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CLF International – Five key takeaways

March 30, 2023

This month the Scottish Government hosted a first of its kind International Construction Leadership Forum (CLF) meeting. Held online, it brought together members of the Forum, teams from across Scottish Government, and international representatives from across the European sector.

Knowledge sharing was the main purpose of the event, with Scottish stakeholders presenting on their experiences of modernising the sector, the Construction Accord and net zero, before opening the floor to European counterparts to hear about best practices, emerging trends and challenges in international markets.

The meeting was chaired by Alan Wilson (SELECT and CICV (Construction Industry Collective Voice)), and the presenters were: Sharon Miller (Scottish Government), Ron Fraser (Construction Scotland), Morag Angus (Scottish Government), Stephen Good (Built Environment -Smarter Transformation Scotland), and John McKinney (Construction Industry Collective Voice).

From Europe, we met representatives including Emile Quanjel (Fieldlab SPARK SCC), Julie Beaufils (EuropeOn), Christian Beck (Beck-Fastening), Jan Osenberg from SolarPower Europe and Oliver Jung (GCP Europe).

Here are the key takeaways from the inaugural CLF International meeting:

1. The Construction Accord is just the beginning

The Construction Accord is a commitment between industry and the public sector to create a thriving and high-performing construction sector in Scotland. Inspired by a similar initiative in New Zealand - a commitment set out in the 2020-21 Programme for Government - it sets out a shared vision for the construction industry and the public sector including key principles such as fair work, diversity and inclusion. It is a set of values and principal aims for the future development and transformation of the construction industry as an integral and vibrant part of the Scottish economy.

The CLF is about to begin developing a Transformation Plan for the sector in Scotland. This meant the timing was perfect to reach out across Europe and hear from their brightest and best whilst also sharing our own experiences.

In the discussions, it became clear that the Accord has enabled the public sector, industry and government to engage in more dialogue and collaboration than it ever has before and we also learned that Holland has an equivalent agreement called the ‘Klimaatakkord’.

Ron Fraser noted that the Accord only marks the start of the sector’s transformation. He stressed that it is the ‘starting block’ for change, not the end of the process. All stakeholders need to remain committed to working together till the end to see concrete changes materialise.

2. Scotland can learn from Denmark’s data mapping on its net zero carbon journey

Scotland’s net zero carbon ambition was naturally a key talking point. John McKinney shared with the group that part of the challenge to meeting this target was a lack of available aggregated data on Scotland’s housing stock.

According to John, better data would not only allow organisations to make stronger cases for Government investment in green schemes, as they would be able to quantify the carbon savings and return on investment of different interventions, but such a database would also simplify and accelerate the rolling out of initiatives such as the installation of heat pumps and solar panels.

During the meeting, we learned that Denmark’s Energy Agency has delivered a database that maps the whole of Denmark’s existing housing sector, including data on housing types and heating systems used. This provides an understanding of the housing stock as it stands and the information to design a roadmap to decarbonisation.

“Across the globe, the sector shares common challenges in the race to decarbonise our built environment. We face the biggest engineering and cultural task in hand, and we cannot do this in silos. International engagement allows us to exchange knowledge and experiences and reminds us too that Scotland also has a lot of expertise and knowledge to share.”

Alan Wilson, Meeting Chair and Managing Director, SELECT

3. What works best, the carrot or the stick?

The question of how to modernise the sector and reach net zero carbon was raised again and again. The ‘carrot and stick’ analogy was used by several speakers to represent different approaches that could be taken.

After providing context on the EU’s ambition to reach net zero by 2050, Julie Beaufils from EuropeOn shared her perspective. She believes that legislation – the stick, in the form of targets, bans on fossil fuel technologies, shifting norms, and so on - is a powerful tool to encourage re-industrialisation and energy saving while providing predictability to businesses. As part of legislation, funding and other incentives – the carrots – must be put forward in order to convince people to make changes.

Whereas Oliver Jung, GCP Europe, felt that a ‘carrot’ approach is more effective at persuading people to make greener choices. He gave the example of boilers that need replacing. He feels that if an installer doesn’t have a financial incentive to install a greener option, then they won’t do it. Oliver says, instead of focussing on providing incentives only to homeowners, we need to establish models that make it seem like a ‘no-brainer’ for those who are installing solutions to choose a green solution even if it seems less convenient for them at first glance.

4. Innovation is key

Naturally, innovation was highlighted as important to the delegates. Christian Beck, Beck Fastening, remarked on its particular importance in the journey to net zero carbon. Beck Fastening has invented a nail made from European beechwood. By using this technology instead of traditional steel nails reduces carbon emissions by 70%.

BE-ST was also highlighted as a significant contributor to the technological progress that has been made in the Scottish construction sector regarding the net zero carbon challenge and modernisation. Beck Fastening is engaged in a joint commercial project with Historic Environment Scotland and BE-ST looking at the retrofit of Dunoon Burgh Halls using mass timber and replacing steel fixings with Beck Fastening’s wooden nails.

Christian believes that to see the change we need requires a complete paradigm shift. He says we all need to be missionaries, engaging as many people as we can and empowering them to look for innovative solutions and enabling new technologies to gain ground.

5. There is a common challenge around just transition and skills

CLF International was an enlightening meeting for several reasons, not least because it revealed that across Europe we share several challenges, namely enabling a just transition and addressing the skills gap.

We heard that in the Netherlands, for example, the government has committed to building 900,000 affordable and sustainable social houses to support a just transition, while SolarPower Europe highlighted that there is a lack of skilled workers across the continent to roll out solar solutions, in particular electricians, who will require at least two to three years of dedicated training before they are even able to start to contribute to lessening demand.

To address these challenges in Scotland, the CLF has strengthened its Transformation Board, co-chaired by Morag Angus, Chief Surveyor for the Scottish Government and Peter Reekie, CEO Scottish Futures Trust and with members from industry, to co-develop a Transformation Plan to deliver on the commitments in the Construction Accord such as increasing diversity and inclusion in the sector and supporting a just transition to net zero.

Collaborating in this way with our European counterparts, we hope to continue to share knowledge and learn from the successes of other countries and their challenging experiences, while bringing new ideas to each other.

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