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Jade Lewis, Director of Advocacy for Saint-Gobain UK and Ireland, recently spoke at the annual CIMCIG debate at the Palace of Westminster - Improving the Image of Construction.

'I am here today representing Saint-Gobain. For those of you who don’t know us, we are a construction product company started over 350 years ago to manufacture the glass for the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, commissioned by Louis XIV himself. 

Since then the business has heavily invested in innovation, capacity building and acquisitions to become the company it is today - the worldwide leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of construction products, employing over 180,000 people worldwide. 

I am sure that our ethos of investing in innovation is why we are still around today.

We have a vision in Saint-Gobain; ‘to create great living spaces and improve daily lives’. This is a vision I wholly believe in. For me it is what inspires me to do my job, even throughout the tough times, and why I love working for Saint-Gobain. Knowing that as a sector we can create truly inspirational built environments:

  • smart cities utilising the latest technologies and innovations,
  • high quality and performing buildings that enhance occupant health and wellbeing,
  • circular economies that effectively use resources,
  • providing solutions to global issues like climate change,
  • creating a diverse workforce offering long-term opportunities for all,
  • that contributes positively to society.

This vision inspires me personally. Why wouldn’t anyone want this image for the construction sector? Who wouldn't be inspired to work within this sector?

But the reality is we do not have this image.

We are a sector known for being slow to adopt innovation. Despite being one of the major UK sectors, contributing £138 billion to the UK economy, construction companies only invested 0.9% of the total R&D expenditure by UK businesses in 2017, according to ONS data. This is particularly true for the housing sector where we are still building homes today using the same techniques developed many years ago.

Build quality is poor with young people preferring to purchase an existing building as opposed to a new build home. We surveyed 3,000 homeowners and renters in 2016, 90% said they wanted a home that would not compromise their health and wellbeing. Yet the occupants wellbeing is still not foremost when designing a home. Our £58 billion per annum RMI market currently has a £6 billion cost to put right problems from poor standards.

Construction and demolition waste makes up 61% of total UK waste.

According to the Committee on Climate Change, buildings accounted for 19% of the Greenhouse Gas emissions in 2017.

The construction workforce is one of the least diverse. 86% are male and 94% are white. According to the CITB and ONS.

So change is needed and we have the perfect storm growing around us. 

A sector deal with the Government together with £170 million of Government funding to transform the construction sector to achieve its potential.

As part of the Construction Leadership Council we have been leading this change, working together to remove barriers to innovation and increase productivity.

With better regulation from Government and procurement that considers whole life value, design that puts the occupant at the centre, improved building standards, with industry collaboration and the adoption of innovation we can all help to drive this much needed change, build great living spaces and improve daily lives, and finally have an image we can all be proud of.'

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