Nonsense to believe self-regulation will work, says campaigner, warning of tougher legislation ahead.
GREEN campaigner Jonathon Porritt this week issued a "change or die" warning to construction companies over their lacklustre approach to environmental targets.

Porritt, speaking at a conference on Sustainable Construction co-sponsored by Building in Birmingham on Monday, said construction had all but ignored green issues.

Addressing about 300 contractors, clients and consultants, Forum for the Future director Porritt also called on the government to prove it was committed to the green agenda.

The conference came up with a series of initiatives, and the Construction Confederation is now pushing for a contractor/government ginger group to promote green issues.

To be headed by Laing chairman Sir Martin Laing and DETR construction director John Hobson, the group will announce recommendations during April's National Construction Week.

But Porritt told confederation members that they had little to crow about.

He said: "The crude, redneck 'bottom-liners' who tell you the sole purpose of their company is to improve the profit, the return to shareholders, are getting rarer in the UK.

"But the construction industry has an impressive ability to ignore the environmental writing on the wall, even when it is staring at them in bright green letters.

"The client and financial sector have to face up to this, too. I don't particularly admire people who make money, but I feel total admiration for people who live up to their environmental responsibilities and make money."

Construction has an impressive ability to ignore the environmental writing on the wall

Jonathon Porritt

Porritt said he believed that government was committed to strengthening green legislation – and did so in this month's budget – and said it was nonsense to believe that self-regulation would work. He said: "The bedrock for the future will be provided by good, intelligent regulation." He also warned that local authorities planned to stamp out environmental bad practice.

The City, too, was also attaching more importance to the environmental, social and economic impact of companies, he said.

Delegates split into workshops to discuss remedies that might start to satisfy critics such as Porritt. One group attempting to define exactly what sustainable construction was, and how to promote it, called for a demonstration project to be set up with clients. It also called for a working group to be established to define whole-life costing more clearly.

Another group called for Construction Confederation members to reduce their waste by 10% each year and to measure their overall environmental performance more closely.

A working group examining ways to maintain an environment-friendly construction site proposed a toolkit for site managers to ensure they were on the right lines.

It emerged that the Building Research Establishment was examining how a new form of its BREEAM assessment might apply to sites. It would grade projects according to issues such as energy used transporting to sites, waste disposal, recycling and water pollution.

But there were fears that maintaining an environment-friendly site would push up tender costs, while clients would continue to select the cheapest bid.

A workshop looking at ways to help small and medium-sized companies decided that legislation to make the Building Regulations greener might help. A group analysing how to reduce waste and increase recycling said the design process was key. If architects and contractors worked more closely together, there would be less duplication of work.