The uptake and implementation of sustainable construction: Transforming policy into practice

Gunatilake, Sachie (2013) The uptake and implementation of sustainable construction: Transforming policy into practice. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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There is a continuously growing interest on ‘Sustainable Construction (SC)’ both within the UK and globally. In the UK, a myriad of policies and guidance have been published in this regard by various government offices, departments and other industry related institutions. However, similar to sustainable development, SC is without an agreed upon definition. There is lack of agreement on the interpretation of SC, both within the industry and in academic literature. Further evidence point at a gap between the technological abilities of the construction industry and what is actually achieved in terms of SC. Therefore, it appears that the problem may lie with the understanding of and the effective implementation of SC at project level. The aim of this research therefore, was to understand the interpretations of SC and to develop a framework that can assist in its effective uptake and implementation within construction project environments.
A more qualitative research approach was used to achieve the aforementioned aim. An analysis of 18 advisory documents (chosen using criterion sampling) was carried out using qualitative content analysis to ascertain how SC was interpreted in these documents. Case study methodology and the principles of grounded theory analysis were used in order to allow for an understanding on the interpretation of and the process of implementing SC to emerge at project level. Three case studies were selected and semi-structured interviews were conducted with representatives from four different stakeholder groups (i.e. client, contractor, design team and facilities management) within each case.
Through the advisory document analysis, a view of SC at strategic level was developed comprising of 15 characteristics and 80 objectives of SC. The study found that there was a strong focus on the environmental element of SC within the advisory documents. At the construction project level, there was a tendency to focus upon the issues that are capable of bringing in tangible, ‘quick-wins’ in terms of cost savings.
The proposed framework for uptake and implementation of SC within a construction project environment consists of four main sections. The first section addresses the contextual considerations in developing SC agendas for construction projects. The second section provides a comprehensive view of the nature and objectives of SC. This provides the basis upon which SC objectives can be set for a particular construction project. The third and fourth sections of the framework address the implementation of SC at project level. The actions for SC implementation are presented within the third section divided into four lifecycle phases. The internal and external influence factors affecting the said process are presented within the fourth section of the framework. The developed framework also highlighted the need for feedback at two levels (i.e. within the construction project level and from project level to strategic level).
The findings of the research emphasise the need for streamlining the development of advisory documents on SC and increasing the level of comparability between the existing advisory documents. Further attention should also be given towards providing more conceptual understanding on SC, especially for those project team members, who do not possess specific educational backgrounds or experience in addressing SC. At project level, there is a need to consider SC as an integral part of the construction process itself rather than something superfluous or extra that has been necessitated through mandatory legislations. The project level SC objectives should align with the national and sector level policies and guidance on SC. However, the ultimate applicability of these SC objectives for projects should be decided taking into consideration the specific requirements of each project.

The study was limited to PPP/PFI projects in the healthcare sector. Hence, opportunities for further investigation exist by expanding the number of case studies to widen the scope of the research; for example by including projects in other sectors and using other types of procurement. The outcomes of the research can be used by the project level stakeholders, particularly clients, in adopting pro-active approaches in the uptake and implementation of SC within construction project environments.

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