What are the Key Barriers to Implementation of Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Practices in the London Construction Sector?
1.1. Background and Rationale to the Research Question
Issues of sustainability and eco-friendly practice in the construction sector but also across all of areas of life, are among the most controversial, dynamic, high profile, and important of our time (Kibert, 2016). This is not a passing fad or of niche interest. The concept if sustainability as generally understood today took root in the 1980s and is now part of educational curricula, international political agenda, the corporate social responsibility statements of large public and private organisations, the marketing hook of global brands, etc. (Carroll and Buchholtz, 2014).
The reason why is, essentially, twofold. The first concerns the emergent concern since the 1980s over the global environment and ecosystems. Realisation of the damage caused to the Ozone layer in the 1980s took concern of safeguarding the environment from a niche to a common concern (Parson, 2003). Understanding the damage being caused to the Ozone layer – by the release of CFCs – and the result of such damage – skin cancers being the most common – was understandable to the international public and galvanised an international response through collaboration by national governments (ibid.). The result was change in national policy with oversight by relevant international organisations (ibid.). In the years since, various terminology has emerged to describe positive environmental awareness among the them sustainability and eco-friendliness.
These concepts have, of course, extended significantly beyond the Ozone layer and CFCs, and now apply to most all aspects of personal and public life that have an impact on the environment. Given the profound impact of the construction sector on environment, there has been significant and law and policy-making by national governments and via international organisations such as the European Union and World Bank, in seeking to drive best practice by stakeholders within this sector.
Furthermore, the so-called carbon footprint of the construction sector is surprising us even now. For example, in very recent years the effect on concrete on the environment has been shown to be multi-faceted (Sabnis, 2015). The spread of concrete eliminates space for vegetation, but the manufacture of cement and other materials used in creating concrete have massive energy needs (ibid.). Yet, transitioning the construction sector from concrete to alternatives is an immense challenge given the cheapness, effectiveness, flexibility etc. of this product in construction (ibid.).
Thus, the fundamental challenge to the implementation of sustainable and eco-friendly practices the construction sector, is one of competing objectives, i.e.:
• On the one hand, a sincere willingness in most of us, including stakeholders in the construction sector, to ‘do the right thing’ and their maximum to secure sustainability and eco-friendliness AND
• On the one hand, and an ambition to maximise profits for shareholders and the delivery of excellent construction products for customers, on the other hand.
These objectives are frequently in conflict and this is why the research question of this research study is so relevant:
What are the Key Barriers to Implementation of Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Practices in the London Construction Sector?
The above question has two further elements that require explanation. The first of these is that the question focusses on the key barriers to the implementation of sustainable and eco-friendly practices. That is to say, the study seeks to identify what are, according to key stakeholders, in the sector, the specific barriers that are of most and enduring concern by identifying what they are, we can both focus attention and also, potentially, generate recommendations to overcome some, perhaps even all, of these barriers. This is not being presumptuous. Of course, this issue has received previous attention, but it is also apparent from the literature review that obtaining a detailed list and explanation of such barriers is not easily available. Such literature that does exist, also tends to be from a single or narrow se of perspectives. This study attempts to obtain perspective from a diversity of stakeholder perspectives.
Secondly, this study focusses on the London construction sector. There are two reason for this. Firstly, this is necessary so as to apply focus to the study otherwise the study would be too broad to be manageable. Secondly, the London construction sector is one of the most dynamic and progressive areas of the international construction sector. It attracts the most creative and talented architects, engineers, and other professionals in the construction sector, and it attracts intense media, political, and public attention when large and imposing designs are proposed for construction. Thus, some of the best thinking in terms of sustainability and eco-friendly designs, materials, practices, and processes are taking place in London. Investigating this sub-sector – and inquiring of stakeholders in this sub-sector about sustainable and eco-friendly practices the London construction sector – provides an excellent opportunity to identifying the key barriers referred to above.
1.2. Research objectives
The research objectives of this study as follows:
• To identify the key areas of the London construction sector that impact the environment most of all.
• To identify the key legislation and industry-regulation that applies to the sector and its relevance.
• To identify the barriers that are identified in the literature and also from key stakeholders in the sector.
• To identify the key recommendations and suggestions of stakeholders in the sector for improving practices and overcoming the barriers identified.
1.3. Personal Interest
There is also a personal interest in this research topic. I come from a merchant family that has interests in construction. While I do not now expect to work long-term in the sector, I am deeply interested in it and want to be of service to my family. I am also, like many of generation, very aware of the need to protect our shared environment and this starts with being educated about how we directly impact the environment as individuals and collectively. Thus, I want to learn more about environmental best practice via the concepts of sustainability and eco-friendliness so as to be properly educated about them and bring this knowledge to my personal, family, and future professional life. I think this is a basic obligation on all of us as global citizens.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1. Sustainability in Construction Sector
In spite of contributing to the economy growth, traditional construction has various impacts on environment. First of all, tension on energy tension and fossil fuel consumption increase are resulted from the addition of new buildings. Moreover, new constructions influence greatly air quality and water consumption. Especially, materials transportation has caused considerable “strain on natural resources such as wood and minerals” as well as “additional greenhouse gases to the air” (Emagi Space, 2018).
According to Kamar and Hamid (2011), construction sector is seen as a major non-renewable resources user and a massive waste producer: approximately half of the total CO2 emissions is from buildings operation; “about 30 to 40 per cent of natural resources were exploited by the building industry”; “50 per cent of energy used for heating and cooling in buildings”; and “almost 40 per cent of world consumption on materials and 30 per cent of energy use due to housing” (Kamar and Hamid, 2011, p. 17).
In 1989, Brudland Report presented the definition of “sustainability” for the first time that has created a lot of impacts on both practices and studies because it forces all stakeholders to perform in the way supporting the development but not causing negative effects on natural life and environment. As a result, there have been many “sustainable environment policies” in construction sector leading to the appearance of “eco-friendly and smart buildings” (Yilmaz and Bakis, 2015, p. 2254). The benefits of green buildings in terms of economic incentives such as lower maintenance costs and environmental gains such as waste reduction, less energy consumed, less water usage have been widely discussed and recognised.
The term sustainable construction can be understood as “the creation and responsible management of a healthy built environment based on resource efficient and ecological principles” (Baloi, 2003, p. 290). Alternatively, Aghimien (2018, p. 2384), mentioned sustainable construction” as the delivery of construction projects that encourages the preservation of the natural habitat; promotes the social well-being of the occupants; and provides a reasonable economic stand for the investors”.
In terms of concept, Miranda and Marulanda (2010) highlighted the key features of sustainable construction processes as following:
• They include “stages from the selection of the raw materials to manufacture of construction materials, components thereof and completed building materials; and to the design of streets, highways, drainage systems, final garbage dumps for liquid and solid waste, pavements, etc.” (p. 01).
• The “preparedness for the development and agglomeration of people and vehicles to avoid or mitigate environmental contamination” needs to be maximised (p. 05).
• The most important aim is to reduce energy wastage, “take rational advantage of the natural conditions without changing or destroying them and allow other living forms to live and be preserved. (p. 11)”
2.2. Overview of the UK and London Construction Sector
Office for National Statistics (2018) announced that in the UK “the rise in the value of construction new orders seen since 2011 has continued” and “construction-related employment in Great Britain increased by 3.8% compared with 2017, exceeding its pre-downturn peak of 2007”. Thus, the industry holds a significant role in the UK economy.
According to Rostami and Thomson (2017), the UK construction industry has become gradually adopted with the term sustainability in which the objective of the government in moving the sector towards sustainable development has been clearly stated. In particular, the UK Government presented its own sustainable development agenda in construction industry following by the introduction of a “number of significant policies and several initiatives reports to encourage reform in the industry” (Rostami and Thomson, 2017, p. 2). In particular, the UK government intended to “reduce GHG emissions by 60% by 2050”, “to ensure that all new housing is zero Carbon by 2016” and to have “all new building of zero carbon by 2019” (Sodagar, and Fieldson, 2011, p. 102).
As the capital of the country, London has first experienced with such development. For example, a number of high project Eco-towns in the country are located in London such as Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED), an eco-village in South London. The success of this project is described as following (Bioregional, 2016):
“After it was completed in 2002, BedZED became famous for the scale of its ambition. It remains, arguably, the most ambitious attempt at all-round sustainability in a major new housing development and has attracted thousands of global visitors.”
Despite of the fact that London has received a lot of support to promote construction sustainability, the way towards that achievement has still faced many barriers, concerning different stakeholders, especially regulators and developers. For example, the matter of skill shortage in construction sector has been discussed in London recently has made construction companies as well as investors worried about the employment of enhanced techniques in construction works that is a must in implementing any sustainable construction project.
2.3.Barriers to the Implementation of Sustainable Construction
Over the years, academic researchers around the world have spent considerable efforts in investigating and analysing various barriers to the sustainable construction implementation in practice in both developing and developed countries.
Aghimien et al. (2018) pointed out that one of the most important barriers to sustainable construction is the “perceived first higher costs” from practitioners due to various factors such as higher consultants’ fees etc. meaning that it can lead to much higher investment costs since when comparing to traditional construction, it is considered to be too expensive. Relating to the cost aspect, Holton et al. (2008) also noted that there were not suitable financial schemes that could be effectively funding for sustainable building projects.
Bal et al. (2013) affirmed that sustainable construction is complicated in nature, thus, the lack of integration among players in the project stages of a sustainable construction project has been a concerning matter. Thus, the whole sustainable process should be considered as one supply chain so that every single stage needs to be improved in order to achieve the final goal.
In terms of clients’ consideration, Davies and Davies (2017) analysed that they tend to have hesitation in adopting sustainable practice because of the fear in the lack of preceding experience, unusual techniques and assistance from manufacturers and suppliers, as well as requirement for more testing and inspection.
The above barriers make demand for sustainable construction reduced that in turn affecting supply side as suppliers/manufacturers ignore the development of sustainable products/services. That somehow makes culture of sustainable concept less popular.
Having attended on the role of government, Enshassi (2005) concerned about the lack of commitment from government. In many countries, especially in developing countries such matter has reduced the enthusiasm of other stakeholders.
Interestingly, many authors analysed that due to the lack in urgency, practitioners’ actions towards the transformation tend to be very slow and ineffective. This would eventually influence to gain of set target in terms of sustainability in construction. With regards to legal aspect, it has been widely discussing that regulation and polices related to sustainable construction such as building codes, financial instruments, etc. are not stable and reviewed appropriately to improve in many countries, leading to confuses and difficulties in practice. Such matter generates difficulties to stakeholders to act together towards the sustainability.
The lack of “knowledge, understanding, and information” has been identified as the key barrier for the implementation of sustainable construction (Aghimien et al., 2018). Awareness of sustainability as well as its challenges in various stages holds the most critical role in the success of such practice. In fact, the sustainability can only be successfully obtained with the combination of all participants’ efforts. For example, without alternative building materials or having limited funding can make the sustainable construction structures failed. That is why Sodagar, and Fieldson, (2011, p. 105) emphasised on the need for “a holistic approach relying on the collaboration of all stakeholders” throughout the building lifecycle.
Conducting a research in UK construction market by applying a mixed research strategy including semi-interviews, questionnaire survey via qualtrics and case studies, Sourani and Sohail (2011) identified a list of “barriers to addressing sustainable construction in public procurement strategies” that are classified into 12 categories as summaries below (Sourani and Sohail, 2011, p. 232):
• “Lack of funding, restrictions on expenditure and reluctance to incur higher capital cost when needed;
• Lack of awareness, understanding, information, commitment and demand;
• Insufficient/inconsistent policies, regulations, incentives and commitment by leadership;
• Insufficient/confusing guidance, tools, demonstrations and best practice;
• Vagueness of definitions and diversity of interpretations;
• Separation between capital budget and operational budget;
• Lack of sufficient time to address sustainability issues;
• Lack of long-term perspective;
• General perception that addressing sustainability always leads to incurring greater capital cost;
• Resistance to change;
• Insufficient integration and link-up in the industry;
• Insufficient research and development.”
The 12 categories as Sourani and Sohail (2011) pointed out seem cover all prominent aspects related to obstacles in the market that shares the view of many other researchers. Due to the existence of a variety difficulty aspects, Secrett (2017) argued that there could not be any “one-size-fits-all solution” for sustainability in construction that urges further prompt actions of all stakeholders.
In order to complete any research study in an efficient and ethical way, there is a need to plan how the research is to be completed (Collins and Hussey, 2003; Creswell, 2003; Saunders et al., 2009). The completion of such research involves the gathering of relevant and reliable research data, and then analysing it using the most relevant and reliable analytical techniques (ibid.). Excellent ethical practices are of critical importance also and this study is completed within such a context (ibid.). The following research methodology is developed following a review of key literature in the area of research design.
3.2. Research Approach and Philosophy
Thus, the research approach of this study is inductive and not deductive. That is to say the research findings are generated as a consequence of where the analysis of the research data takes us (Collins and Hussey, 2003; Creswell, 2003; Saunders et al., 2009). This study does not start off with one of more research hypotheses that are tested for validity as is done with the deductive research approach (ibid.). The reason why that there is no compelling reason for the testing of hypotheses. That is not to say there is no area of inquiry within this research topic for the testing of hypotheses, but it is the case that. Following the literature review, there are none that are particularly relevant to the above research question.
The research philosophy of this study is interpretivist. That is to say the research data is analysed through personal judgment (Collins and Hussey, 2003; Creswell, 2003; Saunders et al., 2009). This is because of the nature of the research data which is mostly qualitative in nature. While there is software that analyses qualitative data, the application of such software is unnecessary to this study. Also, given that a detailed literature review is undertaken as part of this study as well as a review of other relevant and reliable secondary sources and important but informal discussions with stakeholders in the sector, there is the knowledge base to conduct the analysis through personal judgment that would not have been the case prior to these activities.
3.3. Quantitative and Qualitative Research Data
Both quantitative and qualitative research data are used in this study with an emphasis on the latter. Quantitative data is numeric in nature while qualitative data is, in essence, most all other forms such as text-based, visual-based etc. (Collins and Hussey, 2003; Creswell, 2003; Saunders et al., 2009). Again, this is a consequence of the nature of the research question whereby we are inquiring of the key barriers of a phenomenon. Such barriers are not necessarily definitive and wholly agreed across various stakeholders. They are subjective and open to dispute. Thus, this is a qualitative activity and it is also why the primary research method discussed next is interview-based.
3.4. Primary and Secondary Research Data
Primary and secondary research data is gathered and analysed for this study. The former is new and original research data that has no existence prior to a study and is generated by the research over the course of the study (Collins and Hussey, 2003; Creswell, 2003; Saunders et al., 2009). Secondary research data is pre-existing research data that is used within a study because of its relevance and reliability (ibid.). By using secondary research data, there is insight, theory, and other knowledge brought to the study and it provides the basis for developing informed and value-adding primary research methods (ibid.). The literature review set out in section 2 of this study is essential for this purpose but also for confirming that the research question is worthy of research at this level and that the research question is sufficiently original such that we are not repeating earlier research (ibid.).
3.5. Primary Research Method: Semi-Structure Interview
There are several research methods available for application to gather primary research data. The one that is most applicable to this study is the semi-structured interview. Again, this is because of the nature of the research question which concerns gathering informed and knowledgeable opinion and perspective on a phenomenon. This is best achieved through interview however, the nature of the interview that is used is semi-structured. That is to say, the study has a pre-set list of questions to put to interviewees. However, there is space for supplementary questions to be put to the interviewees where there is a response that is particularly interesting and/or unexpected, and that justified being followed-up with further question(s) in order to gain the maximum understanding of what the interviewer is saying (Collins and Hussey, 2003; Creswell, 2003; Saunders et al., 2009).
3.6. Interviewees and the Interview Process
The interviewees interviewed for this study all work within the London construction sector. They have been selected based on their experience and expertise, and also on their availability. A key challenge confronted in this study has been in accessing suitable interviewees and then securing interview time with them. This was more challenging than anticipated at the outset of the research study. It has required use of personal contacts but the use of some of these contacts to make approaches to their personal contacts, in order to access a pool of potential interviewees to approach.
Furthermore, a key objective in the selection of interviewees is to conduct interviews with people from various stakeholder groups in the construction sector and not just, for example, with architects. Thus, an attempt has been made to interview at least one from each of the following stakeholder groups: academia, architect and engineer, developer, investing, policy-making, and construction and environmental journalism.
3.7. Interview Process
The interview process is undertaken with the concerns and interests of the interviewees treated as a priority. Thus, the interview questions as set out in appendix 1, were limited to eight so that the interviews would not exceed about one hour in duration. Anything less than this would have been unlikely to make the interview worthwhile from a research perspective but any longer than this would have been an unfair demand on the time of the interviewees.
All the times/dates of the interviews are arranged so as to make it most convenient for the interviewees. The interviews also take place in part by Skype and in part by email. Again, this is to maximise convenience and based on the current covid situation. Face-to-face interviews would have been preferable but the restrictions on this due to fixing appointments within working hours and well in advance, as well as the need to travel, made this impractical. There was no significant deficiency in completing the interviews mostly by Skype.
The commitments given to the interviewees were as follows:
1 The interview data they submitted would be used for this research study only and for no other purpose.
2 The names and employers of the interviewers would be kept confidential and disclosed to no one except to the supervisor if this was requested. Confidentiality was important to all the interviewees.
3 The interviewees were assured that they could with draw from the interview process at any time.
3.8. Ethical Considerations
Most all recent literature on research design emphasises the necessity for excellent ethical practice (e.g. Collins and Hussey, 2003; Creswell, 2003; Saunders et al., 2009). This study is completed within an ethical context and the key considerations to achieving that are as follows. Thus, engaging with the interviewees is as set out in the previous sub-section. All other engagement with third parties such as library staff is similarly done with respect in how they are addressed, and the amount of their tie being used. All university and other facilities are used appropriately and within the relevant access hours. All literature and other secondary sources used within this study is cited fully in compliance with the Harvard referencing method so as to avoid the risk of plagiarism. The specific rules and regulations for the completion of this study as set out I university guidelines are fully complied with.
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