Why businesses should embrace sustainability

9th April, 2021

Abdul Ben Ghalbon, director at civil and structural engineering consultancy HBL Associates, discusses the importance of why businesses should embrace sustainability.

Rapid population growth, economic development and an unrelenting demand for more natural resources are putting a strain on our planet. Businesses have become increasingly aware of the need to have more environmental responsibility and increase sustainable practices, through reflecting  environmental and social concerns in their business decisions.

The world today is very different to when HBL was first established. In three short decades, the ‘old way’ of running a business, for better or for worse, has become no longer relevant.

The UN Environment Programme approximates that the Buildings and Construction Industry accounts for 35% of global energy consumption and 38% of total global energy-related CO2 emissions. This is more than any other industry. Given the role of engineers in the industry, it is only right that we feel obliged to act.

As a start, engineers can specify more environmentally friendly materials, home in on prefabrication and off-site manufacturing, consider energy use throughout the lifetime of developments, and where possible attempt to regenerate and reuse existing structures to give them a second life.

However, at HBL we have found that sustainability must not just be reflected in our designs and specifications. It goes beyond that to ensuring we have a robust management framework, as we have experienced first-hand the benefits of integrating sustainable considerations in our business decisions. Sustainable strategies are of course not just limited to the engineering field, they can be part of all businesses in all industries. For a business to thrive in the exponentially changing world of the 21st century, it must be readily adaptable as it evolves.

And for those that prefer the traditional business case, this is not just about doing our bit and giving back to our environment. A strong sustainability strategy actually comes with ample business opportunities as well. It opens doors to entering and growing into new streams of business. The energy sector as an example, is generally moving away from large power stations in one location distributing energy across wide areas, to a more decentralised approach with an increased number of smaller scale facilities. An engineering practice can increase exposure to renewable energy projects, which will bring long-term benefits to the environment. These include CHP (Combined Heat and Power) and WHB (Waste Heat Boiler) as well as wind, solar and tidal energy sources. We work in partnership with investors, technology providers and businesses, to provide civil and structural engineering designs to support solutions for this sector.

It also enhances the internal structure of the company: making it a more desirable and future-proofed place of work. Recent research has found that employees are focusing more on mission, purpose, and work-life balance. Companies that treat people fairly, do business in the right way, and have a long-term strategy to develop in a sustainable manner, will attract the best people, create a stronger culture and be more resilient to change.

When it comes to initial implementation, you can start with maintaining some of the positive outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic, such as flexible working and increased reliance on video conferencing, instead of physical meetings. You can look to source your energy from a supplier that is committed to renewable energies, or even buy your business essentials from ethical, and preferably local, suppliers.

These solutions are generally not more expensive than conventional practices. There just needs to be a mind shift in the way things are done. At HBL, one area we have pushed recently is to commit to ensuring all company vehicles are 100% electric by 2022.

At the core of our ethos at HBL is to build strong relationships – with both our clients and our colleagues. This philosophy has contributed towards our year-on-year organic growth. Increasingly, both our public and private sector clients are specifying high standards of efficiency and sustainable methods of construction. This trend can only continue to increase as technology improves and new, innovative building solutions are developed.

Since the formation of the company, we have never shied away from employing young and developing talent, often allowing them to continue their education while working with the company. Over the last fifteen years in particular, we have capitalised on the importance of bringing on board young talent and allowing this to thrive within the business. We have found that a balance must be struck between an experienced workforce that knows better than to repeat past pitfalls, and a young workforce that is happy to challenge, has not been moulded and does not always accept the status quo!

The fresh talent, coupled with the willingness to invest in their ideas and personal development, soon saw a measurable impact on our workflows. We have been using the latest available technologies for no less than 10 years, and although we have always tried to do so, the rate of change in available tools over the past decade has been nothing like we have seen before.

All of the above are examples of what we think are key aspects of a sustainable and thriving business. Our founder 30 years ago, Henry Long, says: “This organisation has always been about the people”. This remains to be our company’s ethos: a progressive and adaptable organisation that keeps up with the times and always places the people that shape it, and interact with it, above all else.