highlights the necessity of engaging it in achieving net zero. In the UK, Balfour has a supply chain of around 12,500 businesses. They include large multinational companies, micro businesses and social enterprises. Balfour spends two-thirds of its revenue procuring goods and services from its supply chain. Indeed, in 2020, its UK net spend with those businesses was more than £2.7bn. Balfour’s supply chain generates approximately 80% of the group’s carbon emissions.

Piviotal role

In conclusion, Jo Gilroy, group director of sustainability at Balfour Beatty, and Shaun McCarthay OBE, chair of the SCSS, said: “Overall, the clear view from this survey is that the construction supply chain recognises the pivotal role it plays in addressing climate change and is stepping up. But there are several areas where it needs more support.

“Our hope is that by sharing the results of this survey freely across the sector and using them to shape our own approaches, we will help to ensure that the whole sector can move forward more quickly to achieving net zero.”

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