Gillian Charlesworth

In 2022 we must set our sights beyond compliance

Gillian Charlesworth CEO at BRE
Gillian Charlesworth, CEO at BRE

As we come to the end of 2021 – a year of serious challenges probably few of us envisaged – where does sentiment currently lie in our industry? In what frame of mind do we approach 2022?

With material and labour shortages and supply chain disruption likely to continue, some of us will be quaking somewhat at the size of the looming challenges. But equally, according to some of the conversations I’ve been having, plenty of us are also excited at the opportunities that lie ahead. Out of a true global crisis, I hope change and innovation will gather momentum next year. We are certainly of that mindset at BRE.

“One of the key stories for 2022 will be the pressure placed on companies to go beyond minimum requirements and standards”

Material shortages were a huge part of 2021, ironically exacerbated by the housing and construction boom in many parts of the world, which resulted from the pent-up demand created by the early uncertain months of the pandemic. The UK Government’s stay-at-home orders led to increased consumer buying, selling, and consequently spending on larger houses and home improvements, as people tried to make space for both work and personal life in their homes. By the end of 2020, accelerated sales of DIY home improvements made Kingfisher one of the top risers on the FTSE 100.

While this was a boost for the housing sector, it has meant that builders have struggled to source supplies, with UK factories also battling to cope with demand. With supply chains stretched, builders have not been able to complete projects to plan, and the Building Merchants Federation expressed concerns that it will even impact the number of houses the UK can build.

Businesses must be adaptable

The construction sector also experienced a worsened skills shortage in 2021. Existing supply issues have been amplified by Brexit, COVID-strained supply chains and high demand for housing. The implications of this are significant not just for the industry, but for the nation. Increased wage demands, longer project-delivery times and the rising number of unfilled vacancies are all symptoms of the problem.

One of the most significant moments for the construction sector this year was the publication of the government’s long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy. With the UK pressing ahead with its target of net-zero by 2050, the strategy shows a clear recognition that the built environment will play a key role in the next stage of the UK’s decarbonisation drive. And, although there are gaps (such as the lack of a national retrofit strategy and a detailed plan on how to train and retrain workers), there are many welcome elements in the document – including a clear direction for the switch to low-carbon heating.

There are certainly many challenges around but also huge opportunities. After a year of preparation for COP26, 2022 will see a huge emphasis on sustainability – particularly when it comes to materials used. By being adaptable to change, and using new materials and methods, the construction industry can accelerate the move away from carbon-heavy concrete.

Looking ahead

Difficult times can lead to a flight to standards, as people and businesses look to differentiate themselves and, increasingly, to demonstrate a positive impact on the world. I see this happening in all sorts of ways, both by necessity and by choice. A good illustration of this is the 23 per cent rise in BREAAM registrations this year. This is a trend we expect to continue into 2022, and during the year we also intend to launch a major digital upgrade of BREEAM.

As the UK Government looks to deliver an infrastructure revolution, enhance building-safety regulation and build momentum in addressing climate change, one of the key stories for 2022 will be the pressure placed on companies to go beyond minimum requirements and standards. The more responsibility we take as an industry, with new, more-efficient techniques for embedding safety and sustainability in our built environment, the smarter we can ensure new regulations will be in delivering safety, but also in fostering innovation and driving up standards beyond the minimum.

Although 2021 was a challenging year, I for one am optimistic that our industry will take the necessary steps to implement more sustainable solutions in 2022. Our stakeholders will accept no less, and the opportunities are enormous. If I was to sum up the approach to tackling these undoubted challenges, I would say that, for those with mindsets of innovation, diversity, responsibility and collaborationa promising year lies ahead.

This article first appeared in Construction News.