Sharing ideas around sustainability, off-site technology and other innovations could help the industry to thrive after Brexit

Mike Chaldecott

Collaboration has helped the automotive and aeronautical industries grow and improve. It is also essential to grow and improve our industry. It’s up to the industry to stimulate change if we are to compete in the global market and demonstrate true innovation in our field.  In order to kick start this, we need clarity as soon as possible to give confidence to the sector through this period of change. 

In particular, Building’s Manifesto pledge, ‘Construction companies will co-operate and share ideas around off-site technology and other innovations’, strikes a chord with me, as it mirrors what we’ve been championing for many years as a company, so it’s encouraging to see that so many industry leaders feel the same.

Globally, Saint-Gobain spends over £350m every year on R&D and employs 3,500 researchers, so we understand the value that investment can bring to keep the industry moving forward. 

The government currently spends just 1% on R&D, which is far from sufficient to position the UK construction sector as innovative and forward thinking. If we are to compete with other leading countries, we need to take invest more in R&D and embrace innovative methods and technologies. With the existing spend as it is, our sector needs to share ideas to allow capitalise much more on the benefit of R&D across the sector and beyond, from other sectors.

That is why I’m pleased to be leading the Construction Leadership Council’s (CLC) Innovation in Buildings workstream, which focuses on embedding innovative construction techniques to improve productivity and capacity, as well as quality of buildings. By bringing together industry, academia and government, we have identified the barriers we need to overcome, helping to form a collaborative plan of action for an increased use of smart construction.

If we can lead the way in using modern methods of construction, we can lead in exporting technology and construction solutions, as well as skills, to other markets and countries. But the industry can’t work alone. The success of the CLC shows that we need this kind of commitment from the government, as industry-led bodies can play a pivotal role in helping to deliver increased levels of smart construction methods, but this will require significant investment over the next couple of years.

It is equally as important for Saint-Gobain and other companies within the supply chain to invest in appropriate manufacturing, distribution and innovation in the UK – the end goal being to deliver quality housing, schools and healthcare facilities for all the UK population.

Not only is collaboration crucial to our success, but there also needs to be a maintained focus on the sustainability agenda. This includes, but isn’t limited to: climate change actions, resource efficiency via a move to a circular economy, requirement for environmental and product footprinting, focus on energy performance, and health and wellbeing in buildings.

Much of our energy and environmental policy comes from the EU and we are concerned that the long-term drive for improvement in these areas – we believe strongly that there is much benefit to be gained from long-term stable policy affecting business growth, strategy and investment in businesses like our own.

There is so much already in our industry to build on, learn from and support – it’s an exciting time for the industry, with an enormous opportunity and responsibility and we’re ready for the challenge.

Mike Chaldecott is general delegate and regional managing director for construction products, UK & Ireland at Saint-Gobain