Sustainability Research Institute

Government’s Chief Science Adviser invites Alice Owen to provide insights on construction industry

22.03.2017 - 15:19

Alice Owen was invited to a full day meeting on 21st March with the Government’s Chief Science Adviser and officials from across government as well as industry bodies and a handful of researchers, to provide her personal insights from research into how the construction industry needs to change in order to deliver low carbon buildings.

In introducing the meeting, Sir Mark Walport emphasised that Government was seeking evidence on how the construction industry works at the moment from social, technical and environmental points of view, in order to re-invigorate energy policy, develop the next round of carbon budgets, and shape the sector funding and support that is needed to implement the UK’s Industrial Strategy.

Alice’s research focuses on the smallest firms and sole traders who deliver renovation works in homes. While largely ignored by policy, this sector provides work for more than 300 000 people and an estimated £11bn of economic activity per year in the UK– so definitely worth paying attention to! There are around 27 million homes in the UK which all need to be zero carbon by 2050. So innovation in new buildings is important and the meeting included discussion of off-site manufacture and modular buildings, but the real challenge is in existing builders and existing buildings.

Alice shared insights into the motivations of small firms, and the way they operate in networks. She also discussed current research into how the construction supply chain network can be influenced and changed. Alice said, “we have to find a way of working ‘with the grain’ of the existing industry. We can’t just tell them that sustainable construction is better and expect change. Let’s develop policy which builds on the expertise and interests of this busy, connected group of people who could hold the key to unlocking innovation in our existing buildings”.

“Last year the Government commissioned a review of building retrofit, published just before Christmas as "Each Home Counts" https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/578749/Each_Home_Counts__December_2016_.pdf and as a result of this meeting, Alice has been invited to join the group guiding BEIS in implementing the findings of the review. “