BLOG: Sustainable innovation will transform our industry

UKGBC’s Director of Learning and Innovation, Cat Hirst, looks at how sustainable innovation can shape the future of our industry.
Sustainable Innovation Cat Hirst blog innovation sprint

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September 5, 2018

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It’s no secret that the construction and property industry is often perceived as archaic, staid and slow-to-adapt. Mark Farmer’s frequently cited review of the industry’s labour issues, Modernise or Die, couldn’t have made our need to innovate any clearer. And now there are some signs that Government is trying to make change happen. The Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge Mission for clean growth has really set the scene for this, and the application window is still open for the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund competition to increase productivity, performance and quality in UK construction. In addition, last month, Government announced additional funding for the catapults – including Future Cities Catapult.

But alongside the push for innovation in our industry, there’s another conversation we need to be having. And that’s about how we make sure our innovation is sustainable.

Sustainable innovation is about delivering new ideas that solve real problems, make money, and deliver social and environmental benefits.

Here at UKGBC, we’ve been working for the past couple of years on how we can build the capacity of our industry to innovate sustainably and at scale. We recognise the need for a culture change in our industry, where innovation is embedded across organisations. We don’t want innovation to be a niche R&D-like activity; sustainable innovation needs to become central to our culture. In practice, this means every project team needs to operate more like an innovation team, drawing insights and practice from well beyond their immediate circle, and working to co-create solutions

Our Innovation Lab brought UKGBC Gold Leaf members Canary Wharf Group, Landsec and M&S together with SMEs and individual innovators to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our sector in a process of open innovation.

With that process drawing to a close, UKGBC has produced a wonderful collection of case studies, Innovation Insights: How do we make space as agile as tech, which showcases some of the insights the team identified during the lab.

But beyond that, many in the team felt that the best thing to come out of our Innovation Lab, was actually the process itself. I had so much feedback from those involved that if we could scale our method for identifying sustainable solutions across the industry, we could make a real difference.

And so, our Sustainable Innovation Manual was born.

Divided into four discreet stages, the manual offers built environment professionals a step-by-step guide for thinking through sustainable solutions to the challenges they face.

This won’t solve things overnight, but it should go some way to demystifying innovation and making the concept of sustainable innovation more accessible to individual project teams.

Next for us here at UKGBC will be a focus on how we can source solutions to the challenges our industry faces in as open and accessible a way as possible. That’s why, later this year, we’ll be launching our Innovation Portal: a public platform where innovators can submit their own sustainable innovations to some of the biggest challenges our industry faces, identified by you, our members.

Check out our innovation page to find out more and get involved!

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