18 August 2023

Is collaboration key to net zero and supply chain success?

Collaboration and engagement can help to lower embodied carbon and speed the journey to net zero buildings. It can transform supply chains to deliver data-led and streamlined project processes. However, it is not yet the norm – in part because a change of culture is required, particularly in the early design stage of projects.


This change in culture needs to be supported by clients, designers, product manufacturers and contractors. If we are to see transformation in construction, then these parties need to see the value that can be created by new approaches. And to see value, design teams need to be able to talk to the people who will deliver them. This is where early engagement and collaboration is so fundamental.

Man and woman wearing hard hats using mobile device for business

Shifting focus away from price

A significant obstacle to culture change is that, in the words of Scott Tacchi (MMC Lead, Sir Robert McAlpine), the construction industry hasn’t learnt lessons over the last thirty years. Provocatively, he called out the business leaders currently wanting to see disruption for being the ones who have preserved the status quo over that same time period.

In his first few months as MMC Lead, Scott found that the business never asked its supply chain what innovation it could bring. The focus was always lowest price, which is at odds with collaboration.

Modern methods of construction (MMC) are central to Sir Robert McAlpine’s new approach: taking a digitised, structured approach that involves looking at a tender and reviewing where productivity improvements can be made in the programme. 

This has meant adopting an ‘integrator model’. The integrator is the organisation that plans and delivers the infrastructure programme. It manages the supply chain , coordinates design and construction, commissions the completed facility, and hands it over to the owner.

Key to the success of this model is bringing the integrator onto the project much earlier. According to Scott, 60-70% of collaboration opportunity is gone by the time a project reaches RIBA stage 3.

Using engagement to deliver new hospitals

Nowhere is the value of early engagement being seen more than in the New Hospitals Programme (NHP). Collaboration is helping to reduce risks and take advantage of opportunities in the market, primarily with the aim of being transformational and unlocking productivity .

“Hospitals have to be functional, but have less impact on environment,” said Emma Whigham (Deputy Commercial Director, New Hospitals Programme). They must meet the needs of patients, visitors and the workforce – not just now, but possibly as far as 100 years in the future. That means creating buildings that are flexible and future-proof . To do this, the NHP is creating standardised approaches and templates.

The first step was recognising that NHS Trusts can deliver healthcare, but they don’t have expertise in building buildings. Little wonder, then, that Emma views new hospitals as having typically been designed and delivered in a unique way nearly every time.

Emma described the NHP as “unprecedented”, putting in place a whole-system approach to delivering hospitals. The marketplace needs to rise to the challenge of working in this new way, but it is also up to the NHP to give the marketplace confidence.

Collaboration lessons learnt by the Seismic project

Made possible by Innovate UK funding, the Seismic programme began in 2017 to create a standard offsite solution for the education sector. After a successful first phase to establish the concept, a second phase sought to deliver a demonstrator building constructed using the Seismic platform – a ‘kit’ of common components that can be used to create bespoke facilities/spaces.

The first ground floor module of the building was sited on March 1st 2022, and by the 24th of March the building was complete. Martin Harvey (Head of Design & Technical Services, McAvoy Group) explained how collaboration was key to making this impressive achievement happen. 

One of the biggest challenges to overcome was the initial feeling that everyone was “playing poker” and keeping their cards close to their chest. If it was possible to do the project all over again, Martin estimates that the timeline could have been two years shorter – simply by understanding that everyone’s common goals benefit from knowledge sharing, rather than feeling that some unique advantage might be given away.

In hindsight, similarities between competitors were inevitable, as every organisation is working to comply with the same building regulations and meet the same employer requirements. Once this obstacle in thinking was overcome, and the consortium opened up its discussions to the supply chain, the results were “amazing, huge.”

The Seismic platform has opened up new opportunities for the organisations involved. The benefits of collaboration that have been evidenced mean the parties are now keen to bring in anyone who is willing to collaborate, because of what they can offer.

Showcasing industry’s progress and vision at Construction Summit 2023

While government policy and regulation can prompt change where it might not otherwise have been forthcoming, it can also take a long time to be made. Businesses are often ready to lead when the government won’t legislate far enough.

That is what led to Tata Steel UK and Constructing Excellence coming together to create the Construction Summit, with 2023’s edition being the first. It represented an opportunity for thought leaders and decision-makers to come together to see where supply chains are making progress. Audiences could learn from best-practice examples, and be inspired by one another to continue their own positive journeys.

The Summit featured presentations across three different strands. Each strand was viewed through the lens of productivity, sustainability and future paths, to give a complete snapshot of where the construction industry is today, and what it is working towards in the short, medium and long term.

For audiences who couldn’t attend the Construction Summit, each strand is being written up into an individual white paper capturing all of the topics discussed on the day. Download the Supply chain white paper using the link below.

•    Supply chain
•    Climate change and net zero
•    People and skills 

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