Geotechnical Sustainability – Where do we Start?

What is sustainability? It’s not always an easy question to answer. We might talk about looking after the environment and improve the lives of people. But what does sustainability mean for companies? Does it even have a place in the world of work? 

Geotechnical companies can feel the weight of these questions more than most. Many key impacts, such as the use of large volumes of concrete and high-emission machinery, are at the core of these businesses. Therefore, turning sustainability improvements from an expense into an investment for these companies requires a good understanding of what drives geotechnical sustainability.

Clients are often a big driver of this sustainable development; some clients already require companies to work to BREEAM or other site accreditations, whilst others use pre-qualifications to establish the sustainability of their supply chains. Many sustainability improvements can open new client markets, whilst efficiency and process improvements often come with significant cost / time savings.

Equally, the reputational benefits of sustainability should not be under-rated; the attraction of new young talent, or more environmentally-conscious clients, is a big draw for companies. Investors are already actively marking companies on sustainability, whilst ethical investment firms are on increasing in popularity.

Beyond the positive incentives, legislation is actively forcing geotechnical companies towards sustainability reporting and improvements; whether that is the engines that companies can use on their rigs or non-financial reporting, legislation is already a big driver of change.

But beyond all these drivers, subcontractors still have to prove their sustainability to their stakeholders. For investors, this means talking about key sustainability concepts, such as the planetary boundaries or UN sustainable development goals, in the annual report. With EU legislation, this could mean responding to their circular economy action plan or collaborating with local government industrial symbiosis schemes. Yet it can be hard for foundation contractors to understand what these terms mean for them, let alone know how to respond.

Equally, geotechnical companies have a wide range of sustainability impacts to try to improve, from health and safety on site to the resource use and carbon emissions of concrete waste. A sustainability framework or accreditation is often a good place to start identifying these risk and opportunities. But yet again, knowing what frameworks to choose, or even what frameworks exist, can prove a big task.

To answer a number of these questions, the EFFC have published an overview of sustainability for geotechnical companies. The report explains some core sustainability concepts, accreditations and legislation for foundation contractors. Through explaining these terms and rationale, the report aims to makes it easier for geotechnical companies to improve their sustainability. With this report, maybe the ‘what is sustainability?’ question isn’t so difficult after all.

The EFFC sustainability overview was written by Luke Deamer with the support of Keller and the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, with contributions from Jasmine Andrén from Züblin. The full report can be found here.