ESG – Why doing the bare minimum is a business risk

The concept of ESG isn’t new. Discussion around how the construction industry can improve its environmental, social and governance factors has been gathering pace for some time now. But, do all organisations operating in this sector take it as seriously as they should? Or do some just get by doing the bare minimum in order to tick the right boxes?

We spoke to Andy Gibson – Technical Director, Corporate Responsibility Lead and Manager of Timber Frame Operations at Merronbrook – about why he believes leading on ESG isn’t just the smart thing to do for businesses, it’s the right thing to do.

Why is ESG so important?

With my background in design and energy assessments, when clients first started asking about our environmental policies, I was the person who could provide answers. Initially, questions like “can we see your environmental policy” just scratched the surface, and they certainly didn’t enquire about the whole ESG range. I soon realised that most were simply asking us to tick a box.

Over recent years, however, larger contractors have been asking more pertinent questions and expecting decent answers, which is a really positive move. I’ve got a natural interest, so I started to delve deeper.

Are you measuring your carbon and what are you doing about it? Are you measuring waste, and what are you doing about that? Do you have an anti-slavery policy?…My approach is not to see these questions as hurdles to be jumped over, rather invitations to consider what we could be doing better, and an opportunity to learn more about how we can make positive lasting change to our business and its operations.

Many of our clients are aiming to be zero carbon by 2025 and, if they are to achieve this, they will require suppliers like us to help. I believe that if we fully embrace ESG and take a leadership stance on it, it’s a great opportunity.

What does taking a leadership stance mean to you?

I undertook a course with Cambridge University, which allowed me to discuss these issues with many people from diverse industries. It’s very easy to focus on the doom and gloom, and feel like it’s too big or difficult to tackle. I could sit at home and be depressed that we’re potentially handing over a world to our children that’s in a worst state than when we took it on. Or, I could take a leadership stance and do something to actually make a difference.

I was appointed as a Director at Merronbrook in April 2021, and I made a focus on ESG part of my pitch. Since being appointed, the whole team has embraced the changes I’ve put forward, which is great to see. I would feel really proud knowing that I left a legacy of changing the business for the better, helping to make it future ready and having a positive impact on our environment.

What changes are being implemented at Merronbrook? And, how do you measure their impact?

Merronbrook has committed to being net zero carbon in our scope 1 and 2 outputs by 2030, tackling things like our energy consumption and transportation as a first port of call. We’ve introduced a system for staff to lease electric vehicles, making it affordable. We’re due to install the charging points next. We’ve also just taken delivery of our second electric forklift.

One of the trickier things for us to change is the fact that our business currently relies on using virgin timber, most of which comes from Scandinavia or Eastern Europe, which results in carbon emissions. It’s still relatively low carbon in comparison to other building materials, but I’d like to positively impact this too – tricky doesn’t mean impossible.

We’re looking at other ways to reduce our carbon emissions too, and also offset what we do produce. We’ve partnered with a business called Carbon Neutral Britain. They use a standardised measurement process which calculates our carbon footprint, which we then offset. But, there is more to be done.

So, what’s next?

We will continue to develop our policies, focussing on all areas of ESG. But, as an engineer, I’m really excited about starting a research project into getting an established structural standard for recycled timber. What does it look like? What has to be done? What other things can we do to recycle materials? For example, if we can’t use a recycled length of timber in its existing form, maybe there’s a way we can use it by chopping it up into fibres and combining those to form another board product, which could be used in future construction projects.

Proactivity is what is needed and tackling these issues in as many ways as we can. Seeing change as a positive opportunity and acting upon it is going to be key.

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