Q&A with Brian Hutchison on the BECK Sustainability Forum


It has been 50 years since the 1972 Stockholm Conference brought the concept of sustainable development to a global audience for the first time.  During the subsequent five decades, the UN Environment programme was established, and World Environment Day was created.  However, with the stresses that humans continue to put on our planet becoming increasingly evident, sustainability is being discussed as an ever more serious topic.

In March last year, Brian Hutchison, Pre-Contracts Director, created the BECK Sustainability Forum.  Bringing together employees across the business from a variety of disciplines, the Forum meets regularly to drive forward the business’s sustainability agenda.

Here, Brian talks about the importance of sustainability for BECK, what has been achieved so far and what is in the company’s sights for the near future.


Why did you set up the sustainability forum?

“As a company we have been making efforts to improve our impact on the environment for some time now.  However, over the past couple of years, a spotlight has been shone on the subject with global awareness being raised by David Attenborough’s personal drive and work, the high profile of Greta Thunberg and of course with COP26 taking place in Glasgow last year.  Over this recent period, we have also seen that our clients have become increasingly focussed on sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint, all of which has fitted well with our own values.  The push is for everyone to be aware of their individual impact, not just that from big businesses or from something out there in the wider world.

With this, it became increasingly important for us to move our business forward, to continue to evolve and ensure that we are making a difference.  As the business grows, we have new members of staff joining BECK and many of them are from a generation that care deeply about the planet.  It is my belief that every business in construction needs to get away from the idea that sustainability measures are just a tick box exercise.   We have got to do something that actually makes a difference, we need to really care about it.  For it to be part of our DNA and not just an afterthought or a task that must be complied with.”

Image credits: James Sullivan, Danist Soh and Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

What are the key issues facing businesses in the construction and fit out industries?

“The construction industry has been looking at waste reduction for decades.  But now, it is about what do we do with the waste.  It cannot continue indefinitely only going into landfill.  We can see this in the effects of what has happened with plastic particles within our watercourses and ultimately the sea.

Sustainability has a massive range of subjects under one heading, but as an industry, for a start, we need to look at sustainable materials that can be used as an alternative to those we are used to.  As an example, a consultant talked to me recently about using cardboard ductwork, rather than steel in one of their developments.  It is innovative ideas like that which will revolutionise the industry.  We need to be looking at more renewable and recyclable resources.

People are also looking at the reuse of materials coming out of demolition sites, such a structural steelwork.  Companies are now presenting those materials for reuse, and it is something we are very interested in doing.  But we need to be closely linked with our clients, architects and structural engineers to make this possible.  It often starts before the main contractors come on board, so planning pre-applications need to include these ideas and look at things sustainably from the start.

An article I read recently explored the idea of redeveloping rather than demolishing buildings.  We are being asked as an industry whether there are more instances where we can work with what we already have, rather than knocking down and building from scratch.  However, there is a fine balance; if a building is extremely old or in a particularly poor state, it could still be more efficient and environmentally friendly to knock it down as so much work would be needed to bring it up to future proofed environmental standards.  This is the construction industry’s ongoing dilemma.”


What are you most proud of the Forum achieving so far?

“Over the past year we have had some great results.  We have significantly improved our recycling at head office, use waste carriers who ensure all waste from our sites is now recycled with nothing going to landfill, eliminated the use of over 15,000 plastic bottles across the business, provided all employees with reusable bottles and bags and reduced our energy consumption by installing LED lighting with motion sensors.  We have also donated timber offcuts from our workshop to local colleges for use by their students in their coursework, reducing our waste whilst supporting the community.

The things we have achieved have made a real difference and it has galvanised the whole Forum.  We have key targets for what we want to achieve moving forward.

I’m also proud that the work we’ve been doing has been noticed by our employees, clients, architects, designers, structural engineers, MEP engineers and supply chain alike.  They want to know that the contractors they are working with, have the same mindset as themselves and our approach to this global problem has certainly created a topic for discussion.”


What changes have you seen in the tender process about the demands our clients are making regarding sustainability?

“The majority of clients we work with have been focussed on sustainability for some considerable time and they have been producing year end sustainability reports for up to a decade.  This is a hugely important issue for them, as it is not just about what they do as a business, but what they do for their customers and how they are perceived, all of which helps in their drive for continuous improvement.

They are asking us important questions. What are you doing about sustainability?  What is your environmental policy? How do you deal with all the changes in the industry and global policy happening at the moment?  How do you record what you’re doing throughout a project? How do you track your timber usage? What is your carbon footprint?

These questions are a shift from even just a few years ago.  This is an immensely important topic which is not going away and we therefore all have to ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing?’ and ‘Are we doing enough to make the essential difference?”