Leadership perspectives: SDG 12 - Responsible production and consumption

For our October edition of Fika with Friends, we chose to dive into an aspect of UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12 - Value Engineering (VE). And now, you get to hear more about some of the knowledge acquired at this webinar.

This commonly understood process is often defined as having enormous benefits and being an integral part of the design stage of development, aimed at increasing value. Indeed, almost every official definition quotes these positives and implies that the outcomes are overwhelmingly beneficial. We know, however, that many specifiers and suppliers have very different experiences, and the process is seldom seen as positive by those groups. Instead, it’s often described as a race to the bottom, where cost is the only consideration and ‘or similar approved’ allows for significant product substitutions to take place.

Two industry experts and their take on VE

Through the rise of Design & Build projects in recent years, VE seems to have become more prevalent in the landscape sector. In Vestre’s recent Fika with Friends webinar, we chose to discuss the impact on aspects of the supply chain. Amidst concerns that current levels of VE might be having a detrimental impact on sustainable specification and procurement, we wanted to look into this with our guests: two experts from the world of landscape construction.

Wayne Grills is CEO of BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries) and Alistair Bayford is a landscape architect and Operations Director for ID Verde, Europe’s leading provider of grounds maintenance and landscape construction services

In Wayne’s view, a project should be optimised through VE and suffer no material loss for the client and no loss of profit for the contractor: “Value engineering = common sense”, yet many BALI members have had a bad experience with VE.

Alistair’s perspective, was that there are often many opportunities for positive improvements to be made in terms of buildability and sustainability, but “The most important phase is squeezed, and the, due to timing, the benefit of value engineering is often isolated to cost”.

What are the main challenges of VE?

Sadly, in our webinar poll, almost every participant felt loss of quality on the project was the biggest challenge to the process of VE.

Alistair’s VE experiences to date have mostly been around seeking cost improvements within a tight timeframe. He gave an example of an 8-week project timeline with a 4-week supply time, leaving very little time to put forward ‘equal or approved’ solutions that could contribute to the process of VE. On short projects he could “Win the job on Friday and turn up on site on the Monday”.

In addition, the Contractor’s Design Portion makes it difficult as generally the Client makes most of the decisions, but the risk is still carried by the contractor. When able to contribute properly, contractors have great knowledge on buildability and suitable materials, but some decisions are made without the knowledge of the client or contractor. Both situations are counterproductive since so much untapped potential value is compromised.

And what about sustainability?

Also, in our poll, not one attendee believed VE took account of an impact on sustainability and it was clear to everyone that the current emphasis on capital cost needs to shift to a longer term view and whole life cost, including routine maintenance and replacement. As Alistair put it “There needs to be that bringing together of thinking beyond the, what does it look like at practical completion or end of defects, to what does this scheme look like in 5 years’ time, 10 years’ time?”.

Or, according to Wayne, “We see absolutely beautiful schemes, but there is no maintenance whatsoever in certain cases to maintain those structures and landscapes moving forward. That’s the real downside of our industry”.

Local procurement is often seen as a major contributor to sustainability on construction projects, but it seems very hard to implement and Alistair believes that only around 10% of his recent projects are locally sourced. Local suppliers can be found and, for instance, engaging local steel fabricators can have a positive impact on carbon reduction without hindering quality, but there is seldom time to investigate these options. At ID Verde, project spend in London over the last 3 years has seen materials and nominated sub-contractors representing 33-40% of cost, and 60% of these suppliers are already nominated in the tender pack, leaving very little opportunity for contractor input.

So, how can we do better?

BALI’s particular focus is on bringing different parts of the industry together to share info and build knowledge for future improvements and Wayne is keen that VE is an area where such improvements can be made. We share a responsibility and, through trade associations and similar bodies, we can ensure greater communication between all parties. This is also important as early as possible in a project, as collaboration between these bodies is key to providing education to members and bringing pressure on the entire industry to change.

As Wayne said, “We’ve got to react as an industry to make sure that we are saying to our clients, main contractors and architects: this is the way we operate”.

Performance specifications seem to be key to ensuring quality and sustainability lie at the heart of future VE, so that cost does not always take precedence. Suppliers’ specialist knowledge is required here and there is an opportunity for them to educate on their products to ensure their real value is understood. BIM (Building Information Modelling) was also felt to be a potentially valuable means of delivery of key information to ensure like for like comparisons can be made.

Maybe the most important solutions of them all...

More than anything, more time is required – for specifiers to carry out sufficient research and propose the best solutions; for forward procurement to take place; for maintenance implications to be considered and compared (for whole life cost calculations); and to carry out honest project reviews that share learnings for the good of the industry. As Alistair put it: “Give us the time to do the right things and input where we feel it’s beneficial and the marketplace will benefit hugely.”

Finally, from our poll, all respondents felt greater collaboration and earlier conversations with suppliers were key to achieving better outcomes.

As our attitudes toward outdoor space have changed dramatically over the last six months, will we finally value our landscape projects properly and invest in them for the longer term to ensure they deliver the public health and wellbeing benefits that we now so urgently need from them?

Don’t miss out on our next Fika with Friends

Only a small amount of Fika knowledge and experiences are shared in these articles, and to not miss out, make sure you join our next webinar on Friday 18th December at 11AM. This time we will be discussing SDG 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities and, in particular, Equitable Landscapes. As always, experts in their fields have been invited to broaden our understanding of the subject; meet Christopher Arthey (Planning & Development Manager at Axiom Developments), Jane Findlay (LI President and Director of Fira) and Marie Burns (Landscape Architect and author of New life in Urban Squares).

Save your ‘seat‘ for the next event here: https://fika-with-friends-from-vestre-dec-2020.eventbrite.co.uk