A smart approach to environmental reporting

16th May 2011


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IEMA

The environmentalist reports on construction company BAM UK's online environmental reporting tool

January 2010 saw the launch of BAM Construct UK’s online Sustainability Measurement and Reporting Tool, or BAM SMaRT. According to environment manager Charlie Law, it is the most comprehensive environmental reporting system in the construction industry.

The bespoke software application was developed to meet the unique sustainability needs of the company and can calculate, at any second, BAM’s carbon footprint, its waste and recycling performance and what amount of timber used on its construction sites is sustainable, as well as energy and water environmental outcomes.

Used by the company as a “one-stop shop” for reporting on environmental key performance indicators (KPIs), BAM SMaRT is based on the industry research body Building Research Establishment’s (BRE) well-established smart waste platform. BRE, as the preferred supplier, worked in partnership with BAM to design and build BAM SMaRT.

Going online

The passion of the senior management team for sustainability combined with the stricter environmental reporting requirements being established every year for the construction industry were key drivers for the development of a centralised, online system.

The company also wanted to record the increasing number of sustainability requirements now included in its projects, such as Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), BREEAM (Building Research Establishment (BRE) Environmental Assessment Method) scores and sustainable technologies.

In 2009, the company allocated a £30,000 budget to develop and launch the tool but ended up paying BRE just £20,000, an amount that BAM is well on its way to recouping through the considerable administrative savings made possible by BAM SMaRT.

“Previously, the information we recorded for waste, water, electricity and other environmental areas was put onto individual Excel spreadsheets, which was a laborious process,” says Law. “With the launch of BAM SMaRT, data entry at project and regional level takes less than a quarter of the time.”

Sites and offices simply enter waste production figures, and energy and water consumption, directly into the web portal and the information is instantly available to run reports. The new system also eliminates the need for sites to send in quarterly data returns for external reporting.

At the early research stage, BAM looked at a few different environmental reporting systems in use but found that none were construction-focused. The company was already familiar with BRE’s smart waste platform and, with waste production and recycling representing the most complex and heavily regulated environmental area, it made sense to base BAM’s own bespoke tool on an already tried and tested model.

BAM had already worked closely with WRAP and the Environment Agency to develop an industry-wide waste protocol, and was keen that the new system should also comply with those requirements. Even though BRE’s SMARTwaste programme was the starting point for the project, Law says that, in the end, the bespoke BAM product is very different, and even the web pages dealing with waste are significantly altered.

As well as meeting the growing range of environmental reporting requirements, a key aim was for the online tool to be reliable and user friendly. This was achieved by working closely with BRE throughout the project to create a tailor-made system for BAM that covered a wider range of areas besides waste production and recycling, including energy use (converted into CO2), water and timber use, and BREEAM and EPC ratings.

A project team involving key people from the environment team at BAM and others at BRE worked for more than a year to bring the project to fruition. Law and his team drew up detailed specifications on Excel spreadsheets to outline what they needed from the tool, and software specialists at BRE converted these into a web portal.

“Working in partnership with BRE has been a mutually beneficial process,” says Law. “We wanted to create a custom-made system for BAM but also want to help develop a standard for the industry.”

More concerned with having a system that delivers good, reliable data for itself and its regulators than having exclusive rights over it, BAM is more than happy for BRE to market the now completed tool to the wider industry.

Timely data

The homepage of BAM SMaRT has four vertical columns that hold up-to-the-minute data for the main reporting areas:

  • waste – construction waste (m3);
  • carbon dioxide – CO2 production (kg);
  • water – mains water use (m3); and
  • timber – percentage from sustainable sources and chain of custody information.

The dashboard shows all project data to date, broken down into BAM’s seven regions as well as two other business units, BAM Offices and BAM Plant. Central staff access all regions through this homepage, from where they can navigate to the readings for each region or for each current or completed project such as a school, hospital or college that BAM has built or is building.

There is one screen for each region or project from which the user can drill down into more detailed information within the four key areas. When a regional adviser, with responsibility for the environment, logs in, they will immediately be sent to the appropriate regional homepage, which is a project dashboard.

From there, the adviser can monitor any gaps in project data for the individual projects within that region, and chase up any missing data, such as an out-of-date water or electricity meter reading.

Traffic light indicators show whether data are up to date:

  • green – a green light means that data have been entered within the past 30 days;
  • orange – signals a warning that data have been entered within the past 60 days; and
  • red – no data have been entered in more than 60 days.

“We wanted a traffic light system so that we could see in one glance, at project, regional or national level, if any data are outstanding,” Law explains.

“Regional advisers are reviewing the project data within their areas daily and will follow up on any amber or red warnings: this is how we are able to assess real-time performance against our targets.”

The predetermined targets against which BAM’s performance is monitored are set nationally, based on historical data and averaged out across all the firm’s live projects. But at a project level, those responsible can either use the centrally allocated targets or set bespoke ones. The overarching aim is that targets are met on a regional basis rather than merely at a project level.

At a site level, one individual is typically responsible for inputting all the environmental data. The relevant environmental information will be gathered from the same sources as previously – for example, fuel data will be derived from fuel tickets from BAM and subcontractors, timber data from delivery tickets and electricity data from EDF (as supplier) energy reports, SMART meter readings and automatic meter reader data.

Putting the tool to use

About 500 people – one-fifth of the workforce – have some level of access to BAM SMaRT. While designated central users of the tool, such as the environment team and most directors, have access at a company, regional and site level, access is restricted to what is needed for other users.

There is also a “read only” access level – for example, for clients and BREEAM assessors to view figures and reports for their projects where required. Contractors will have access in future.

Functionality was a core priority for the new system. As Law comments: “We wanted the functionality for users, particularly those responsible for data entry, to be second to none.”

Because a prime focus was to make the task of data entry as smooth and speedy as possible at a site level, it does mean that regional advisers have more upfront data-entry work, for example setting up bespoke drop-down menus for most categories. There are defined lists of possible destinations for waste, bespoke to each project, for instance.

“Having a range of options to choose from when entering project data at a detailed level minimises the room for human error, and the system will also flash a warning if it thinks the wrong information has been inputted, such as if a person has accidentally stipulated that soil and stones are ‘construction’ waste as opposed to ‘excavation’ waste,” explains Law.

The frontloading of project-specific data has also speeded up the data entry process considerably. Law estimates that it takes someone less than one minute to enter the details for one waste entry. Laura Hatfield is BAM site secretary for the University of Strathclyde Biomedical project and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary intensive care unit. She is a huge fan of the new system, having seen a 75% reduction in the time it takes her to log data.

According to Law, BAM SMaRT is so user-friendly that day-to-day users have required a minimal level of training. Those responsible for inputting data at site level have generally received about two hours’ on-site training, with more support on hand if needed. A one-day training course was delivered to those with a greater level of responsibility for “frontloading” project data, such as BAM’s regional advisers.

On report

BAM SMaRT’s reporting function allows users to run reports using a range of different parameters. As well as performance reports charting progress against overarching environmental targets at a company or regional level, the system can produce detailed statistics – for example, the percentage of waste diverted from landfill between specific dates by region or the waste data related to a certain contractor.

Law says the tool’s reporting capability goes far beyond what was in place previously and allows reporting in a format requested by BAM’s clients, thus enhancing the level of service provided. It also provides the platform for the company to meet its carbon-reduction commitments.

The BAM SMaRT portal holds a wealth of detailed information that can be accessed at the touch of a keyboard. For example, on the legal compliance side for waste it is possible to search by carrier or facility or broker and the system holds scanned-in copies of the waste licences for all those used by the company.

The information BAM SMaRT holds forms part of the data sent by its licensed waste facilities to environmental regulators. The system is so integrated that it can also monitor other environmental KPIs, including timber sustainability and BREEAM scores.

All data relating to one project are held in one place and so, for example, EPC performance ratings and recommendations are detailed on the dashboard for each project, if applicable. It is also possible to download the EPC for each project on completion where it has been possible to obtain it from the client. Again, the traffic light system will indicate whether or not this is the case, with a green light indicating that a copy of the certificate has been obtained and held on the system.

While BAM SMaRT has the capability to calculate the environmental performance of the company, a region or a project in real time on a daily basis, there is a monthly reporting cycle to the BAM board. This regular monitoring report covers the main KPIs relating to energy, water, waste and timber.

Law converts these performance figures into monetary costs so that board members can appreciate the statistics in financial terms. A planned upgrade of the system will enable this conversion to be done at the click of a key rather than via Excel spreadsheets as is the case now.

Manifold benefits

The benefits of BAM SMaRT to the business are manifold. “I do believe we have the most comprehensive reporting system in the industry,” says Law. “It has taken our environmental reporting capability to a new level and means we can cross-check data using all sorts of different parameters.”

A primary goal that has been achieved, says Law, is that BAM now has reliable and timely data to pass on to its regulators. Because there is now such a tight, almost daily grip on monitoring environmental performance, the company’s environmental performance itself has improved, although more years of using the system need to be accrued before its true impact can be demonstrated.

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