Role for social media in promoting sustainability

Last Tuesday, I attended last Tuesday’s launch of CIMCIG’s report “The Commercial Value of Sustainability” (download, PDF) at the Building Centre in London.

CIMCIG report advocates Web 2.0The first in a series of specially commissioned industry reports for construction marketers, this CIMCIG report looks at the opportunities sustainability represents for construction, and the opportunities low impact buildings represent, and highlights the need for greater progress.

It was written and researched by sustainability consultant Jeremy Sumeray, with whom I have worked when he was involved in another sustainable business initiative. This involved some use of social media techniques and the potential of Web 2.0 has clearly struck a chord with Jeremy as his report includes a specific section about the power of social networks. He writes:

“The power of social networks to generate debate about politics or products is becoming increasingly clear. The role that Web 2.0 technology played in getting Obama to the White House is now well documented, and the hype around the launch of the iPad owes a lot to the influence of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. More recently the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has led to worldwide condemnation of BP’s activities, as well as massive exposure, through the speed of communication afforded by social networking and social media sites. BP is unable to use traditional methods of controlling the news story, demonstrating clearly the power of Web 2.0 technology to create positive and negative messages about companies and products.

“The use of Web 2.0 technology should be harnessed as part of the communication mix to drive consumer behaviour and life
style changes to help us reach our 2020 emissions targets.”

Government could do better

I spoke to Jeremy briefly after he presented his report at last week’s event, and we spoke about Paul Morrell, the UK chief construction advisor, and his drive to co-ordinate low carbon policy and to improve the government’s return on its investment. Last November, I wrote an open letter to Paul suggesting that ICT can play a crucial role in both these areas; I then added a public postscript, highlighting the potential of Web 2.0 tools and techniques. From Paul’s reply, it appeared he was considering adoption of some kind of social engagement, including a blog.

However, there aren’t many signs that this process has started. Paul has certainly been busy; his Low Carbon Construction Innovation & Growth Team (IGT): Emerging Findings report (PDF) was published in March, and talked (p. 16) about ICT, echoing industry calls for:

“more widespread adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and other IT applications that have the capacity to improve resource efficiency right through the project life cycle.”  [a point also repeated on p.48]

And one of the bodies involved in the development of that report was the specially-formed IGT 2050 Group of young professionals from right across the spectrum of the built environment – including people involved in Constructing Excellence‘s G4C (with whom I’ve been working) – hopefully, the “Y generation” cohort most likely to incorporate Web 2.0 approaches into more collaborative, silo-busting ways of working in a future low carbon economy.

But, apart from his comment on my blog and a GovToday blog post, Taking the Carbon out of Construction (registration required*), I haven’t seen many signs (yet) that Paul or the Low Carbon Construction IGT is building a social media presence to engage with industry and draw in new ideas and perspectives. Its webpage, part of the main Department for Business, Innovation and Skills site, has links to BIS’s presences on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and SoundCloud, and you can register to receive a newsletter (very web 1.0); there is also a “commentable microsite” about Low Carbon Industrial Strategy. Overall, though, I think the low carbon construction message is almost imperceptible among the noise from other government departments. If this was a school report on how the IGT was doing, I would be writing “Could do better”.

[* “All users of GovToday are either Public Sector employees, attendees or sponsors of our conferences.”]

1 comment

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  1. Good article Paul, timely as I was dwelling on a similar theme, ie the lack of use of social media for innovation that led to posterous blog ‘Time for Construction Innovation’ at

  1. […] Since 2008, AMEE has developed a web-based tool that accurately records the carbon footprinting of construction client fit-out and refurbishment projects, piloted by fit-out company Overbury (case study). And fellow Be2camp co-founder Martin Brown is one of the people behind the release of ConstructCO2, developed through Evolution-ip, “by construction people for construction use” (see his blog post). All of these efforts have the potential to contribute to the low carbon construction agenda championed by the UK’s chief construction advisor Paul Morrell (see my pwcom blog posts here and here). […]

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