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Covid crisis a template for progress on sustainability

Construction accounts for 39 per cent of global emissions but Sisk is trying to reduce its own impact

Sinéad Hickey, Sisk’s head of sustainability for Ireland and Europe

Sinéad Hickey, Sisk’s head of sustainability for Ireland and Europe

 

Building contractor John Sisk & Son is making progress on a number of fronts towards realising its sustainability ambitions. “Covid-19 provided a great template for how we can address a crisis collectively,” says Sinéad Hickey, Sisk’s head of sustainability for Ireland and Europe.

“Hopefully, that’s what we will see coming out of Cop26. There is almost a palpable sense of anticipation of what’s going to come out of it. Expectations are similar to COP21. It’s a make-or-break situation and we are all in it together. Every business must challenge itself and ask if they can do better.”

The company is switching over to hydrotreated vegetable oils (HVO), a bio-based liquid fuel, from diesel in the UK at the moment. “We are committed to using it on all of our UK projects from next month,” says Hickey. “That will have an immediate impact on our carbon footprint and will help us to eliminate fossil fuels. We have an agreement with Green Biofuels in the UK to supply HVO and we are looking at how to replicate that in Ireland and Europe.”

HVO is subsidised in the UK and that supports companies such as Sisk to make the switch. “Our energy manager and supply chain director are looking at it in Ireland and we are hoping for progress in the next few weeks,” says Hickey. “What’s really important is that we don’t just do it ourselves but that we influence our supply chain as well. We will share our learnings with companies in our supply chain and engage with them to influence their transition.”

Sisk is committed to planting 1.7 million trees by 2029, the 170th anniversary of the founding of the company, and planted 110,000 trees in Ireland this year
Sisk is committed to planting 1.7 million trees by 2029, and planted 110,000 trees in Ireland this year

Sisk is committed to planting 1.7 million trees by 2029, which is the 170th anniversary of the founding of the company. “We started this year in Ireland where we have planted 110,000 trees,” Hickey says. “We also planted 15,000 trees in Sweden in conjunction with a client there. This is not about carbon offsetting, we are just planting trees. Our plan is to continue planting in Ireland, the UK and Europe where we have projects. It allows for some really nice volunteer activity for our staff.”

Bog rehabilitation

Sisk is also supporting bog rehabilitation efforts. “We have a working relationship with Green Restoration Ireland, a co-op established in 2019. Their ambition is to rewet peatlands for farmers and other landowners. We can offer resources, personnel, expertise and perhaps materials to help farmers and other landowners rewet bogs. Lackaduff in Mayo is our first bog project and we will have volunteers there next month. We also have some other peatlands identified, particularly in the midlands.”

The other area she highlights is the increasing use of offsite fabrication and modern methods of construction which can considerably reduce the carbon intensity of construction projects. “Vision Built is our offsite construction business and is playing a very important role for us,” she says. “For example, offsite construction can reduce waste by more than 50 per cent in some cases. It also reduces the need for travel and vehicle movements. Overall, it uses 50 per cent less energy than traditional construction methods.”

Speed is another benefit. “We constructed a three-bed home in Dublin in five days with just three or four employees on site. Last year Vision Built produced 8,000 square metres of classrooms in its factory in six weeks and constructed them in just weeks on site last year. The transition to offsite construction can deliver a whole range of benefits from both environmental and societal standpoints,” Hickey concludes.