It is easy to forget that not buying something at all is often the best way
One of my responsibilities when I worked for BAA was to buy the utilities. Although I had a wide range of responsibilities and quite a big team, this was something I took a big personal interest in.
It took several years to arrange contracts from seven airports to co-terminate and I took great pride in pitting my wits against the big six energy companies to get the best price available.
As the market liberalised I was able to enter the market to trade (the first big corporate to do so) and drove prices down to rock bottom. This made me pretty popular with my peers and superiors as even ten years ago the electricity bill topped £60m.
Waste and surplus materials reduce productivity, take up valuable space and contribute to health and safety risks
However, my message internally was different. I used to give presentations saying “the cheapest (and most sustainable) unit of electricity you will buy is the one you don’t buy at all”.
I would then cross the room to switch something off to demonstrate how easy this is to do. In our determination to enter the race to the bottom on prices it is easy to forget that not buying something at all is often the best way.
The construction industry does this too, where waste has a multiplication effect. Every time we order contingency quantities of materials or materials that need to be cut on site, we have paid for materials we are not using, furthermore, we are paying somebody to cut it, move it round the site and eventually we pay somebody to take it away in a skip and if they landfill it we pay the government for the privilege of doing so.
Waste and surplus materials reduce productivity, take up valuable space and contribute to health and safety risks. An untidy site is an unsafe site.
I was interested to hear a great example from Skanska on their Bart’s hospital site in London. They are installing thousands of luminaires, each of which comes with a lot of packaging and despite the excessive packaging and care taken on site, 10% of them arrive broken.
This means they need to dispose of a lot of packaging and broken lights, slowing down the work and costing money.
Shaun McCarthy is an independent adviser, author and speaker in the field of sustainable business policy and practice