Construction leaders are missing easy opportunities to improve sustainability; let’s work together smarter to be greener

01 May 2023

By Richard Goffin, Port Director, South East Cluster at Peel Ports Group

Though the construction sector faces substantial disruption at present from economic and supply chain pressures – rising inflation, materials shortages and an increasingly stagnant residential market, to name a few – improving sustainability and achieving net-zero emissions remains a pivotal objective. Meaningful collaboration with the ports and logistics sector could hold the key to the construction sector achieving net-zero, as well as unlocking truly sustainable and scalable operations.

While the race to net-zero comes with its own set of challenges, I’ve witnessed first-hand a huge shift in attitudes to sustainability across the construction sector during my time heading up Peel Ports’ operations in the South East. Regulatory frameworks like BREEAM, as well as both public and private procurement processes increasingly requiring bidders to demonstrate strong ESG credentials, have catapulted sustainability to the forefront of agendas: decision-makers now understand that the short-term cost of investing in greener operations has long-term benefits, and that those who don’t invest now are certain to be left behind.

Such progress is undoubtedly making a difference, but it’s the companies that go beyond the changes they are obligated to make due to legislation and procurement demands – those who actively seek out and seize opportunities to do more – that will truly differentiate themselves and claim their place as leaders on the journey to decarbonise the sector.

One such opportunity, which in my experience the construction sector has been slower to act upon, is more meaningful collaborative working with the ports and logistics sector.

Ports and logistics companies have long been seen – and thus, treated – by the construction sector simply as passively facilitating the delivery of materials. While our function as an enabler to the construction sector has been, and continues to be, a vital one for us at Peel Ports, our position at the heart of the supply chain allows us to play a much more active, central role in such projects.

The proximity of port sites across the country to major national infrastructure projects – such as our London Medway site to the Lower Thames Crossing, and our Great Yarmouth site to Sizewell C – holds potentially huge benefits for construction contractors. Rather than using ports simply as a means of transporting high volume materials from one site to another, parts of port estates can be transformed into fully operational terminals and manufacturing facilities. In this instance the port site becomes a point of consolidation, eliminating the need to transport materials between multiple sites by road – a win-win for both efficiency and sustainability.

Stema, for example, operates terminals at both our Great Yarmouth and London Medway ports, from which it supplies aggregates and other building materials to a range of construction projects and building suppliers, including the A11 road upgrade. By Stema carrying out much of the work at the port site, the overall carbon footprint of that project is substantially reduced.

Contractors that are open to such collaborative working, and who implement it from the inception of a project, will reap the benefits of not only reduced road mileage (and therefore reduced carbon emissions), but also of knowledge transfer, shared best practice, new contacts and better-informed strategic thinking. I truly believe such joint ventures are the future of the construction and logistics sectors, and that working together in this way could be transformative for both sectors. Smaller companies in particular, that can’t easily absorb the cost of implementing ESG practices on their own, will benefit hugely from this kind of collaboration with logistics partners.

Competition is in the DNA of both the construction and logistics sectors, but achieving net-zero and, in the process, futureproofing our businesses, will only be achieved by recognising that we are working towards a common goal, coming together and joining forces to find the best, most efficient and most innovative solutions.