Sustainable principles

01 May 2008

The European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) was founded in Liège in 1905 and its recent congress, held between 16 and 19 June, was split between Liège and Brussels in celebration of this centenary. The ‘Towards Sustainability-the next 100 years’conference held during the event was also used to present the new ‘F I E C Principles for Sustainability’to its membership.

The declaration was unanimously adopted and FIEC believes it is an important initiative because the construction industry is at the heart of sustainable development with its three key dimensions of economic, social and environmental policy.

Speaking at the congress, FIEC president Wilhelm Küchler said, “These Principles are intended, on the one hand to raise the profile of our industry, while also providing guidance to contractors on how to make their firms and their construction projects more sustainable over time.

“Sustainability has become fundamental in almost everything we do and unsustainable activities are fast becoming unacceptable. Increasingly, they are also often becoming illegal, particularly in the environmental field. Sustainability is not an issue that will come and go like the latest fashion. It is here to stay, and those that choose to ignore it will be the losers”.

The fact that the construction industry is Europe's largest industrial employer and accounts for around 50% of Europe's annual capital investment implies that it has more extensive social and environmental responsibilities than all other industrial sectors.

The construction industry is able to provide solutions for most economic, social and technical challenges resulting from these impacts. But at the same time a survey-carried out by KPMG last year-showed that the importance of having sound sustainability policies is still not fully understood.

Improving Image

In the construction industry, in particular, more efforts by an increasing number of firms could do much to improve the industry's image and help it in improving the health and safety of its workforce, training, and attracting new recruits.

It is quite true that much of the recent debate about sustainability has concerned larger companies, often ignoring small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) which make up over 97% of the construction industry. Sustainability is relevant to SMEs, and the way in which they manage it, and the benefits they obtain from it, can sometimes be quite different to the experience of larger organisations. Many SMEs apply progressive social and environmental policies, but without specifically referring to sustainability and often without communicating what they do.

It is also quite true that SMEs rarely feel the need to publish the type of detailed report that would be expected of a major public company. In practical terms, SMEs are better advised to carefully consider their position in the market place, the image they wish to portray to stakeholders, and then begin by publishing a text tailored to these requirements on which they can build.

The Fiec Principles

FIEC, through its member federations, recommends that construction enterprises promote the following principles on a voluntary basis; n improved relationships with stakeholders through developing mutual respect, honesty, integrity and transparency in business relationships; ■ high levels of quality management of both products and processes; ■ raising productivity and improving economic, social and environmental performance through improved risk management and taking account of the total life cycle costs; ■investment in research and development and dissemination of innovation; ■freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and equal treatment of people regardless of gender, nationality, religious beliefs, or ethnic affiliation; ■ continually improving health and safety procedures while striving for a zero accident rate, and mitigating the effects should they occur; ■ training and continuous professional development of all employees; ■ responsible community relations wherever construction activities take place; ■ implementing environmental management strategies and promoting innovative energy efficient techniques, reducing water use and using materials from sustainable sources. Also to re-use and recycle surplus or residual materials and progressively phase out the use of hazardous substances; ■ improve reporting mechanisms in order to measure and communicate sustainability performance in relation to established benchmarks and new targets and to put in place policies for on-going improvements.

The complete text of the “FIEC Principles” is available in English, French and German, and may be downloaded from the FIEC website.

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