From the editor
While news bulletins are still full of stories concerning the topic du jour, let’s ignore the ‘elephant in the room’ and focus on industry matters that still need addressing when life returns to normal – whatever form that will take.
One of the striking statistics over the past three months is the fact that the UK’s daily carbon emissions fell by 36% during lockdown (up to the end of April). With passenger vehicle usage cut so drastically (down 60%), the UK’s biggest carbon emission source – transport – was clearly a significant factor in the fall of CO2 levels. Those figures have given further impetus to the push for 2050 carbon-neutral Britain, with the committee that is advising the Government on such matters insisting that the UK’s economic recovery after the pandemic should be ‘green’. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has put forward a six-point plan to rebuild the nation, while delivering a stronger, cleaner and more resilient economy. These points include: using ‘climate’ investments to support economic recovery and jobs; strengthening incentives to reduce emissions when considering tax changes; leading a shift towards positive, long-term behaviours; and providing support for carbon-intensive sectors contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change. While the Government has taken a baby step with its £2 billion investment last month to boost healthier and greener transport activity (namely cycling and walking), it is the last of these CCC points that will have the greatest impact on our industry. The need for a subtle change in approach is underlined in the use of a new expression. It is no longer sufficient to crow about ‘sustainability’; everything from this point onwards is focused on ‘zero carbon’. Fortunately, the cement and concrete sector is already working from a position of strength (no pun intended), having worked diligently on its carbon cutting – and overall environmental impact and performance – over decades. CO2 emissions from cement production have fallen 25% since 1998, especially impressive considering that domestic sales have increased by 29% since 2012. The embodied carbon of concrete is also on a long-term downward trend, being cut by 30% based on 1990 levels. Lest anyone be in any doubt, these are no easy achievements. Carbon emissions from cement production in the US, for example, have increased by 20% since 1990. But moving forward, clearly there will be far greater scrutiny and demands placed on carbon-intensive industries. For the cement and concrete sector to stay at the forefront of the built environment, it will not be a time of resting on laurels but redoubling efforts to improve performance. That will mean constant analysis of how CO2 emissions can be cut at every stage of the production chain, from clinker, cement and concrete to construction and recycling. Social distancing may be a longer term part of the ‘new normal’ but the task to close the distance on zero carbon has already begun.
There is a newer analogy about the age-old glass half full/glass half empty outlook. While those with a positive view take the former perspective and those with a negative view take the latter, a salesperson will say, “Let’s discuss ice cubes”.
Clearly, there is a point to be made here about perception and opportunity. But as we live amidst a horrible pandemic and extended lockdown, these are ideal times to reflect on such positive–negative values and also our work–life balance. It’s very easy to get caught up in ‘professional’ life, driving forward our businesses and burning the midnight oil to ensure success, especially in an industry dedicated to improving the built environment, while living in ever-greater symbiosis with our planet. But as the Covid-19 crisis has asked of us – have we truly considered every cost? Maybe, just maybe, in that clamour for success in developing our businesses and our professional selves – with all the manuals on corporate best practice, motivational tools, self-help guides, leadership lessons, efficiency, streamlining and outsourcing – along the way we sometimes forget that we are all merely human. That is shown in the fragility of our health, in the outpouring of gratitude for NHS and care workers, by selfless service to others, by fundraising and by recognition that every job – no matter how seemingly inconsequential or previously viewed with a haughty acknowledgement – is vital to modern society. These are clearly a reconnection with basic human values. The Society’s tag line is ‘Your concrete community’ and there is indeed a real sense of community, especially through the Regional Network and its many events where work and play go hand in hand. But perhaps we all need to redouble our efforts with these sorts of events and extend that hand of community in every facet of work. We’re all guilty at times of being stiff, formal and putting on the façade of the ‘professional’, especially in the way we work with new unknown clients, supply chain partners etc. In working from home, in many cases while simultaneously home schooling children, that barrier between work and life has come crashing down. From the few weeks of lockdown experience so far, it has given way to a far greater friendliness, concern and informality – in our companies and in those firms we work alongside, albeit via the wonders of communication technology. If one of the outcomes of coronavirus is a renewal in the way we work, rest and play, and an acknowledgement that ‘professional’ and ‘human’ are not opposite sides of the same coin, then some positive has come out of a wretched situation. And that can most certainly be viewed as glass half full.
James Luckey, Editor
Tel: 01276 607158
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