Setting the standard for supply chain emissions

As we are awarded level 2 of the of the Carbon Trust’s Supply Chain Standard our principal sustainability manager, Mike Cross, takes a look at how we have achieved it…

This summer has certainly been a scorcher. With wildfires in the Arctic Circle, deathly floods in Japan, and record temperatures across the globe, it’s getting harder and harder for people to ignore global warming.

At Willmott Dixon, we’ve long believed climate change is one of the biggest threats we face. And since the construction industry is responsible for a sizeable portion of the UK’s carbon emissions, over the last eight years we’ve been setting ourselves increasingly challenging reduction targets.

Progress has been made. We’ve moved to 100% clean, renewable energy to power our offices (and by the end of this year, all our sites as well). We’ve reduced our reliance on diesel generators on construction sites and we’ve offset our unavoidable emissions, to become the UK’s only carbon neutral contractor.

Focus on the supply chain

Since 2010, emissions relative to turnover are down by nearly 60%. But it pales into insignificance when you consider that a contractor’s emissions constitute 1% of those associated with construction of a building. The other 99% is down to the supply chain partners associated with the build – particularly transport, distribution and purchased goods and services.

Tackling supply chain emissions is the big priority for any business serious about reducing their environmental impact. But how do you reduce carbon emissions over which you have very little – or no – control?

This was the question we asked ourselves three years ago when, as one of only seven UK companies, we started work with The Carbon Trust to pioneer the world’s first standard for companies measuring, managing and reducing carbon emissions in their supply chain.

We started with fairly rigorous analysis, and found that groundworks and plastering were the highest impact areas. We then approached two of our top supply chain partners - McDermotts and TJL Plastering – who gamely agreed to be our guinea pigs. Over the following year, we used the knowledge we’d gained in our own journey, to measure these business’ carbon footprints, and identify how these might be addressed.

Many supply chain partners would have baulked at such a project. While we did much of the number crunching, we were reliant on McDermott’s and TJL to provide the data. But their cooperation has paid off. Through our combined efforts we’ve found ways in which they can significantly reduce emissions – and, as importantly in a sector renowned for its low margins – save up to 30% on their energy spend. This is yet another great example of how sustainable solutions also make sound business sense.

Cynics might point out that this was a lot of work to address the emissions of just two businesses. But this is just the beginning. Going forward, we’ll apply what we’ve learned to help many, many more of our supply chain partners.

This will be a massive challenge. But we’re starting from a good place. We’ve now established a proven, scalable methodology, and over the next two years, we will be engaging with many more of our supply chain partners, through workshops and other forums, encouraging them to use the methodology we have developed.

As a result of our work, we’ve achieved Level 2 of the Carbon Trust’s Supply Chain Standard. But it’s not just about the badge. SMEs make up around 90% of our supply chain. We need them to thrive, learn and grow, if we want them to deliver high quality work. It stands to reason that the more big contractors like Willmott Dixon can do the right thing in providing support and advice to the SMEs they rely on, the healthier and more resilient our industry will be.

You can find out more about the Standard here.