July 18, 2022

Too Many Costs, Too Few Skills, Too Little Green: How do We Keep Building Sustainably?

Fresh from our recent participation in the Voices in Construction panel (Costs and Inflation in Construction: The Only Way is Up. (Or Is It?)) run by BCM Agency, we’ve had much to reflect on.

This comprises the many pressures that are affecting the construction industry at present, and the knock-on impact they are having on sustainable construction practices, certainly.

But it also covers the hidden opportunities adversity brings to our door – the chance to do things better and greener, not just quicker and cheaper.

Below, we explore the way forward for sustainable design and construction, despite the challenging economic backdrop, and outline how we at Green Building Design are delivering on our commitment to these outcomes.


Costs,labour, supply chain: a trinity of pain

What the construction industry is experiencing at the moment is strong background inflation, plus rising materials and shipping costs driven by war, blockades, and lockdown. But what makes this storm stand out is that there is apparently no dampening effect on demand.

At a macro level, construction output (as of the latest figures available) is at its highest level since September 2019, showing the third consecutive monthly growth greater than 1.0%, with the UK Government committing to building at least a million new properties in England alone over the next Parliament.

If that’s not actually inflation-proof, it comes pretty close.

But what is worrying is that within this upward spiral, there simply isn’t enough labour and skills available to meet that demand.

The upshot is that, on the one hand, costs are being stoked even higher, as employers engage in a price war to attract and retain talent (people are currently being headhunted at 20% to 25% more than their present salaries, according to one source).

On the other, there will still be a yawning (but now much more expensive) gap between the skills and labour available and what is actually needed.

It's potentially a recipe for an overheated bubble fit to burst.


Sustainability swept under the carpet

But what concerns us most is that the construction skills and labour shortage viewed asa general phenomenon masks a far more serious shortage of sustainability-specific skills and labour in the industry.

The headlines are screaming it. Construction SMEs “lack incentive to invest in green skills”, reports FE Week. “Government must do more to close green skills gap, warns industry”, recounts PBCToday. “British firms report skills shortages when trying to recruit in construction and manufacturing”, policy insight from the Green Alliance tells us.“Green skills gap ‘could derail net-zero’,major UK construction firms tell Government”, trumpets Edie.

What, then, is to be done? And where do we at Green Building Design fit into this?


Recruit, train, match rhetoric with actions

There’s much here we can’t change overnight.

We can’t reverse the industry’s obsession with building more, faster, and cheaper, and cutting corners along the way that impact both buildings’ sustainability and the quality of the build delivered.

We can’t halt the disruption to the existing supply chain that has driven a cart and horses through construction products’ availability and lead times, and forced up costs.

We can’t bring down inflation, or escape the uncomfortable reality that, economically speaking, the cure for high prices is high prices.

But we can(and do) sponsor young apprentices to work and train within our business, and give them access to formal academic programmes that enable them to learn critical green design and engineering skills at a level that will influence this and the next generation’s sustainability expectations - wherever else they progress to in the industry.

We can (and do) participate in forums like Voices in Construction where we learn about new methods of advancing green education and training in the industry, through better succession planning, incentivisation, and mentoring.

We can (and do) champion local and onshore construction materials and building design products, and buy from the UK wherever possible, minimising costs, carbon footprint, and lead-time issues for our clients.

We can (and do) combine sustainability with economy and realism, with strategies,modelling, and tools that relentlessly drive down energy consumption and carbon emissions to do right by pocket and planet – without cutting corners.

And of course we can (and do) write regularly and informatively about green construction issues, sustainability, and legislation, to help you understand how to create a greener future for your business and your home.

Costs? Everything we do helps to drive them down. Skills? We’re investing in them and giving our young people a chance to change the industry for the better in the future. Green? It’s in the name.

To find out more about how we can help you to keep building sustainably, call us on 01992 552111 or email

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