29 October 2021

In September NBS hosted its second digital conference of 2021 the Construction Leaders’ Summit: Building Better, chaired by Richard Waterhouse who was joined by leading figures in the construction industry to discuss prominent topics such as climate change, digitisation and how construction can be more sustainable. Here are our five key takeaways from the event.

1. Businesses need their own strategies 

The day started with a thought-provoking speech from our keynote speaker, the RT Hon Claire O’Neill covering everything from how we should measure the emissions of a building to educating stakeholders on the importance of sustainability. One of her main messages to us all was that business should be stepping up and taking responsibility by setting out their own sustainability strategies. 

“You don’t have to wait for anyone,” She said. “Be bold and innovative and find ways to collaborate.”

RT Hon Claire O’Neill also laid out her five key guidelines for sustainable strategies:

  1. Start with the positives
  2. Collaboration is key 
  3. The importance of near-term action 
  4. Don't forget the people involved
  5. Be ruthlessly practical 

NBS has recently set out our own sustainability strategy, including sustainability targets and our commitment to our customers to help design and build a more sustainable built environment. You can find out more here

2. Changes need to be made 

During the panel session ‘A sustainable built environment - can we succeed?’, our speakers discussed their personal experiences of working sustainably, including the challenges that they have each faced and the changes that need to be made.

Jade Lewis, Chief Executive at the Sustainable Energy Association, said there are many things that need to change before we can effectively tackle the sustainability issue, mainly the amount of focus solely on carbon and the need to take a more holistic approach. 

She said: “For me, the biggest challenge is that the focus is heavily on carbon – and sustainability is about so much more than just carbon. We need to broaden our approach to improving the built environment; considering the products we’re using; we need to make sure there’s demand so that we get a sustainable market for those that are greener businesses. We need to move towards a circular economy and look at our resources, and we need to consider things like health and wellbeing – through both the construction workforce and through designing and building the spaces we live and work in.”

Taleen Josefsson, Thrive Project Leader at Chetwoods, believes education is a key catalyst for change. She said: “The main element is the requirement for education, we need to upskill and educate existing practitioners but also embed climate and carbon literacy into all aspects of architecture and engineering curriculum."

Rachel Hoolahan, Architect and Sustainability Coordinator at Orms, suggested that honest communication about the challenges of sustainability would lead to more effective work in this area: “One of the biggest challenges for our practice has been that how we talk about sustainability and how we measure it is constantly evolving. We need to get better at saying ‘I don’t understand that concept’. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I need a hand, I don’t get it’."

Jane Anderson, Director of Construction LCA Limited, said: “From my point of view, the big issue is embodied carbon. It’s around 25% of our built environment emissions and currently there’s nothing forcing anybody to look at it at all, so I would reiterate the need for regulation.”

3. Sharing knowledge and education 

While RT Hon Claire O’Neill pointed out that businesses should be taking responsibility by implementing its own sustainable working practices and strategies, there was also a common theme that wider, collective, and collaborative action is needed to effectively tackle the climate emergency. 

Throughout the Construction Leaders’ Summit, several self-organising groups were mentioned who are effecting change, with a particular emphasis on the need for a greater level of education. Taleen Josefsson a member of the Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) group said one of it’s main aims is to “Open the communication channels between built environment professionals so that we can work together to share resources, knowledge and aid the transition together.”

Jade Lewis said: “Lack of sector knowledge and skills is a major challenge, there’s pockets of great work happening across the sector, but this isn’t the norm yet. We need to develop the supply chains and the workforce to help deliver a sustainable built environment. We also need to get better at collaborating and sharing the best practice.” 

 4. Digitising the industry

10 years on from BIM being mandated on UK Government projects, members of the team that implemented that change joined for a panel discussion ‘UK BIM - the team that set the direction’ about digitisation, how far we’ve come and how far there is to still go.

David Philp, Digital Consulting, Strategy and Innovation Director at AECOM Europe explained how they were able to persuade the Government and the construction industry that the BIM project was worthwhile. 

“Previously I’d seen industry telling the clients to change and clients telling the industry to change, but this was the first time there was a very clear purpose. We were able to tell people ‘it’s an exciting time, we can see a better way of doing things.’ Not just in terms of digitisation but by becoming much more collaborative,” he said. 

While discussing what the panel learned from the project, Dr Mark Bew MBE, Chairman of PCSG said: “I think I would have spent more time getting the market ready for Level 3 in terms of ‘what is the next achievable step?’ because we’ve stood still. If we’d had all this data in a standard format, we’d now be in a place where we’d have lots of data which we’d be able to analyse and learn from, but we’re still not on the learning start line yet.”

So, what happens next? Former UK Government Chief Construction Adviser Paul Morrell OBE believes that it all comes to what Level 3 looks like. 

“Fundamentally, if it doesn’t get data into the lifecycle then we’re not making the progress that we need to make,” he said.

Dr Hywel Davies, Technical Director of CIBSE and Chair of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee, reaffirmed that specifiers and manufacturers alike need to prepare for increased data demand. 

He said: “The Golden Thread is not a printout of a PDF. It is meant to be a digital set of data.”  

Uniclass 2015 is an essential way of identifying and managing the vast amount of information that’s involved in a project, and it is also a requirement for BIM projects. NBS Chorus is the only specification tool in the industry that natively supports Uniclass. You can find our latest quarterly Uniclass update here

5. Looking ahead to COP26

After a day with much of the discussion focusing on sustainability, the upcoming COP26 conference during November in Glasgow was mentioned, with many sharing what outcomes they were hoping for. 

Taleen Josefsson wants to see more from the Government in terms of commitments and regulations, Jade Lewis agreed and gave an example of the type of policy she’d like introduced: “…long-term, joined-up thinking around policy, starting with a heat and building strategy that we’ve been waiting on for a long time now. The sector needs confidence to invest in the right things, so we need that clarity.” Jade said. 

Jane Anderson commented on the need to accelerate change. She said: “I want to see real change that’s happening today. The country has made a commitment to be Zero Carbon by 2050 but nothing is happening that will get us there fast enough.”

Rachel Hoolahan stressed the need for better engagement from practitioners towards sustainability and hoped COP26 would cause everybody to have an “ooh moment,” leading them to further understand sustainable practices and then being able to see and fully appreciate the opportunities ahead.


After a day of insightful presentations and panel discussions from leaders throughout the industry, some key learnings were shared around sustainability as well as practical advice for how construction professionals can begin to implement and improve sustainable working practices within their own organisation and throughout the built environment. Digitisation was another of the key topics, with the consensus being that while construction has seen a substantial amount of progress over the last decade, there is still some way to go.

Watch now

Get in touch 

NBS provides digital solutions for the construction sector. For architects, engineers, designers and contractors we provide NBS Chorus, a cloud-based specification system that enables you to work smarter and reduce risk. We also provide NBS Source, a single source for product information.  If you want to find out more and how we can help you address the topics discussed during the Construction Leaders' Summit, email us at hello@thenbs.com.