06 May 2021
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Following the huge success of the first online summit in October 2020, we held our next digital event – Construction Leaders' Summit: Building for the Future – on 21 and 22 April. The quality of speakers for the event was second to none, and the themes of the presentations and panel sessions were brilliant. In this article, I summarise the key themes and topics from across the two days, with manufacturers in mind.

1. The Government’s intensions

The opening keynote speech was delivered by the Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, the current UK Construction Minister. Trevelyan covered an overview of the Government’s intentions, the challenges faced by the industry over the past 12 months and the challenges that lie ahead, and said: “While the sector continues to be impacted by the economic impacts of COVID, it's worth highlighting that it was one of the few sectors that remained operational throughout lockdown – the sector is a core pillar to the UK's economic recovery."

This statement notes that the industry is vital in providing a solution to the country’s economic recovery. This will be achieved by utilising modern solutions (including off-site construction and digital tech) which have so far enabled the industry to stay afloat, continue to improve and bounce back. Trevelyan also addressed the fact that the industry is under extreme pressure to address climate change.

The keynote speech of Simon Rawlinson (from Arcadis and the Construction Leadership Council) followed, with the main focus of his presentation being on the principles from both ‘The Green Book’ and ‘The Construction Playbook’. The latter calls for earlier engagement with the supply chain to provide outcome-based specifications. The key topics that our keynote speakers discussed were echoed throughout the event. The three themes that struck a chord with me most were ‘sustainability’ (foremost), ‘safety’ and ‘solutions’, which were thought-provoking and discussed in great depth.

2. Sustainability

With the focus moving from Brexit and the pandemic, there now seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Following the intense lockdowns and successful vaccination programme, climate change is at the forefront once again. The subject has been a critical focus for the past decade; however, we are now at a crucial time to act or risk consequences.

Gary Clark, Chair of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group and Principal at HOK, delivered a profound presentation about the industry's position, and the targets that it needs to meet to become more sustainable. Gary explained: "We are currently generating 40 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, and the earth can only absorb half of that, and the UK’s built environment is responsible for 40% of those emissions. We need to act now, and we need to act fast!”

Gary also discussed the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge, and explained the vast demands placed on specifiers to meet the sustainability targets. These have a clear impact on manufacturers of construction products, who contribute to climate change in a big way. The specifiers who select manufacturers’ products will be looking for information such as embodied and whole life carbon, VOCs, and recycled content. Sustainability information from manufacturers has shifted from a 'good-to-have' feature to a ‘must-have’ component. These words were echoed by Taleen Josefsson from Chetwoods Architects in one of the panel sessions: Taleen called for “greater transparency from manufacturers; not just in respect to the material content of products, but also how the business operates”. There are other benefits that sustainability can bring to manufacturers, and this is covered in an article that I recently wrote: From green to gold – how sustainability can help boost sales.

3. Safety

The issues that our industry has faced regarding safe design and construction of buildings are still a clear focus. Anne-Marie Trevelyan noted that the Building Safety Bill would be implemented in stages as individual aspects are approved. This will bring forward regulatory change in a shorter period than the initial proposal of 2023.

Rebecca Thompson from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government discussed the ‘Golden Thread’ and how it will be implemented: "The Golden Thread is the information that allows you to understand the building and the steps needed to keep both the building and people safe, now and in the future."

In the same session, Johnny Furlong from L&Q (the UK's largest social housing operator) explained that his organisation is continuing to focus on safety; however, "a cultural change needs to happen, and that takes time". For construction product manufacturers, this brings an opportunity, in that the data surrounding their products and systems is fundamental for the Golden Thread to happen, and for the industry to change efficiently.

In respect to manufacturers’ product information, one of the most anticipated presentations from the event was from Adam Turk, Chair of the Construction Product Association’s ‘Marketing Integrity Group’. Adam discussed the forthcoming Code for Construction Product Information (CCPI). The CCPI draft was circulated earlier this year, following development throughout 2020 and after robust research the year prior. Consultation on the proposed CCPI ended in March this year, and Adam noted that the working groups are now busy getting ready for release as early as June this year. For construction product manufacturers, the CCPI offers the opportunity to demonstrate that information relating to their products is clear, unambiguous and easy to access. Adam noted: “As manufacturers, we have to stand in the shoes of our customers and create information that can be relied upon.” The Code is a not-for-profit project, and will assist with building safer buildings. With the UK Government in full support of this move, manufacturers need to take note and embrace this positive change.

4. Solutions

Digital acceleration following the pandemic was another key theme across the two days. The lockdowns have seen a rapid increase in the use of digital technologies to allow our industry to continue to operate. Whilst change has been happening, COVID-19 has had a positive impact: speeding up the modernisation of construction.

NBS’ very own Dr Stephen Hamil explained that “We need to get away from decisions made in emails and telephone calls to decisions captured in shared spaces and platforms." This refers to the improved efficiency and risk mitigation that digital technology can bring to projects, removing unnecessary delay and miscommunication. Simon Rawlinson also noted that: “Focusing on technology and process means higher quality, more certainty around delivery and clear metrics on sustainability.”

Another key subject from the event: how going digital is helping is off-site construction. We heard from Jaimie Johnson from Bryden Wood, and Matt Hallissey from TopHat (the Goldman Sachs-backed modular housing builder). As well as the digital impact, Matt also referred back to the cultural shift needed in the industry, which off-site construction is helping to overcome: “People will have different outlooks and ways of talking, from manufacturers through to architects, so we must learn to bridge those cultural divides too to continue to move forward."

Christian Baker-Smith from Access 360 delivered a follow-on presentation linking to this, where he discussed how Access 360 uses NBS Chorus and RIBA CPD to provide outcome-based specifications, and has seen remarkable results.

Summary

Overall, the most notable takeaway from the event was how all the themes connect to one another. We need to do more as an industry to improve safety and build sustainably. Whilst a cultural shift is required (and we can see that is starting to happen), there are also solutions such as digital technologies that can help manufacturers and their clients to make a difference today.

Get in touch

NBS provides digital solutions for the construction sector. For manufacturers, we help thousands of clients improve their digital presence and gain more specifications through our integrated platforms – NBS Source and NBS Chorus. If you would like to know more information, and understand how we can help you address the topics discussed during the Construction Leaders' Summit, please email us at manufacturers@thenbs.com.