Ecologically Rethinking Construction

Jonathan Dawson, head of economics at Schumacher College, writing on Guardian Sustainable Business asked “How do we redesign a new economic theory framed by ecological systems?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA question we need to ask and start addressing within the built environment.

We are seeing a new vocabulary emerging with concepts such as biomimicry, zero or net energy, water and environmental impact, Living Buildings, biophillia, circular economy … and more … As the interest and importance of these concepts influence in the way we design, build and use buildings, do we need a new paradigm?  Some 15 years after Egan, do we need to again rethink construction to address these emergent sustainability themes. approaches and skills that once again the sector is lacking, engaging the economists, surveyors and accountants? As Jonathan Dawson comments:

Ecology offers the insight that the economy is best understood as a complex adaptive system, more a garden to be lovingly observed and tended than a machine to be regulated by mathematically calculable formulae.

A comment that makes a nice resonance with the Living Building Challenge philosophy

And of course a key element in this new thinking is the internet, web 2.0 and the power of social media.

Enabled by the growing power of information technology, whole new ways of doing business and organising society are emerging, whose strength lies not in economies of scale but in economies of co-operation and symbiosis

Over the weekend , via twitter I caught a slide via Rachel Armstrong illustrating the difference and need to move from 20th century Cartesian or Newtonian thinking into 21st complexity, emergent thinking …

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Jonathan Dawson: “This moment of history calls on us to rewrite the dictionary and create new stories, much as the generations following on from Copernicus did to reflect the new world-view that emerged from his astronomical insights”

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3 R’s for rethinking built environment sustainability

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Its over ten years since rethinking construction became the driving force for improving the construction industry. Back then, in 1998, sustainability wasn’t on the agenda for many construction organisations, and didnt feature in Egans influential report.

Now at the close of 2012, it is of course one of the key challenges for construction.

But is it now just a ‘must do, tick box’ matter, rather than a real agenda for improving, reducing costs and reducing our impact?

Earth2.0 Hub in an excellent blog post ( The Future of Business – inspired by and in harmony with nature.) provides a framework and the language of 3 R’s for future businesses working in harmony with the earth .  And its a framework we should learn from, borrow, adopt or adapt  at project and business level in rethinking built environment sustainability; Re-Design, Re-Connect and Re-Kindle.

Re-Design. Not only design of buildings, but to re-design the way we build. No longer are transactional efforts (reducing waste, conserving energy and recycling) enough.

How?: Take a look at Cradle to Cradle thinking, Circular Economy, Designing out toxic materialsDesigning out Landfill

Re-Connect. Time to rethink our relationship with nature. However just including nature as a natural capital to be costed is not meaningful approach. We need a relationship that is deeper, that is deep green thinking.

How?: take a look at Living Building Challenge – what if every building, like a flower, contributed to its environment. Or the One Planet Living ten principles

Re-Kindle. Time to rekindle the sustainability debate – moving away from the negative, harassment to doing less bad, to encouraging a move towards a positive new world of doing more good,  better. Resilience.

How?: Learning and benchmarking from other industries and sectors, for example Patagonia, or closer to the built environment, Interface Flooring

This blog, since 2005, has had as a tagline built environment improvement and its connectivity to the natural world . Since then, it has been a core philosophy within fairsnape.

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Since 2005 we have organised and facilitated benchmarkwalks, discussing sustainability issues , across and within sectors, whilst walking in the natural environment. Rather than in the conference of training room. You would be amazed how diffierent, how green, sustainability discussions when conducted in the great outdoors. Try it !

Cradle to Cradle, Circular Economy, Healthy Products Standard, Designing Out Landfill , Interface UK, and the UK Living Building Challenge all featured in our #GVis2012. Green Vision Conference in Leeds on the 12 Dec 2012.

>>> See Green Vision event material, links, blogs and more here  <<<<

<<< Read the Cradle to Cradle tweetchat transcript here <<<

The Living Building Challenge UK Collaborative will be ‘launched’ at this event on the 12th.

And, Cradle to Cradle is the book-topic for our Dec #GVisChat tweetchat on Dec 10th at 8pm.

rethinking construction still requires massive system change …


Collaborative working champion colleague Henry Loo posted the comment below in response to my recent posts on rethinking Egan.  This short response article is so spot on, going to the heart of the matter I have elevated it to a full post to give it more prominence.  Thanks Henry.

Egan didn’t emphasis one important pre-requisit to his message: to deliver the kind of vision he is talking about require a massive system change.

When we went to Japan last November, we saw how Takeneka, Shimizu and Kajima successfully translated the efficiencies that Egan was talking about in Rethinking Construction from manufacturing into construction. It was just like the book.
Their critical success factor was the ability to combine Design and Construction operation as seamlessly as possible.
In UK, we can’t possibly deliver that level of success because of the steep Consultancy/Contracting divide, and until such time that we can successfully come up with a breed of people under one organisation that can do both successfully together, we would never be able to deliver Egan. This goes straight to the heart of Lean Thinking because no matter how hard to try to squeeze out waste, the inherent system is not design to be efficient in the first instance (type 1 Muda is inhibiting efficiency!)
The car industry is efficient because it is output driven.

The construction industry is still inherently input driven – note when a client needs a building, rarely can he go directly to a prime contractor and gets everything under one roof; whereas that is exactly what you do in buying a car! note when a Japanese manufacturer needs a new plant, they go straight to Takenaka and Takeneka can wheel out in chapter and verse what a modern manufacturing plant would look like and reasonably accurately forecast productivity based on their research activities gathered worldwide.

Kajima spend over £200million on R&D last year, 4.5% of its annual turnover. They see R&D as their USP & innovation is where the future of their business lies. No innovation=no future. Little wonder why Egan’s vision is still less than half way?

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time to re-read rethink construction…again

Following my post yesterday and having had chance to read the transcript of Egans speech on 10 years of rethinking, I am convinced that this is a must read for all in the construction, and indeed in the built environment, to understand What the report set out to do?; What’s going wrong?; and how do we fix it?.

I am sure Egans comments will be picked up and discussed by many in the UK built environment blogging fraternity,  giving a wider view – for example take look at Mel’s comments over at Elemental

Egan cites the successes within the demonstration projects, producing some 20-30% cost savings.  In addition I am aware of and work with projects that have achieved similar benefits that are not demonstration projects. Yet for many the understanding of Egan, the Rethinking Construction report and targets just isn’t there. KPI’s derived from the Egan Report are seen as a nusaince, something to get through for bidding, rather than used or real improvement.  At mosts events and training sessions I lead I have to distribute copies of Rethinking Construction.  (A copy can be downloaded through the documents link on the left hand side panel on this page)

Egan’s recommendation for the future is to … go back and read Rethinking Construction and try and get it right second time around.  The key for me, ever since first reading back in 1998 (although I must admit to providing some input, albeit remotely) was in the title Rethinking Construction.  And I think ever since I have used the Einstein quotation of not being able to solve todays problems with the pattern of thought that created them. Those that have embraced new patterns of thought with in the industry are those who see benefits in winning work, in profit and in working conditions generally.  Those who haven’t still fight for work in competion on lowest cost, (ie on lowest profit) struggle to make margins and profits and generally have a hard time of it.

Egan on productivity:

The activity rate on a building site is still probably I guess no better than 30-odd per cent, and yet 60-odd per cent is quite easily attainable with good pre-planning and having everything available when you want it on the site.

Egan on lowest cost

I think lowest cost tendering (and I think the government is absolutely the culprit here, they were very bad as the main buyer of projects, still buying the education department with lower cost tendering) is absolutely ridiculous.

Egan on collaboartive working:

And the point to remember is that it’s a team that does it – a designer, a construction team a supply chain and so on. Working hard together they can produce a good cost. But they can’t do it if they work separately. And lowest cost tendering starts them off as separate groups.

And on how to fix it:

So, I think if anybody wants to know how to reduce the cost of what they do a lot, they could read the ‘Rethinking Construction’ report all over again. Any of the steps you miss out will cost you. I think if you don’t do all of the steps you’ll fail. But in the mean time, I think there should be the concept of two teams of target costs with plus or minus 15% gained or pained between the client and the industry, and perhaps then we might start seeing some real improvements.

egan: four out of ten for effort

As reported on Building today, Sir John Egan Author of Rethinking Construction speaking at a reception at the House of Commons to mark 10 years since the publication of his report said he would rate the construction industry’s performance since as “four out of 10”.

Egan particularly criticised housebuilders for failing to follow the guidelines laid down in his report. “[Housebuilders] have made no cost improvements at all. Absolutely nothing. Also, their productivity processes actually generated much less than half of the demonstration projects.”

“I just don’t think they were trying. In this ‘nice decade’, as the Bank of England called it, they really didn’t try. And now they’ve got their comeuppance. It’s very, very sad.”

Egan said that housebuilders could have made progress with simple productivity and design improvements and more off-site building. “the houses could be costing a great deal less than they do, and there would still be a market.”

Egan went on to say that the government was partly to blame for “not trying” to be a good client in its construction projects.

Summing up the lasting impact of the report, Egan said: “We have to say we’ve got pretty patchy results. And certainly nowhere near the improvement we could have achieved, or that I expected to achieve.”

I would concur with Egan on this one, with some very successful exceptions, the principles and targets set by the Rethinking Construction report have not been understood or adopted let alone met. Many in the industry are not even aware of these targets. It continues to amaze me the lack of knowledge, in some cases of the existence, of the Egan report, across the industry and in education.

With a score of four, questions must surely be asked of the effectiveness of the organisations established, with government funds, to deliver Rethinking Construction.

rethinking construction – ten years after

From Constructing Excellence:

Reviewing change in the UK construction industry and the next ten years, your chance to shape the future of the industry by learning from the past

CE are reviewing the last ten years of improvement and its impact, kick-started by John Egan‘s landmark report – Rethinking Construction – and before that the Latham Report – Constructing the Team, llooking forward to the next ten years as well, and seek your views as an opinion former in the UK construction sector.  Looking for your views, on how the projects you work on have changed over the last decade or so and what you think the drivers for change are, or should be, for the future.

We aim to discover what has been achieved; who has benefited, and how; and what now needs to change. Our findings will form part of the basis for a major new industry report which seeks to set the agenda for the next ten years, so in completing this survey you will be helping to set the future agenda. The survey can be found at: http://www.constructingexcellence.org.uk/survey/EganPlus10.jsp

You can register at the end of the survey to receive a copy of the report, so you can see how its findings may affect you and your company in the future. Thank you in advance for your help, in enabling us to continue the process of improvement essential for the future prosperity of the UK built environment sector.