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Collaboration is coming!

Posted on by phlorum

CollaborationThe culmination of the research blogs presented in this series[i], [ii], [iii], [iv] have aimed to promote an appreciation of the importance of collaborative working practices in achieving sustainability goals, most notably for lowering CO2 emissions in the construction industry. Thus far the research has indicated that the task of lowering emissions could potentially be met by moving away from a retrospective technological approach to sustainability analyses. A collaborative approach implemented at the beginning of the project using supply chain systems[v] could help to implement a framework whereby emissions data can be discussed from the conception of the project. In the context of construction it has been argued that due to the number of collaborative partnerships required in a single project, the supply chain is the key starting point for an integrated working approach[vi]. There appears to be a growing body of research which suggests that sustainability can be achieved through greater collaboration. Communication flow is thought to aid information sharing and more importantly help those involved to understand sustainability issues.

The significance of collaboration appears to be making a critical inroad into the development of sustainability practices globally and across sectors. With the release of the UN’s agenda for sustainable development ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’[vii] in July 2015, the prospects for collaborative and communicative steps towards sustainability look set to become an integral part of future sustainability programmes. The collaborative framework vision is highly unusual for such a document. This suggests that the application of collaborative working methods in achieving sustainability goals is becoming an accepted practice. Although dismissed by some as an unrealistic and idealised notion, some forward thinking sustainability focussed firms are seeking to implement sustainability as best practice via joint working, which has proven to be successful. Examples of this have been found in Public Private Partnerships (PPP)[viii], a series of public-private sector collaboration projects which have used new procurement methods to pool the best skills and resources from both sectors for all infrastructural endeavours[ix]. A further example can be found with the implementation of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) at Tata Steel. The company generates EPDs for their value chain partners. This process encourages good supply chain relationships as the issued EPDs can give partners a competitive edge as they are freely available to use them for other clients. A win-win situation is created providing positive outcomes for the supply chain and customers whilst furthering the sustainability cause[x].

In the construction industry, specifically, the onus is on the client to enforce forward-thinking collaborative innovation. As addressed in previous blogs[i], [ii], [iii], [iv], the potential for client influence is essential in the implementation of new work strategies, i.e. those centred on sustainability. The current linear supply chain format in the construction industry is a strong inhibitor of the collaborative process. The insular self-protection of each individual[xi] decreases willingness to participate in collaborative programmes. In view of this a networked supply chain approach may be beneficial for increasing closer working partnerships, influencing and enabling success to be seen and emulated. In this instance there is an argument for using collaborative approaches to generate a sense of legitimacy surrounding the inclusion of low carbon practices in construction. If success is acknowledged, other companies are more likely to take on a new approach, resulting in its appearance as a legitimate practice.

The future development of a new working system aimed at addressing construction sustainability is a tall order and may ultimately have to come from legislative drivers. Governmental agencies and a small number of companies appear to be moving towards an acceptance of the behavioural aspects of sustainability issues. The UN’s sustainable development document provides a positive indication that intergovernmental organisations are beginning to promote the importance of collaboration in the future of sustainability practices.

By Emily Jervis (@Emj45) – PhD student in sustainable construction at the University of Liverpool, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Phlorum.


[i] Phlorum Blog. (March 2015). The human question: Solving the construction industry’s carbon crisis

[ii] Phlorum Blog. (April 2015). Lowering CO2 emissions in the construction Industry: Thoughts on network supply chains and client influence

[iii] Phlorum Blog. (April 2015). Low Carbon Assessment (LCA) tools and collaboration

[iv] Phlorum Blog. (July 2015). Business legitimacy: The unexpected enemy of low carbon construction?

[v] Koh, S.C.L., Genovese, A., Acquaye, A. and Barratt, P. (2013). Decarbonising product supply chains: design and development of an integrated evidence-based decision support system – the supply chain environmental analysis tool (SCEnAT). International Journal of Production Research, 51(7) 2092-2109

[vi] Dubois, A. and Gadde, L.E., (2002). “The construction industry as a loosely coupled system: implications for productivity and innovation.” Construction Management & Economics 20(7): 621-631.

[vii] United Nations, (2014) UN’s ‘Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’

[viii] Li, B., & Akintoye, A. (2003). An Overview of public private partnership: Managing Risks and Opportunities, Edited by Akintoye, A., Beck, M. and Hardcastle, C. Blackwell Publishing Company, United Kingdom.

[ix] Adetola, A., Goulding, J. S., & Liyanage, C. L. (2011). Collaborative engagement approaches for delivering sustainable infrastructure projects in the AEC sector: a review. International Journal of Construction Supply Chain Management, 1(1), 1-24.

[x] Tata Steel (2012) ‘Tata Steel: The Business Case for Product Sustainability’

[xi] Kumaraswamy, M. and Dulaimi, M., (2001). “Empowering innovative improvements through creative construction procurement.” Engineering Construction and Architectural Management 8(5‐6): 325-334.


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