Supply Chain School

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Moving beyond the boundaries of the firm to support whole life sustainability. How does this affect the responsibilities, information flow and knowledge needed by a main contractor to affect change?

This research project began as a collaboration between the University of Surrey and Carillion plc. The Practitioner Doctorate programme has engaged a researcher, formally sponsored by Carillion plc to lead the research project which runs from May 2015 to January 2019.


What do we know about the impacts of the products/services involved in construction projects? 
There is an increasing understanding of product and structure ‘life cycle’ and the interrelationship between materials, construction and use. Life stage information for products is now available via Environmental product declarations, other LCA data, Input Output analysis, material flows , greater granularity of data on embodied carbon and  increasing research on water use and scarcity and, although still nascent, social issues. Governments are using these types of approaches to develop long term reduction strategies and influence policy and elements are incorporated in LEED and BREEAM standards. However it is not clear how useful these types of data have been to the industry  or how widely adopted within supply chain teams to support decision making.   

The role of the Main Contractor and their supply chain
For major construction projects in the UK main contractors manage the preparation on site, the material flows and structure completion for clients and it is widely acknowledged that between 70-75% of their costs, are invested in the products and services provided by those in the upstream supply chain. However construction ‘supply chains’, unlike those in the much more widely studied manufacturing  or retail sectors, operate as a complex nonlinear network of actors that change and evolve around projects that demand a bespoke product outcome. This structure has major implications for the flow of information and knowledge at all phases of construction and indeed across the life time of the structure. Increasingly companies are being challenged to work transparently but unlike the increasingly visible chains in textiles and electronics construction still has limited insight into the provenance of many of its raw materials. 

What responsibility does a Main Contractor have for Sustainable Procurement in Construction: how is this affected by the boundaries set, knowledge and implementation?
This research will attempt to assess, from the perspective of a UK main contractor, what social and environmental impacts are most affected by their activities and what does sustainable procurement need to achieve. Are the barriers created by a traditionally adversarial tendering system preventing the embedding of sustainability or is the greater restriction due to mismatches in knowledge and information flows through the supply network? Would a greater understanding of the nature of responsibility and influence within the supply network affect actions taken? Can sustainable procurement offer a route to managing risk and does it add value to the supply network, and if so, to which party?  These complex and interrelated questions will be considered during this action based research Doctoral Practitioner programme. 

Due to reasons of confidentiality not all of the research data identified by the project will be publicly available but Carillion has committed to regular updates to the Horizon Group, engagement in industry forums and sharing of outline findings with its Supply Chain School Partners on completion of the work. 

For further details on the project, the Centre for Environment and Sustainability and the Doctoral Practitioner, click here