What is sustainability and why does it matter to your organisation?

Sustainability in Construction 101 – Article 1:

Recent years have seen an increasing number of industries take proactive steps towards minimising their carbon footprint and reducing their environmental impact. The construction industry is no exception. We have seen a growing focus on environmental sustainability in construction as global and governmental targets loom ever closer.

Sustainability is a huge topic and can be a minefield of information. This can make taking the first steps on your sustainability journey challenging as it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming to cipher through all the material available.

Whilst we don’t claim to be sustainability experts, at THX we are on our own sustainability journey and have been learning all sorts of interesting information along the way. We thought it would be helpful to share some of this insight with our customers.


Therefore, we’re putting together a series of easily digestible articles to help you and your company on your own sustainability journey. Over the coming weeks and months we’ll be covering topics such as:

  • 1. What is sustainability and why does it matter to your business?
  • 2. Unpacking sustainability jargon – what do some of these terms actually mean?
  • 3. Taking your first steps on the sustainability journey – where to start?
  • 4. How to approach your sustainability strategy
  • 5. Sustainability in the workplace – little things do make a difference
  • 6. Sustainability and the importance of leadership
  • 7. What is ‘Greenwashing’ and how to avoid it?
  • 8. Looking to the Future


There is no doubt that ‘Sustainability’ is the industry buzzword of the moment. It remains high on the agenda and is not going away anytime soon. In fact, as global climate change deadlines hang over us, sustainability is only going to become an increasingly urgent issue for governments, organisations, and individuals alike.

In the first of a series of articles relating to sustainability in construction, we go back to the basics and look at the definition of sustainability, and what it means for you as part of the construction supply chain.

What is sustainability?

Essentially, sustainability is about taking into consideration environmental concerns whilst meeting the economic and developmental needs of today. The world needs to adopt sustainable practices that will help prevent irreparable damage to planet.

Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainability as defined by the United Nations Brundtland Report in 1987

It is important to note that whilst the environment is central to sustainable development, it is not the only area it concerns. Sustainability is usually broken down into three concepts, usually referred to as the ‘Three Pillars of Sustainability’:

  1. Environmental (planet)
  2. Economic (profit)
  3. Social (people)

Industries and organisations are committing to sustainable development practices and policies that support these three core sustainability concepts, with the purpose of having a positive impact in at least one, if not all, of these areas.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In any discussion about sustainability, it is useful to take a moment to look at the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) . This vital framework underpins most activities relating to sustainable development and ensures your organisational sustainability goals align with wider global goals.

With targets set for 2030, the UN SDGs are a set of 17 goals that work as a blueprint to “achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’, and include goals such as No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation, Responsible Consumption and Production, Sustainable Cities and Communities, and Gender Equality.

Most organisations will choose one or two of these SDG goals to focus on and develop their sustainability targets.  These are usually the goals most aligned with, or relevant to , their own business.

For example, THX’s sustainability goals align most closely with Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production and Goal 13: Climate Action.

  • Be Carbon Neutral by end of 2022
  • Reduce our use of single use plastic by 75% by the end of 2023
  • Be Net Zero Carbon by 2040

Sustainability in Construction

In 2019, the UK Government committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Construction is one of the core industries impacting carbon emissions globally and consequently there has been growing recognition that the construction industry plays a significant role in sustainable development.

The construction industry accounts for 36% worldwide energy usage  and 40% of CO2 emissions. This holds true in the UK too with the construction industry contributing to around 40% of its total carbon emissions. Therefore, construction plays a critical part in helping the UK meet its 2050 net zero target. In 2013 the Construction 2025 Strategy was published as a joint strategy from both the Government and the construction industry. Amongst other targets, one of its goals was to ensure 50% lower emissions by 2025.

Adoption of sustainable practices across the construction industry is challenging and not something that will be achieved overnight. However, you only need to look at the increase in client demand for greener buildings, sustainable construction materials and methods, and calls for sustainability across the supply chain, to see how things are changing and will continue to build in both momentum and urgency.

Why is sustainability important for your organisation?

Even if sustainability is not high on your agenda right now, you can be certain that its importance and urgency is intensifying. With an increasing focus on environmental impact, a growing number of clients are demanding a demonstrable commitment to sustainability throughout the supply chain.

1.Working with the UK’s leading Contractors

The growth in demand greener projects coming via clients are feeding directly into the policies of the main UK contractors such as Kier, Skanska, Winvic, and Balfour Beatty.  They will expect their subcontractors and wider supply chain to adhere to and support their safety, sustainability, and environmental procedures and policies.

Many of the large contractors use the Common Assessment Standard to filter sub-contractors. There are key questions directly relating to the environment. This impacts smaller suppliers too –  even if some questions are not mandatory, they are still advisory.  

For example, questions include:

  • Do you have a carbon emission reduction plan?
  • Does your company operate in accordance with any nationally or industry-recognised sustainability Standards, pledges, charters, or good/best practice guidance?

The Supply Chain Sustainability School

So important is building sustainability into the supply chain that several of the UK’s largest contractors, including Skanska, Kier, Morgan Sindall, VINCI Construction, Willmott Dixon, and Balfour Beatty, came together collaboratively to deliver training for suppliers and sub-contractors to help develop their sustainability knowledge and skills. They set up the Supply Chain Sustainability School with a mission to build a more sustainable supply chain in the UK Construction Industry.

They recognised that it is the supply chain who account for around 80% of total spend on a major construction project and therefore can have the greatest  influence on improving sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of the UK construction sector.

Being able to show you are aware of the importance of sustainability in the construction industry opens the door to working with the UK’s leading contractors.

2. Wider internal and external benefits for your organisation

Whilst taking your first steps to becoming a more sustainable business can at first seem challenging, reducing your environmental impact can have a positive knock-on effect on other areas of your organisation. For Example:

  • ESG. Showing a commitment to ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), can help enhance your reputation, enrich your brand image, and give you a competitive advantage over organisations who have yet to start on their sustainability journey.
  • Future proofing your business. As the UK Carbon Emissions targets get closer, sustainability is likely to drive new regulations and legislation for carbon emission reporting. The earlier you start measuring the easier it will be if these changes come into effect.
  • Cost savings. Having a more sustainable mindset may help you reduce some of your organisational costs. Energy efficiency can help reduce your energy bills, renewable energy technologies such as solar panels will generate cost savings in the long term. Workplace initiatives such as reducing waste, recycling materials, and going paperless can all help towards improving your bottom line.
  • Employee retention. Research shows that sustainability is important to employees. According to a recent study, 40% of workers are disappointed by the lack of effort and resources but into sustainability by their employer and 53% of the UK’s workforce say sustainability is an important factor when choosing a company to work for (shooting up to 67% for Generation Z).

We hope you have found this article informative. We look forward to sharing the next article in our series on sustainability in construction:

Further Reading:

Sustainability 101:

1. What is sustainability and why does it matter to your business?

2. Unpacking sustainability jargon – what do some of these terms actually mean?

3. Taking your first steps on the sustainability journey – where to start?

4. How to approach your sustainability strategy

5. How to introduce sustainability into construction workplaces: small changes, big impact.

6. Leading the way: The role of leadership in achieving sustainability in construction.

7. Understanding Greenwashing and how to avoid it.

8. Looking to the Future

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