Leading the way through research
For more information about the group or to discuss opportunities to join, please contact Cathy Berry.Contact Cathy
The purpose of the Horizon group is to develop a research-led community of practice which can facilitate School content that is better informed by research.
Horizon works towards a supply chain with greater capability to deliver a sustainable built environment through the development and implementation of collaborative research.
The group is chaired by Professor Laura Spence, Professor of Business Ethics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Gareth Rondel, Head of Group Corporate Responsibility at Kier is the deputy chair. Action Sustainability Senior Consultant Cathy Berry facilitates the group.
The group is supported by a wide range of Partners and supports a growing number of projects.
Horizon research projects
Have a look in a bit of detail at our Horizon research projects.
Whole Life Sustainability in Construction Supply Chains
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.
Information on the Centre for Environment and Sustainability and the doctoral practitioner: Erica Russell
Social Sustainability Action for Employees (SoSAFE) Project: Exploring the effectiveness of supply chain strategies in assuring good conditions for supply chain workers
Research Leader: Maeve O'Loughlin
Location: Middlesex University
Project Timings: Stage 1, October 2016 - December 2017
Sustainability practice is moving on to provide greater focus on social needs. Company practices must give greater focus to supporting vulnerable people and communities through decent jobs, regular incomes, apprenticeship qualifications, contracts for small contractors – this is what creates value, changes lives and has the potential to change the communities in which we live.
This research project explores whether current health and safety practice in contract supply chains may actually be limiting value creation for workers through constraining opportunities and capabilities in contracting organisations. It also examines if existing practices are failing to improve the management of severe risks due to an inadequate focus on what is important.
This research examines new safety theory and will assess whether the practices we follow to improve safety may actually be inadequate. New safety theory provides an alternative vision of what is currently practiced which requires looking out and up to the organisational or project context to associated relationships between the immediate workplace, people and overarching organisational influences in assessing risk and evaluating accidents. It advocates the creation of safety through focusing on a just culture, positive indicators and resolving the mismatch between work as prescribed or planned, and work as it must actually be undertaken.
The new view of safety highlights possibilities for assuring greater social value from human capital potential under the scope of social sustainability with its alignment to inherent sustainability values of equity, justice and fair treatment.
As part of Supply Chain Sustainability School funded research, this project explores whether this new view of safety is capable of translation to the contract supply chain context. The initial theory review phase is underway and the Supply Chain Sustainability School members will be asked to provide valuable input to evaluate the existing assumptions and experiences that companies have in relation to supply chain health and safety practice. These outcomes will support further doctorate level research to determine whether we can challenge some of the issues in how we support worker safety in light of the new view of safety.
Measuring progress towards a circular economy is an area that was recognised as requiring more attention.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Granta Design have looked at the circularity of materials in businesses and developed a circularity index. A 2017 Horizon Group research project funded by United Utilities has built upon this work and created a construction focused measurement tool together with associated guidance, training and case studies to demonstrate how users can assess and promote more circular construction products.
Circular economy resources
Defining the relationship between project performance, sustainability performance and collective organisational values
Research Leader: Mohammad Rickaby
Location: Loughborough University
Project Timings: 4 year Engineering Doctorate - 2014 -2018
The Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Construction Engineering at Loughborough University, with funding from the EPSRC and Action Sustainability sponsored this Engineering Doctorate (EngD) programme. The project explored the relationship between personal and individual values in complex temporary multi organisation project environments. This research aimed to understand the role of values on decision-making and project performance around sustainability. This understanding may enable construction teams to achieve more sustainable and competitive projects by exploiting the benefits of a framework that better integrates and is sensitive to collective organisational values.
Mohammad published two conference papers and won a CIOB award for "Best Research Paper" for his SEEDS conference paper.
Development of a Values-Based Framework For Predicting Project Sustainability Performance
Read the paper
Exploring Alignment Of Personal Values in a Complex, Multi-Organisation Construction Project Environment
Read the paper
For information on Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Construction Engineering and the doctoral practitioner:
ISO 20400 Overview
The ISO 20400: Sustainable Procurement Standard was published in April 2017 and replaces BS 8903:2010 Principles and Framework for Procuring Sustainably. It provides guidelines for organisations wanting to integrate sustainability into their procurement processes. The new standard has been created with the input of experts and industry bodies from than 40 countries, including the British Standards Institution (BSI). ISO 20400 is applicable to any organisation, public or private, irrespective of size or location. It is most relevant for sustainability managers; supply chain managers; environment/waste managers; facilities managers; senior procurement and purchasing professionals; commercial directors and finance directors.
ISO 20400 SME guide
How to be a responsible supplier is a short, focused guide written by Horizon group members, especially for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It is useful for smaller organisations that may have been directed to follow ISO 20400 by others such as clients or customers. It ’translates’ the key points of the ISO 20400 standard from an SME point of view in an easily accessible guide. This is not a comprehensive replacement for ISO 20400 but will help SMEs understand the implications of the standard from their perspective and will help boost confidence when in the process of implementing it.
How to be a responsible supplier
Horizon group meeting notes
Catch up on what’s been discussed in the Horizon research group periodic meetings.