Innovation netzero Ellis Fox Blog

What’s Driving Construction Innovation?

There’s little debate that leadership plays a vital role in business success. It’s not just about navigating operational challenges, or factors influencing the future of the industry, but looking for opportunities to leverage, even if they deviate from the normal way of operating.

Currently one of the most talked about topics is climate change and achieving net-zero. The UK government has set out ambitious plans for decarbonization across all industries while at the same time developing and improving infrastructure. Construction has an important role to play, but’s it’s going to require major change in operations and strategy if it is to be successful.

How are Construction Leaders innovating?

Rob Bradley, CEO of Bouygues recently announced that the company is targeting a 40% carbon reduction by 2030. An ambitious target that is going to require an innovative approach to achieve. He’s identified an opportunity that may take the company in a new direction – that of retrofitting existing buildings rather than demolishing and building new. This strategy may not have come about without a focus on finding ways to achieve net-zero, because traditionally this approach costs more. But making embedded carbon a priority, and with many office spaces standing empty, it’ll force innovation in terms of turning retrofitting into a profitable opportunity.

Similarly, new carbon emissions laws impacting diesel powered construction vehicles have forced contractors to start looking at alternatives. Kier and it’s JV partners working on HS2 are trialing the use of retrofitted hydrogen vehicles instead. Once again, this innovation may not have been implemented had there not been a leadership priority to find more ways to decarbonize.

Opportunities in retrofitting

A key principle of the circular economy is to use and repurpose resources that are already in the economy rather than use virgin resources. The HS2 trial has done this well. Instead of writing off diesel construction vehicles and buying new electric vehicles, they’ve extended the lifespan of existing construction vehicles by simply retrofitting hydrogen power rather than diesel. The additional benefit is running vehicles on a cleaner energy alternative, further reducing carbon emissions. The Bouygues strategy is similar. As a result of the pandemic there’s an abundance of commercial buildings standing empty. With most companies adopting a hybrid, flexible working policy, it’s unlikely the demand for office space will return to pre-pandemic levels. There’s already embedded carbon in the buildings and demand for urban housing exists. It’s a sound strategy. The challenge now is to enable innovation to make these profitable ventures.