Reflecting on sustainable construction

Reflecting on sustainable construction

Build, build, build! If the UK is hoping to build its way out of recession, what impact might that have on the environment and climate? A new generation of engineers will be holding industry to account.

Rosie Hudson, a Year 4 Engineering Design student, recently completed a summer internship at Qflow. They work with construction teams to enable them to track, manage and minimise their social and environmental impacts using a data driven approach. She told us about her time there.

Rosie Hudson

“Combining my interest in sustainability and the built environment, Qflow was the perfect choice for me.  Having previously worked for two large engineering consultancies, joining the 12-person startup was a new, exciting and refreshing experience. I worked remotely over the six-week internship because of COVID-19, but I was welcomed warmly by all of the team and had plenty of interaction with them. Another benefit of working for a small company was the chance to take on a larger amount of responsibility.

“My day to day work was overseen by Qflow’s CEO, Brittany Harris, a Bristol Civil Engineering graduate. She gave me steers on where to focus my work and advice when I needed it, but largely I was given the opportunity to be fairly autonomous with the output I produced. I chose to undertake some in-depth research into sustainability in the construction industry.

An ambition to build on

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Download Rosie’s articles from Qflow:-

“In 2019 the UK parliament passed legislation requiring ‘net-zero’ greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This means reducing emissions by 100 per cent relative to 1990 levels to end the UK contribution to climate change. The new law prompted a pledge of action from a group of architects, then a series of similar declarations from related professions, including civil and structural engineering. They fall under the banner of the Built Environment Declares movement, a growing global petition.

“At the end of June this year, a group of eight companies launched the Contractors Declare pledge. It recognises the climate and biodiversity emergency that the planet is facing and the fact that nearly 40 per cent of worldwide carbon emissions comes from building and construction. There are already 29 UK signatories. Those companies, and some of them are household names, have made commitments to become more carbon efficient, minimise waste, increase biodiversity and improve air quality.

From promise to practice

“Although the declaration is big on vision, it doesn’t include practical principles that signatories must implement. So there’s a gap between the industry-wide ambition to achieve net zero by 2050 and individual organisations having a clear plan to achieve that goal. To help companies tailor their own strategy, I took a look at some of the approaches already being taken and used them to come up with this road map that could be easily adopted and adapted:-

  • Clear staging – setting interim targets and milestone dates to review progress and break the process down into manageable chunks.
  • Alignment with business objectives – making sustainability part of the plan. Although less carbon means lower costs, it’s not a direct link. If teams don’t recognise the benefits, introducing internal financial incentives might help.
  • A process for funding – for example allocating budget to raise awareness of initiatives that contribute to zero carbon goals.
  • Engaging the supply chain – for example, offering training to suppliers and clients.
  • Transparency – clearly communicating the road map so all employees are on board and you get the recognition you deserve from potential customers and the wider public.

“My experience at Qflow has given me food for thought in terms of the companies I will be applying to for graduate positions, particularly the importance of the company culture.”

More information

Rosie was one of nine Bristol engineering students to be selected as inspiring future leaders by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).

Summer internships like Rosie’s are facilitated by the Industrial Liaison Office, a dedicated team that connects students with companies to enhance their employment prospects.

Main image credit: “Construction Site Reflections” by Anders Adermark.