1.1. Background and Rationale to the Research Question
Issues of sustainability and eco-friendly practice in the construction sector but also across all of areas of life, are among the most controversial, dynamic, high profile, and important of our time (Kibert, 2016). This is not a passing fad or of niche interest. The concept if sustainability as generally understood today took root in the 1980s and is now part of educational curricula, international political agenda, the corporate social responsibility statements of large public and private organisations, the marketing hook of global brands, etc. (Carroll and Buchholtz, 2014).
The reason why is, essentially, twofold. The first concerns the emergent concern since the 1980s over the global environment and ecosystems. Realisation of the damage caused to the Ozone layer in the 1980s took concern of safeguarding the environment from a niche to a common concern (Parson, 2003). Understanding the damage being caused to the Ozone layer – by the release of CFCs – and the result of such damage – skin cancers being the most common – was understandable to the international public and galvanised an international response through collaboration by national governments (ibid.). The result was change in national policy with oversight by relevant international organisations (ibid.). In the years since, various terminology has emerged to describe positive environmental awareness among the them sustainability and eco-friendliness.
These concepts have, of course, extended significantly beyond the Ozone layer and CFCs, and now apply to most all aspects of personal and public life that have an impact on the environment. Given the profound impact of the construction sector on environment, there has been significant and law and policy-making by national governments and via international organisations such as the European Union and World Bank, in seeking to drive best practice by stakeholders within this sector.
Furthermore, the so-called carbon footprint of the construction sector is surprising us even now. For example, in very recent years the effect on concrete on the environment has been shown to be multi-faceted (Sabnis, 2015). The spread of concrete eliminates space for vegetation, but the manufacture of cement and other materials used in creating concrete have massive energy needs (ibid.). Yet, transitioning the construction sector from concrete to alternatives is an immense challenge given the cheapness, effectiveness, flexibility etc. of this product in construction (ibid.).
Thus, the fundamental challenge to the implementation of sustainable and eco-friendly practices the construction sector, is one of competing objectives, i.e.:
• On the one hand, a sincere willingness in most of us, including stakeholders in the construction sector, to ‘do the right thing’ and their maximum to secure sustainability and eco-friendliness AND
• On the one hand, and an ambition to maximise profits for shareholders and the delivery of excellent construction products for customers, on the other hand.
These objectives are frequently in conflict and this is why the research question of this research study is so relevant:
What are the Key Barriers to Implementation of Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Practices in the London Construction Sector?
The above question has two further elements that require explanation. The first of these is that the question focusses on the key barriers to the implementation of sustainable and eco-friendly practices. That is to say, the study seeks to identify what are, according to key stakeholders, in the sector, the specific barriers that are of most and enduring concern by identifying what they are, we can both focus attention and also, potentially, generate recommendations to overcome some, perhaps even all, of these barriers. This is not being presumptuous. Of course, this issue has received previous attention, but it is also apparent from the literature review that obtaining a detailed list and explanation of such barriers is not easily available. Such literature that does exist, also tends to be from a single or narrow se of perspectives. This study attempts to obtain perspective from a diversity of stakeholder perspectives.
Secondly, this study focusses on the London construction sector. There are two reason for this. Firstly, this is necessary so as to apply focus to the study otherwise the study would be too broad to be manageable. Secondly, the London construction sector is one of the most dynamic and progressive areas of the international construction sector. It attracts the most creative and talented architects, engineers, and other professionals in the construction sector, and it attracts intense media, political, and public attention when large and imposing designs are proposed for construction. Thus, some of the best thinking in terms of sustainability and eco-friendly designs, materials, practices, and processes are taking place in London. Investigating this sub-sector – and inquiring of stakeholders in this sub-sector about sustainable and eco-friendly practices the London construction sector – provides an excellent opportunity to identifying the key barriers referred to above.
1.2. Research objectives
The research objectives of this study as follows:
• To identify the key areas of the London construction sector that impact the environment most of all.
• To identify the key legislation and industry-regulation that applies to the sector and its relevance.
• To identify the barriers that are identified in the literature and also from key stakeholders in the sector.
• To identify the key recommendations and suggestions of stakeholders in the sector for improving practices and overcoming the barriers identified.
1.3. Personal Interest
There is also a personal interest in this research topic. I come from a merchant family that has interests in construction. While I do not now expect to work long-term in the sector, I am deeply interested in it and want to be of service to my family. I am also, like many of generation, very aware of the need to protect our shared environment and this starts with being educated about how we directly impact the environment as individuals and collectively. Thus, I want to learn more about environmental best practice via the concepts of sustainability and eco-friendliness so as to be properly educated about them and bring this knowledge to my personal, family, and future professional life. I think this is a basic obligation on all of us as global citizens.