Laing O’Rourke targets net zero and gender parity by 2033

The Laing O’Rourke Steetley Plant, where structural components are fabricated for Crossrail’s Custom House Station in East London

Laing O’Rourke aims to be a net zero emitter of carbon by 2030 and have a workforce made up of equal numbers of men and women by 2033, it has revealed.

The contractor said it would develop a plan to reduce Scope 3 emissions (also known as value chain emissions because they are the result of activities and assets not owned by the reporting organisation) before 2050, in line with most aspirational goal of The Paris Agreement – to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It pledged to deliver an absolute reduction in carbon emissions from its directly controlled operations (Scope 1 & 2 emissions) of at least 75% by 2030 – a reduction in total emissions even as the business grows. The remainder, a maximum of 25%, will be achieved through carbon removal activities or offsetting.

To help achieve its aims, the company has appointed Samantha Hoe-Richardson as its group advisor on climate change and sustainability. Hoe-Richardson is former head of environmental and sustainable development of Network Rail and prior to that was head of environment at mining company Anglo American.

Laing O’Rourke already claims to have reduced demand for energy across its operations, and achieved a 1.5 million kWh reduction in its electricity usage in the year to March 2020.

To reach a 75% reduction in absolute carbon emissions, it plans to further improve energy efficiency and to transition to biofuels as a stepping-stone to the full electrification of operations (including car fleet and plant).

Three projects are already being progressed:

  • Converting all company offices and project sites to renewable energy tariffs
  • Transitioning to an all-electric company car fleet
  • Investing in commercial solar panels to power all operations at the Laing O’Rourke Centre of Excellence for Modern Construction in Nottinghamshire.

However, to reduce its Scope 3 emissions, it must also work with clients, suppliers and academic partners.

The majority of Laing O’Rourke’s emissions relate to purchased materials, in particular concrete and steel. To accelerate progress in reducing Scope 3 emissions the business said it would:

  • Work with its suppliers to embed Scope 3 data capture and reporting across all projects globally
  • Work with strategic suppliers to develop emissions reduction targets
  • Continue to invest in R&D to accelerate the development of low and zero carbon products manufactured off site at its UK facility or with global partners
  • Support the delivery of clients’ net zero ambitions through wider use of its engineering carbon calculator to help optimise design for sustainability.

It added that it would continue to use the Laing O’Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology at Cambridge University, to increase research into decarbonising construction and advance the knowledge of its own employees and others.

In the last decade, the business has also invested £200m in the Laing O’Rourke Centre of Excellence for Modern Construction (CEMC), which will contribute towards the company’s carbon reduction targets by producing lower-carbon components for more of its projects.

With co-funding from the Industrial Strategy ‘Transforming Construction’ Challenge, Laing O’Rourke and nine partners are progressing a project called Product Based Building Solutions, to streamline the end-to-end project delivery process with a kit of manufactured concrete components. The project is targeting 30% operational and 50% embodied carbon reduction.

Alongside this, the company’s R&D team is working on ways to decarbonise manufactured concrete products and the Laing O’Rourke Centre of Excellence for Modern Construction (CEMC) has applied to Innovate UK’s Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF) to part finance this work.

Gender balance

In addition to the carbon reduction targets, Laing O’Rourke has announced plans to ensure the number of men and women employed in its international staff (currently 5,500 people) are equal by 2033, with additional gender-focused initiatives to be set out to improve representation among frontline construction workers.

It will also apply the learnings from the successful pilot of a Gender Diversity Action Plan in Australia, and the STEM+ schools programme that is now being delivered on construction projects in both operating hubs.

Specific recruitment strategies will target women, and there will be a referral bonus scheme, sponsorship of emerging female leaders and mandatory inclusivity training for senior and hiring managers. By implementing these measures, the company now has 36% more women in senior project roles in Australia than 12 months ago.

The company will also develop plans to increase the representation of people from different groups, and will continue its work to transform the inclusivity and sustainability of construction careers by:

  • Investing in its DfMA-led operating model and the upskilling of its people to make Laing O’Rourke an employer of choice for more people
  • Providing its people with more dynamic and flexible working options
  • Implementing its wellbeing strategy (Life at LOR) across the entire business to protect people from occupational ill health, including implementation of wellbeing lessons learned during the covid-19 pandemic
  • Link gender and cultural diversity outcomes to the success metrics of projects.

Laing O’Rourke Group CEO, Ray O’Rourke, said: “As a family-owned business, we have long been focused on delivering lasting benefits to our clients, our people and the communities our projects serve. We’ve made progress delivering our environmental plan, but the simple fact is the climate emergency demands we do more and with greater urgency. The same is true of diversity, which remains unacceptably low in our sector.

“The construction industry has some difficult challenges to solve, most notably that of reducing the embodied carbon in concrete. But I know our people have the passion to make a real difference and the experience to work with others, including our clients and partners, to deliver the progress required.”

Laing O’Rourke group director, Madeleina Loughrey-Grant, said: “The people across our business are driven by a strong sense of purpose, innovation and curiosity and, through the power of our collective experience, we will find the solutions needed to solve some of the biggest issues of our time. We will continue to challenge ourselves as we redefine how we deliver for our clients and for society, and in how we care for our people.”

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  1. Regarding Laing O’Rourke’s plan to have ‘gender balance’ by 2033, I really don’t see how this will benefit the company (or the industry). Meritocracy is surely a better measure to use (based on qualifications, experience, etc) and without doubt must be a better method of ascertaining someone’s suitability, rather than employing a person because of their gender, or colour. We need people in the industry who are fit for purpose, not just fitting a profile!

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