The construction sector has to play a big role in achieving the Government’s ambitious net zero targets. Bradfords Building Supplies has set out to champion sustainability in the industry, as newly promoted Head of Sustainability, Giles Bradford, explains.

"We know the approach to housebuilding will need to change if we’re to meet the Government’s target of bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. And, in the wake of the COP 26 Global Climate Conference being hosted in the UK in November, we can expect to see tighter regulations around homes’ energy efficiency and the use of materials, products and methods of construction for housebuilding and renovation in the more immediate future.

"Our family business has served the South West’s builders for more than 250 years. Our responsibility now is to support our customers – from housing developers to self-builders and home renovators – in getting ready for these latest challenges. We need to help them understand the context, to make more environmentally responsible choices, and to make sure they meet new guidelines on sustainability and energy efficiency.

“And it’s not just about meeting regulations. Everybody needs be looking beyond the stick that might be wielded to ensure action is taken to instead focus on the opportunity this presents.  We are all responsible for doing our part to address climate change and the impact will be that much more effective if everyone does their bit.”

A focus on education

“At this stage, many of our customers are unaware of, or indeed intimidated by, the scale of the challenge we’re facing and we’re stepping up to help educate and inform the sector on what needs to be done, and how that can be achieved. What materials are out there and why they should be used? We know our customers need help in identifying which products offer the most sustainable solution without compromising on quality. Some of these are traditional products, while others are new.

“This means we have to keep on top of the latest sustainable solutions to hit the market, while continuing to challenge our suppliers on the environmental impact of their products and ways in which this could be reduced. For example, we can offer to help consolidate loads and reduce mileage and to return packaging, while also being robust in how we source.

“Hand in hand with this is the ongoing task of educating our own team on these solutions and their applications, so that everyone at every level of the business is able to support our customers in making sustainable choices.

“We’re currently delivering the first phase of an education and engagement programme that gives us and our suppliers the platform to help our customers embrace sustainability requirements. This includes what we hope will become the first in a series of events that aim to inform and inspire customers, leaving them feeling more confident about what lies ahead as well as where to start.”

Industry collaboration

“A big part of our role as a champion of sustainability in the construction sector is to encourage other merchants to get on board. By sharing our own knowledge and lessons we’re learning along the way, we can help them to help their own customers in making these changes. This isn’t about achieving net zero overnight, it’s about a measured approach which sees incremental steps that compliment business strategies.

“We’re working with the Builders’ Merchants Federation to develop an initial set of consistent sustainability metrics that suppliers should provide to allow customers to make informed decisions from comparable data.

“We are also opening dialogue with local politicians in the areas we serve to better understand their views, opinions and aspirations to locally support the net zero and climate change agenda. We want to make sure that our strategy delivers on what our local communities need and want, so listening to them is a crucial at this stage of our journey.

“At a higher level, we need to be a voice for the sector, representing merchants, our customers and communities when it comes to environmental responsibility – ensuring that when decisions are made by the Government, our collective opinions and issues have been considered.

“Internally, we’re constantly looking for innovative ways to improve our own environmental responsibility as a business.

“As a Business Champion for CO2structZERO, the construction industry’s zero carbon change programme, we have committed to a framework with real targets around carbon reduction.

“We’ve set ourselves the target of reducing our own carbon footprint from 2019 levels year on year. While we’d have liked to have achieved more, in 2020 we achieved over 15% reduction. However, to support the UK climate change agenda we know that’s just the start, and of course that some of that was made easier by the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Lessons learned from how we operated during 2020’s extraordinary events we now need to apply to continue our track to net zero.

“We propose to continue to follow this trajectory to hit at least the 2030 68% reduction. To do this we are looking at areas such as where our energy is sourced, the use of electric vehicles, recycling of packaging, and how we can divert more of our waste from landfill.

“Hand in hand with our efforts to improve our environmental sustainability is our ongoing commitment to support the local areas we serve, helping to build sustainable communities. We have a proud track record in our social commitments, from our thriving apprenticeship programme to support the next generation to our efforts to encourage more women to follow careers in construction, plus the range of grassroots projects we have supported through our individual branches.

“To help ensure that environmental responsibility informs every level of our business operations and to make sure we can support our customers as well as we can in this area, I’m excited to take on the new role of our Head of Sustainability to give this the attention and focus it deserves.”