Assessing the need to demonstrate responsible
sourcing of construction products

Since publication of the 2008 joint industry and government strategy for sustainable construction, responsible sourcing of materials has gained increasing prominence within the construction industry. The strategy set as one of its overarching targets a commitment to procure 25% of construction materials through schemes recognised for responsible sourcing. In response to this, a framework standard for the responsible sourcing of construction products (BES 6001) was published and sustainability ratings schemes such as BREEAM and CEEQUAL began to award scores for demonstrating responsible sourcing.

Now, six years on from publication of this strategy, over 100 BES 6001 certificates have been awarded to over 70 companies, yet research remains limited, despite an increasing interest among practitioners and construction professionals.

Through an EPSRC-funded research project sponsored by Responsible Solutions Ltd, research into responsible sourcing has been underway since late 2011. At the project’s initiation, research had been confined to a handful of academic papers focusing on the relative importance of the subject when set in the bigger pictureof sustainability and the reporting of results from several workshops.

This research project has aimed to develop upon this and has highlighted that organisations tend to engage with responsible sourcing primarily due to market pressures: keeping up with competitors is seen as a key driver for becoming certified to the BES 6001 framework standard. Smaller organisations in particular tend to opt for certification only because they would find themselves in a minority should they not become certified, and thus find themselves as a less preferred supplier to construction projects where responsbile sourcing scores under BREEAM or CEEQUAL are strived for.

The CELSA Steel UK works at Cardiff, where responsible sourcing of materials can be demonstrated through third party certifications (3 photographs are courtesy of CELSA Steel UK/ Loughborough University/ Nick Rawle Photography)

However, despite this uptake of certification to BES 6001, research carried out jointly with the BRE as part of this project determined that, as a whole, the construction industry has struggled to consistently implement the standard, with considerable variation in the way that the points are scored by certified companies. BES 6001 is a points-based standard, where a certain number of points are awarded under a number of clauses depending upon the level of compliance that can be demonstrated. Organisations are then awarded a given performance rating depending on how many points they accrue. Results highlighted that currently, a largely reactive and somewhat random approach to the standard by industry is commonplace.

Further case study work with two small organisations has linked the sustainability drive to the broader topic of organisational learning, and the role this plays with regard to implementing schemes and standards. Specifically, this part of the overall project is aiming to address how organisations learn from compliance with sustainability schemes, and how learning tools may offer more than just compliance. Initial findings show that the approach within individual sectors is a key driver for an organisation to consider working towards BES 6001 and that in instances where an existing management system standard is already implemented, such as ISO 14001 in this particular case study, implementation of another sustainability scheme is a much more straightforward process.

Earlier this year, Version 3 of BES 6001 was published with the BRE indicating that all Version 2 certificates will be invalid as of May 2015. Version 3 has made it more challenging for an organisation to obtain the higher performance ratings, and for some of the organisations that already hold certification to BES 6001, the challenge has proved too steep with some accepting that maintaining their current performance level in Version 3 will be too difficult.  

It remains the case that the majority of certified products are those with relatively short, straightforward supply chains, such as concrete, cement and aggregates. Presently, responsible sourcing schemes such as BES 6001 are inappropriate for certifying personal protective equipment (PPE) and other products such as those classified as mechanical and electrical (M&E). If the construction industry is to fully embrace responsible sourcing, then a much broader range of products must begin to take an interest in the agenda and existing assessment methodologies must be revised or extended to render them applicable to a broader range of products.

 

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For further information please contact James Upstill-Goddard, Research Engineer at Responsible Solutions Ltd (01509 320100;E-mail: J.D.Upstill-Goddard@lboro.ac.uk).

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