Building blocks of sustainability

27th February 2015


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Paul Suff on how IEMA corporate membership is helping Skanska achieve a darker shade of green

Being a corporate member of IEMA is a demonstration that environment and sustainability are at the heart of the business. Construction business and sustainability leader Skanska is one firm that recognises the advantages of company-wide membership and is the first to become a corporate member since IEMA revamped its offering last year.

The firm has a clear vision for sustainability and a long tradition of “greening” its construction projects. Jennifer Clark, director of environment at Skanska UK, says sustainability is part of the ethos driving the Swedish firm. “We always try to influence clients and our suppliers to make sustainable decisions,” she explains. Clark believes IEMA corporate membership will help Skanska develop the skills and knowledge to achieve its environment and sustainability objectives and strengthen its leadership position. “It’s a very visible affirmation of our commitment to leadership on sustainability and helps set Skanska apart,” she says.

Going deeper

Clark has been with the company for 16 years and is a member of its strategic planning group, which is developing its 2020 vision. The UK arm of Skanska employs around 5,000 and Clark heads an environment team of 60. She describes the ratio of one environment professional to every 80 members of staff as healthy, citing the development of its “deep green” strategy in 2010 as key to raising the credibility of environment and sustainability professionals in the company. It also ensures that environmental awareness and competency filters throughout the workforce, across all levels of the organisation, and is not just top-down.

Deep green is the destination for a journey to a more sustainable future. It is supported by Skanska’s “colour palette”, a strategic framework and communication tool that measures and guides the company’s environmental performance as it travels to its desired journey’s end. The main image illustrates the three colours on the palette and defines what each means. It moves from “vanilla”, representing a project that complies with local laws, regulations, codes and standards, to deep green, for projects that achieve six “zero” impacts in terms of energy, carbon, materials and water.

“These are the four key areas where Skanska can have the most impact on creating a sustainable future,” says Clark. “There is nothing wrong with being vanilla, but we want to go beyond compliance into the green and deep green areas.” To do this, she explains, involves constructing buildings and projects that do not rely on energy from the grid and are self-sufficient, whether that is from geo-thermal piling or mounting photovoltaics on the roof; consuming zero mains water by installing rainwater harvesting systems, for example, and using no potable water during construction; using no hazardous or unsustainable materials; producing no waste; and achieving near zero carbon emissions during construction.

Spreading the knowledge

The deep green strategy is embedded in the business, including in how Skanska works with its suppliers and in the training and development its staff receive. “It’s part of the culture of the business,” says Clark. Skanska’s partnership with IEMA aims to assist in raising competence across the business.

The latest internal environmental training prospectus outlines 10 courses under the same vanilla, green and deep green colour scheme used to plot Skanska’s sustainability journey. “The courses aim to promote green leadership and competency across the business, and are designed to meet the requirements of our employees at any stage of their career,” says Clark.

The prospectus explains that vanilla training is in line with environmental legislation of the UK, local guidelines, practices and codes, while courses in the green category go beyond compliance issues and contribute to an employee’s professional development. IEMA’s foundation certificate in environmental management and the Institute’s managing with environmental sustainability course are included in the list of green courses. Deep green training, meanwhile, is considered the final stage of Skanska’s employee development. Courses under this banner include lifecycle costing, lifecycle assessment, sustainable procurement and a masterclass with Tony Juniper, a sustainability adviser and former executive director at Friends of the Earth.

Clark says the courses are open to all employees and reveals that the firm’s managing director, his team and the facilities team achieved the foundation certificate in environmental management by attending a four-day residential course. “We regard it as an overarching qualification, not just for environmental specialists,” she says.

There has been wide participation in other courses too, with staff in the finance function as well as the preconstruction bid teams attending the one on internal lifecycle-costing. Likewise, the non-operational environmental awareness training scheme has been popular among office-based staff. Popular too is its companion site environmental awareness training scheme, which helps staff with management and supervisory responsibilities on a construction site to understand the importance of environment issues.

One course, titled the deep green workshop, has been particularly useful for engaging staff on the company’s sustainability strategy. “It provides time away from the day job for directors, senior managers, designers and others to analyse projects, designs and processes against the colour palette,” says Clark.

Professional qualifications for environment practitioners are also being extensively pushed. As part of its corporate membership with IEMA, Skanska is asking every one of the 60-strong environment team who does not have it to achieve IEMA full membership (MIEMA) status by a specific date. “Too often people are too busy, so defer getting the qualification,” says Clark. “But doing it collectively means they can support each other. Skanska is paying upfront for this as we believe it will provide real value.”

Clark says Skanska is supporting the drive for MIEMA status because clients are increasingly demanding that suppliers have suitably qualified sustainability teams. One is Network Rail. the environmentalist reported in December 2014, that the Principal Contractor Licensing Standard used by the company’s infrastructure projects division sets out the level of competence and skill it expected of the environment managers and specialists employed by
its main contractors.

Environment manager Clare Day is already a full IEMA member and is now working towards becoming a chartered environmentalist. She highlights the professional and commercial benefits of CEnv status: “Becoming chartered is really important for my personal development and because Skanska is seeing more demand from its clients for chartered professionals to work on their projects. The qualification leads to confidence in competency and capability.”

Day also believes Skanska’s corporate membership will assist her and her colleagues achieve MIEMA or CEnv status: “It’s great that lots of my team are working towards qualifications at the same time. We’re keeping each other motivated as we go through the process.”

Skanska uses the IEMA skills map to advance technical skills and competencies, including leadership and communication, says Clark. “IEMA has a well-crafted career route that appeals to Skanska. The map helps identify strengths and areas of improvement, in conjunction with our internal people development programmes, to help our environmental professionals plan how to progress to full IEMA membership.” She adds that Skanska is now working with IEMA on how best to develop a companion skills map for non-environmental professionals.

Building on the outside

The other key dimension to Skanska’s ambition to embed sustainability is to spread knowledge among its supply chain, which is something Clark believes IEMA can help with. The company is a founding member of the construction industry’s Supply Chain Sustainability School, a common approach to developing sustainability competence among suppliers. It is a free resource available to any supplier, and has more than 7,000 members from 3,511 companies, 68% of which are small and medium-sized. The school is supported by 18 of the top 20 UK contractors and two major clients, National Grid and Grosvenor.

“The big UK construction companies tend to use the same suppliers, so it makes sense for us to work together to make the supply chain more sustainable,” says Clark. The school, which was established in 2012, consists of e-learning courses, case studies and training workshops to increase knowledge and competence in 10 key sustainability themes, from sustainable construction and environment management to biodiversity and climate change.

Participants can complete an anonymous sustainability self-assessment process to map their company’s sustainability strengths and weaknesses, and identify the areas in which it could develop competence. Clark reports an average increase of 4.29% in the assessment scores of suppliers’ competence in sustainability, and says that, by participating in training workshops, 1,194 delegates have so far increased their knowledge on specific sustainability-related issues.

“It’s about educating the whole industry,” says Clark, who hopes that training modules developed with IEMA will soon be added to the school system.

Skanska is determined to be the leading green project developer and contractor, and Clark believes the partnership with IEMA, particularly in helping to train its workforce in environment and sustainability skills, will help the construction firm achieve its goals. “Embedding environmental competency and skills makes Skanska an attractive employer, client and contractor,” she says.


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