At Agilité, we’re hyper-aware of the knock-on impact construction can have on the oceans and our planet’s water, which isn’t something that can be left unchecked. That’s why we’re proactively working towards reducing those negative impacts in our own operations and services. What’s more, we’ve also committed to donating 3% of our profits each year to help projects which we believe can help the building industry be more sustainable.

So, to celebrate all-things-socially-conscious, share tips for smarter environmental thinking, and remind each other just how much our impact matters, we’re inviting colleagues and friends of the business to take part in our quickfire Q&A. 

First up, it’s Dominic Wodehouse PhD, executive director of Agilité beneficiary, Mangrove Action Project (MAP).

Where do you fit into the environmental sector?

MAP is a small non-profit organisation, focused on mangrove education and restoration training. We run workshops around the world in a bid to improve the outcomes of restorationists — in terms of mangrove survivorship and biodiversity — as well as working with schools to ensure the next generations conserve these precious ecosystems.

Surprisingly, despite the increased interest in ecosystems that sequester and store carbon, the volume of published mangrove science, and the collective experience from conservation projects around the world, survivorship of such planting projects is very low.

To combat this, we demonstrate the necessary biology, ecology, and restoration process and take attendees into the field so they can really understand the intricacies of the ecosystem. It’s complicated — as Facebook would say — and more complex than terrestrial forests.

We are delighted that Agilité has kindly opted to support our work, as well as granted me the opportunity to present to the team in Paris in February, to explain what we do in greater detail.

MAP presentation Paris

From left: Ahmed Senhaji, Neil Coales, Dominic Wodehouse, Carl Elia, Zeid Shehadeh, Vincent Joullié, and Morvan Dishaw

Tell us a little bit about your role at Mangrove Action Project…

I have the honour of running the best mangrove restoration training team in the world! My role includes developing the NGO’s strategy, leading the pitching to — and interaction with — funders, leading the restoration workshop training, carrying the bags, taking far too many photos at each workshop, and occasionally pulling people’s shoes out of mangrove mud.

What made you decide to join Mangrove Action Project?

Prior to life at MAP, I spent 10 years in advertising. I was a decade too late, and it felt like a humourless, political sweatshop. Leaving that industry was an easy decision. Working out what to do next, not so much.

A previous love of trees took me into arboriculture in the UK, as a way into tree-based conservation. Plenty of reading and an MSc revealed the ecosystem that was most interesting was mangroves. I began volunteering for MAP in Trang, in southern Thailand in 2005, and became hooked by a technical conference on the same trip. In a speech, Robin Lewis, the legendarily mangrove restorationist, said the mission required ‘informed supervision in the middle’ between the academics and ground teams, and from then I could see where the rest of my life was heading. A PhD and lots of restoration teaching later, I’m MAP’s executive director — how bonkers is that?!

What song perfectly sums up your working day?

Hard day’s night by The Beatles. Most of my days start around 9am and finish the following day.

Tell us a fact about mangroves that you think people need to know:

Facing a big incoming storm, they can literally make the difference between life and death for coastal communities. Chiefly because inhabitants had previously cleared their mangroves for rice farming, 110,000 people died and another 30,000 went ‘missing’ when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in 2008. Those protected by mangroves largely survived.

Which sector do you think could achieve significant social progress this year?

I’m hoping the funding sector could change their approach to working with NGOs this year and move away from burying said organisations in reporting requirements and budget line restrictions, and instead letting trustworthy bodies get on with what they do best.

Secondly, I’m hoping that governments will realise the need for co-ordinated policy and activity. There’s no point an environment department trying to protect an ecosystem when another —often more powerful — part of the same government decides on a change of land use for that same area.

Thirdly, that groups and companies that engage in environmental work realise that often the solution is social and holistic, not technical. For example, rural projects often fail because the community leadership functions poorly. People have limited livelihood options because literacy is much more of a problem than the statistics would have us believe. Many long-term problems in poor areas can be solved by much better schooling for girls, and properly training the teachers themselves. Building a school is a simple task, but can sometimes miss the point. Developing a mechanism that ensures well-qualified educators turn up at the school every day and teach, rather than offer private lessons for more money, is difficult.

What role do you think technology can play in creating a more sustainable future?

Technology can help us to deal with the long time-lag of CO2 reduction. Even if we reduce output dramatically now, it will still take decades for the levels in the atmosphere to decrease.

What do you wish you’d known about the environment, as a child?

I wish I had known about the impact of all the stupid stuff we did — lead in petrol, DDT, pesticides, the rush into shrimp farming in the mangroves, encouraging people into cars — and been able to do something about it.

What’s the single biggest threat to mankind, in your opinion?

Positive feedback loops building each other, such as the thawing of the permafrost in northern Russia or the release of clathrate methane from the seabed. How these feedback loops interact is poorly understood.

Or Trump in 2024.

If you were country leader for the day, what’s the one thing you’d implement?

Sign an executive order that automatically bans anyone from politics who wants to be a politician – they are clearly in it for the wrong reasons!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in environmental activism or advocacy?

Develop — and follow — your passion. Don’t try to cover everything but engage in an area you can be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about. Keep reading. Link up with groups in that topic – you’ll be amazed by the different ways you can help. Intern where you can. Develop the skillsets that make you valuable to organisations within your area. Master’s yes, but don’t assume you need a PhD. Lots of NGOs are run poorly and what senior managers need is an MBA in NGO management, not a research degree. Be prepared to live poor and skip retirement. Learn to network like Henry Kissinger and present like a TEDTalk hero.

Complete the sentence – in 100 years’ time, I hope…

I hope that we are not sitting in front row seats for the sixth extinction.

As the global population continues to work towards building a more sustainable future for our planet, there has never been a more important time for those in construction to understand the impact their work is having on the both the environment and the societies in which we operate – so understanding your carbon footprint is essential.

In its simplest form, a carbon footprint refers to the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by operations – including the construction process, transportation, and materials used. And, there are several common issues on construction sites in relation to sustainability — including energy consumption, waste generation, and material sourcing — but solving them doesn’t have to cost the earth.

At Agilité, we’re in the process of calculating how much carbon we’re emitting on our sites — through the use of materials, energy, and the waste we produce — to benchmark where we are, and how we could offset that amount through other projects, to achieve carbon neutrality.

Only by understanding, and therefore trying to proactively reduce our usage and reliance on some of the main producers of greenhouse gases — such as sand, water, other raw materials, as well as the high levels of power needed to operate a site — can we start to evaluate renewable and more sustainable alternatives.

For example, energy consumption can be reduced by swapping to energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems during construction, as well as using renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, to power the site.

As construction sites also generate a lot of waste — including generic debris, product packaging, and other materials — proper waste management practices, such as separation of waste, composting, reuse and recycling, can help reduce surpluses.

We know that sourcing sustainable materials can be challenging, particularly if it’s not a part of the client’s budget (read more in our ‘sustainable supply chain guide’) but it’s essential to reduce the negative impact of construction on the planet. Where possible, though, it’s important to use recycled or locally-sourced products — and choose materials that have a lower environmental impact.

That’s why understanding your carbon footprint and implementing sustainable practices on construction sites is essential for reducing the harmful impact of construction on the planet.

It’s no secret that the construction industry is largely responsible for the carbon footprint of UK businesses. In April 2022, sobering statistics from Bimhow revealed that the industry contributes to: 

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way – and the onus is on us as business owners to make better decisions. Much of this comes down to the supply chain, leveraging transparency and visibility, and working with sustainable suppliers. 

It’s a topic that we discuss at length in our latest report, Conscious Construction: Building a Sustainable Supply Chain. Here, our senior project manager Antonio Borges shares his tips for sustainable store concepts and materials – without breaking the bank. 

 

Power down

Construction projects aren’t running 24 hours a day – and neither should your power. Powering down temporary installations such as lighting can save up to 5 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. 

 

Source sustainable materials 

Working with recycled or recyclable materials reduces our reliance on new production. Educating yourself on factors like the four main types of plastics and looking for credentials such as ISO 14001 will guide decision-making. 

 

Seek robust solutions 

Not only should materials be sustainable; they should be robust. Consider the long-term impact of the materials you use. For example, investing in hardwood flooring once will have less impact than continually reflooring a retail store. 

 

Plan your project space wisely 

The space itself should be designed efficiently, with zones to encourage free movement rather than staying in one place. This will help to disperse energy equally, and without waste. 

 

Encourage a lean approach 

When signing up to work with any new supplier, always enquire about lean materials. A value engineering approach will help to use fewer materials without compromising the overall look and feel of the project. 

 

Reduce the impact of your deliveries 

By grouping deliveries, you can save on journeys and reduce emissions. Bulk ordering materials to the site will decrease mileage, as will working with local suppliers. According to the World Economic Forum, last-mile deliveries will contribute to some of the largest increases in carbon emissions by 2030. 

 

Think about reusing space 

Demolition is a huge factor in the footprint of the construction sector – contributing 0.004 to 0.1kg of CO2 per kg of concrete material. Reusing elements in an existing space will lessen our reliance on demolition.  

 

Use smart technology to reduce energy consumption 

Smart control systems offer a holistic dashboard of analytics to identify where energy is being used – and crucially, where it’s being wasted. Keeping an eye on these analytics will help to drive costs down and maintain lower emissions. 

 

Lower temperatures for better energy efficiencies 

Lower temperatures work wonders for energy consumption. The UK alone has the potential to save 1.18 million tonnes of CO2 per year by turning down thermostats by just 1C.  

 

Use local suppliers 

With transportation accounting for 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions, it pays to use local suppliers. Once again, optimising deliveries in bulk will reduce mileage, while it’s also advisable to work with greener logistics teams where possible. 

 

Find out more in our latest report 

Creating a more sustainable supply chain doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Even making the smallest changes can have a huge impact – it all starts with education. For more insights, download our free copy of Conscious Construction: Building a Sustainable Supply Chain today.

 

Download your free guide > 

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