Overcoming Conservatism in Construction

One of our research engineers, Kell Jones, has been exploring how we might encourage the adoption of more sustainable materials and processes in a traditionally conservative UK construction industry.  This thought piece summarises the findings of Kell’s Masters research project and explores the common contexts in which Cross-Laminated Timber has overcome the industry lock-in to low cost and low risk processes. If you would like to read the full article, you can find it on our sister company’s USP website. http://www.usefulsimpleprojects.co.uk/overcoming-conservatism-in-construction/

Achieving sustainable development requires the decoupling of economic growth from the use of non-renewable resources.  Increased resource efficiency will require the adoption of new materials and techniques.  Previous research has identified many barriers to adoption of unconventional approaches by a traditionally conservative UK construction industry.

My masters sought to develop a deeper understanding of the causes of barriers to the adoption of unconventional materials in the industry along with the conditions under which adoption of unconventional materials occurs in practice.

I used an industry survey and series of semi-structured interviews to identify the contexts and drivers for organisations’ first adoptions of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT).  The survey findings were synthesised with those of a literature review exploring the associated industry dynamics, technology adoption and behaviour change.

The research found that a path-dependent lock-in to market-driven improvement trajectories of cost and risk reduction reduces the motivation of industry participants to adopt new approaches which are perceived to increase cost or risk.

The surveys and interviews showed that designers were motivated to propose the use of unconventional approaches for a number of reasons, for example, carbon or resource efficiency, or aesthetic qualities.  In many cases, the client had not specified sustainability as a project priority.

The study further found that project-specific constraints or contexts created niche-like environments that provided the designers  – who were motivated to use an unconventional approach –  with the opportunity to propose its use.  These project contexts were created by client values and experience, site constraints, or planning or regulatory requirements.

CLT was most likely to be adopted when introduced early in the design process and when considered integral to successful satisfaction of the project constraints, usually by a non-commercially focused client, reducing the opportunity for contractors to make changes post-tender.

Image credits: Denna Jones licensed under Creative Commons.