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In the Spotlight: An interview with Craig Finn on the Net Zero Carbon agenda

Craig Finn argues the change in industry priorities as well as individual mindset is the key to achieving Net Zero Carbon. He also discusses the personal and business changes he has made to move towards this target.

Craig wants to see more adoption of low-carbon methods and technologies

What do you feel is the biggest challenge to the construction industry achieving Net Zero Carbon?

I think there are some serious industry blockers which are hampering progress towards NZC. My firm view is that procurement processes and limiting profit margins are at the heart of this.

With capital cost of projects remaining the dominant deciding feature in most procurement processes, NZC is treated as a ‘nice to have’. This presents a challenge because the current low/net zero carbon solution technology offering is not necessarily the most cost effective to construct. Enlightened customers have a drive for NZC, particularly in asset operation and this is a good thing. It drives us to design and construct high performing buildings that are efficient and low energy in use.

The Construction Playbook makes clear that sustainable solutions should be at the heart of public sector procurements, calling-on more impactful methods for embedding research and innovation through early supply chain engagements. This basically points towards more collaborative procurement processes which, in theory, should lead to improved project outcomes for whole life carbon.

The ongoing and continuous drive for procuring authorities to drive down costs at the expense of NZC solutions, has created a vicious circle, crippling profit margins and promoting a lack of R&D investment. Without investing in sustainable solutions and technologies, how can service providers satisfy the industry’s need for low and net-zero carbon solutions?

To break the cycle, procuring authorities should look to revolutionise their procurement models from first principles to drive fresh and positive behaviour within the industry. They also need to recognise that healthy and sustainable businesses need to be profitable to drive investment in the right areas. These being R&D, skills development and digital technologies.

What elements of business life have you changed in carbon reduction attempts?

We are keen to work with customers and supply chain partners with a vision for reducing carbon, especially where whole-life considerations can be built into the pre-construction process.

With a buoyant market comes choice and we’re selecting to partner with customers with a passion for sustainable development, promoting our journey in designing and delivering NZC assets.

Our supply chain is critical to our journey and we’re conscious that innovation and emerging technologies are more often driven by our specialists. Our internal procurement process and investment in design development promotes real potential to generate sustainable solutions.

As a team, we have also taken steps to reduce carbon. We have continued with online meetings to reduce the need to meet in person with associated travel (as part of our new group-wide Agile Working Framework) and we’ve made further advances in our Digital Transformation programme which has eliminated waste in processes and improved efficiencies. This has included some streamlining of legacy systems with adoption of more collaborative cloud-based portals.

What would be your personal tips to reduce carbon?

The pandemic has made me take a close look at how I travel. I currently divide my commute between cycling and use of an electric car, but I also use public transport where this can balance cost, comfort and carbon miles. I have moved my home energy supply to a more ethical provider that invests in renewable energy too.

We’re currently delivering Elshaw House for Sheffield City Council, a low-carbon office block with modern and flexible space across eight floors

If you had a magic wand and could change one thing right now to support NZC, what would it be and why?

From a business perspective, I’d want to fast-forward to see the adoption of low-carbon methods and technologies in construction. Carbon intensive products and site waste are huge features on our radar, but I think that the only way to make big strides to remove carbon in construction is to revolutionise the industry’s current set of ‘best practices’.

Related to this is a need to implicitly understand our carbon footprint in construction and this can really only be done proper through designing from first principles and through the earliest engagements with customers and supply chains.
Worldwide standards and consistency in carbon measurement on construction projects would be an amazing thing, but I’d be happy to see a UK version developed, shared and mandated as a starting point. There’s too many systems and options out there in the marketplace which has confused the issue.

Can you provide an example of where you have worked with customers and supply chain to support their carbon aspirations?

We’re currently on site now delivering Elshaw House for Sheffield City Council as part of their Heart of the City Masterplan. The low-carbon office block will provide modern and flexible space across eight floors. It’ll be a standout building surrounded in glass and striking dark metal.

We have just handed-over a purpose-built local authority works depot near Caenby Corner for West Lindsey District Council. It features Solar PV to the roof as well as electric car charging points to the car park and ground-source heat pumps to support the Council’s Net Zero Carbon ambitions.