Opinion

Editorial: We're at the centre of the new green focus

4 January 2010

CM Editor, Elaine Knutt

Ahead of the Copenhagen summit in December, green is definitely the colour of the season. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a steady flow of policy and voluntary measures that have increased our understanding of the carbon challenge and solutions.

Thanks to measures such as the Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM, and the efforts of the UK Green Building Council and the Construction Industry Council, we’ve seen a new consistency emerge in the debate.

The overall effect has been to push out “greenwash” and confusingly wide definitions of sustainability that tried to embrace everything from eco-diversity in the Amazon to Third World employment practices. Now there’s a new focus on measures that have a direct impact on carbon emissions: insulation and airtightness, ground and air source heating, thermal mass and triple glazing.

The difference in outlook is particularly striking when you consider the atmosphere that preceded the arrival of Part L 2006, and the far more ambitious targets arriving in Part L 2010. Then, we were obsessed with “pay-back periods” and fixated on the perceived extra costs of going green: now, clients and contractors are rightly focused on the cost of inaction.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go.

We don’t yet have a Code for Sustainable Buildings, our understanding of embodied carbon is still inadequate, and we’re working in an arena of continued recession, low margins and flat demand.

But construction does have many of the answers, and it’s now up to the CIOB and other representative bodies in the sector to get that message across. 

Green is also the colour of our first redesigned edition of CM, the first from new publisher Atom. Each issue will feature a different accent colour tying all the articles together. We hope the design is stylish but practical, with a blend of familiar elements and new innovations.

Just like the construction industry, we’re keen to continuously improve what we offer. If you have any comments on the new-look magazine, or suggestions about what you’d like to see in it or on the website, please email us at constructionmanager@atompublishing.co.uk.

Elaine Knutt, CM Editor

Feedback

When your face doesn’t fit, Mark Rawlings BSc

With reference to your October article on diversity, I have been in the construction industry all my working life. I started as an apprentice plumber when I was 16 and eventually became a professional bricklayer and proficient in other wet trades.

Following this I experienced a time of unemployment, but was lucky enough to get into Greenwich University to do a building surveying degree, receiving a  BSc honours degree in 2000, which I am very proud of.

I have been very busy for the last eight years. However, in my opinion my background has hindered my progress within the industry. I am not black or Asian. I am a white British man, a bit overweight, bald, tattooed with a south London accent. Great if you’re on site as a bricklayer, but not so good in the boardroom. I have experienced that I can get clerk of works jobs and condition survey work, but project management roles are a no-no. 

In my opinion employers are looking for 6ft, dark haired, well-groomed types with an Oxford degree, not the short fat bald comprehensive type with tattoos. Of course, they want to represent their company to the best of their abilities, but this discrimination is limiting the diversity of our industry in my opinion. 

I can normally tell if I have the job after shaking the interviewer’s hand. If your face fits is still the case in my experience. 

It’s time for change.

Discriminating against diabetes, Nigel Hunter Jones MCIOB

I must add “illness” to the discrimination list in construction. I have had insulin treated diabetes for over 20 years. But when I got a letter of acceptance for a job with a large contractor, it was withdrawn as soon as I put “well-controlled insulin-treated diabetic, treated at St Thomas Hospital” on the employment detail sheet. Since then I have not lost any days due to diabetes with other employers.

Underfloor heating snags, Dennis Green MCIOB

The CPD article on underfloor heating (CM October) was very interesting but your contributor did not mention any snags (well he wouldn’t, would he?).

In December 1963 I moved into a new house with underfloor heating that took advantage of the cheaper, night-time tariff. Brilliant – and great for the children who could play with their toys on a nice warm floor. 

However, the one snag was controlling the heat. In the spring, when to switch off? In the autumn, when to switch on? The concrete floor became one large storage heater that held the heat for several days. An open fire could give us some warmth in the autumn if we were hit by a sudden cold snap. But in the spring, with a sudden warm day the only answer was to open the windows.

So, Mr Ingram, has this problem been overcome?

More Ann Wright please, Mark Kane MCIOB

I have noticed a worrying trend with Construction Manager. The case notes section appears to be getting smaller with each publication. You should consider giving Ann Wright more space in the magazine as her construction law case notes have always been a must read in my opinion.

Ann always has the same space and will continue to write in our new-look CM – Ed

 

Illustration by Patrick Lewis

Vox pop

What impact will the OFT scandal have on public sector tendering?

I work with several public sector clients who have been phoning firms named by the OFT and demanding an explanation. The contractors all respond the same way – rather than admitting responsibility they blame it on someone else or on a subsidiary company. Clients are becoming more suspicious of what they already see as a corrupt industry, and firms can expect much closer scrutiny of their bidding information, and during the interview process, particularly on public sector jobs. 

The way contractors share information will have to change. I recently came across a project on which all the bidding contractors chipped in to pay for one QS to price up the job.

Peter Gracia, Gracia Consult


I’ve been reading in the press about Leeds City Council becoming the first client planning to sue contractors. From a clients’ perspective I’d say that suing is the worst kind of behaviour. The advice we give members is to try to work more collaboratively with your supply chains and avoid legal action or blacklisting offenders, which is counter-productive and could force us back to the dark days of lowest cost pricing for work.
Peter Cunningham, head of client group, Constructing Excellence

The fines will send a strong message to the industry that old ways of doing business are unacceptable in the modern environment.

 

Hopefully the after-effect will be to help eliminate the false markets we can end up with on some projects, where there’s only the illusion of competition. I can think of one major project where most main contractors didn’t want to bid because they knew one of their number already had it, but everyone still submitted bids. It was farcical.

I don’t think the contractors who were not fined can expect to win more work from their guilty competitors now either. Most clients will not change their approach to tendering and will not want to be seen as infringing anti-competitive law by discriminating against guilty contractors.

 

Michael Blackburne, partner, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain


Architects have to be very careful about what they can say to contractors in the bid process, and often we’re instructed not to. But if it means the contractor can’t test out a few alternative ideas, does that help the bid process? In some projects we’ve been instructed not to have any contact with the contractors at all until they’re at preferred bidder stage. Everything is left to the QSs – we produce the drawings, they go into a vacuum and six months later we’ve got a contractor. There are issues both about confidentiality and whether designers and contractors can liaise with each other in a fair environment, but often it’s resolved by saying we just can’t talk to them at all.

Roger Hawkins, director, Hawkins/Brown


The whole thing has created a lot of negativity throughout the industry. Word has got around that we need to be careful about who’s watching over our shoulders, and we need to keep our noses clean. The public already has a negative opinion of the industry as a whole, and this really isn’t adding to their confidence.

Philip Hall, managing director, Hall Construction


The lessons have been learnt and the guilty verdicts should deter other firms tempted by cover pricing. The fact the information has been made public should be humiliation enough for offenders and it will undoubtedly impact on levels of trust in their business relationships.

Emma Nicholson, senior project manager, Stace


This type of negative publicity has done immeasurable damage to the building trade at a time when we should be publicising the vast number of opportunities and exciting careers available in construction. The UK construction sector should be playing on the international stage, not stuck with the stigma of national sleaze.

John Gray, chairman, Diamond Build

 

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