Goals for positive change

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) set a route towards a more sustainable future for all, by seeking to tackle climate change, poverty, and other global environmental and societal challenges. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these goals provide a clear blueprint for a recovery focused on sustainable value to foster greener, inclusive and resilient economies, cities, and communities.

Four of our future leaders share their insights on our four priority SDG’s and how we can help to make a positive change and build a sustainable future.

Kelly Shuhama, Senior Project Manager, São Paulo, Brazil

SDG 4 (Quality Education)

1. How can the construction industry improve its attractiveness and better promote educational and career opportunities to the communities in which it works?

The construction industry has an obligation to build a better future for the communities in which it operates, not only in its final delivery, but influencing the entire supply chain. The attractiveness and the best education and career opportunities should arise from more sustainable initiatives and aligned with the major problems that the world is facing. In Brazil we are supporting Instituto PROA, an NGO that supports young people who are starting their careers with training and networking with large companies. We participate in career workshops, interview simulations and case studies of real problems, so that they can be worked on in the classroom.

2. Should the construction industry seize this moment to rebuild its skills base – and what skills does it need for the future?

Yes, for sure! I believe that the skills base of the future should be mainly focused on two pillars: technology and people. The construction industry is still recognised for being very poor in digital solutions and for a base more focused on hard than soft skills. It is essential that the industry embraces technology and adapts to know-how, to better manage the people who are its core, since only then will it be possible to improve talent attraction and retention. In this way, the construction industry would follow the evolution of other industries and attract the brightest and best.

3. How can we create education facilities that are sustainable and resilient?

Educational facilities need to be as attractive as possible to encourage a positive environment to learn. Natural light, ergonomic, biophilia and digital solutions can increase attractiveness and wellbeing in education facilities and help in achieving a more sustainable footprint. Facilities should continuously be updated and follow trends that we are seeing in other markets, like corporate offices or hospitality. The construction industry plays an important role in this regard, so that the quality of space is inspirational for those who occupy it. Plenty of green and collaborative spaces, such as living walls, labs, libraries, and sports facilities can increase the time that students spend inside educational facilities and consequently, increase learning.

Chika Ihekire, Project Manager, New York, US

SDG 5 (Gender Equality)

1. What has Turner & Townsend been doing to promote diversity and equality?

In North America, several initiatives were implemented to promote diversity and equality. This includes an employee resource group called ‘The Bridge’. I currently lead the New York arm, which focusses on finding ways to attract, retain, and support women, while creating an inclusive workplace to close the gender gap internally and the greater construction industry.

We also have a programme called ‘PlainSpeak’, which aims to address issues arising from diversity and wellbeing in the workplace. It allows for a variety of conversations, giving people opportunities to be open about what they feel, without fear of prejudice.

2. How can you work with clients to promote gender equality across their businesses?

We need to invite clients to be part of the dialogue about gender equality and share how different businesses are tackling these issues. The Bridge provides a forum to discuss such topics and we also regularly invite guest speakers on gender issues to join us. By continuing to include clients in our conversations, we hope to help promote equality across their businesses.

We also need to take advantage of government/economic incentives available to projects awarded to minority/women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) and sub-contractors. For example, highlighting the advantage of awarding MWBE contractors at the start of a project, is one way to help clients consider diversification.

3. What three things can help the construction industry to achieve lasting gender diversity and equality change?

  • Generate early interest for minority groups and women: Growing up, girls and boys need to be taught that their mind, rather than physique or gender, is the only necessity for any job. Choosing a particular career doesn’t make you any more feminine or masculine.
  • Adjust expectations for leadership styles: When joining the construction industry, I worried that I needed to be cut-throat and brash, or I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Seeing female leaders who spoke softly, but still got the job done, emboldened my ability to pursue leadership opportunities. We need to let women shine in leadership as their true selves, without assuming that personas are a weakness.
  • Encourage family friendly offices: Becoming a parent, many women feel they must choose between their career and their child. They may not leave their jobs, but priorities change. Greater awareness of caregiving needs to be accommodated in the workplace, so that parents don’t have to compromise.

Chrystele Kan, Director, Hong Kong

SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure)

1. Which organisations do you see as key to delivering more sustainable infrastructure and industrialisation

Both public and private sectors play an equally important role in delivering more sustainable infrastructure and industrialisation. The UN’s SDGs act as a good catalyst for change, but these needs to be supported by policymakers both globally and at a country level.

Industry bodies will be crucial in promoting these initiatives and influencing the industries by setting standards and guidelines to implement the policies. Business leaders of the respective industries will take an active role in both implementing and delivering the outcomes. There is also a key role for the wider supply chain to deliver, for example, designers introducing more sustainable designs into the master city planning scheme.

2. How can business disruption and technological advances be harnessed to help deliver the SDG 9 targets

Infrastructure should harness technologies to increase opportunities of standardisation and modularisation to promote more manufacturing employment and encourage innovative research to add value in the medium and high-tech industries. Research should be invested towards how standardisation and modularisation can be processed in a clean and environmentally friendly way, by using technology-enabled products and services.

There are still gaps in the maturity of technological advances and access to such infrastructure in less developed nations. The inequality needs to be addressed and this will involve public and private funding to provide the physical infrastructure. Education and training should also be provided to less developed nations to bridge the knowledge gaps.

3. How can we ensure we do ‘build back better’ and don’t return to ‘business as usual’?

To build back better, the construction industry needs to foster greater collaboration and knowledge sharing to enable any changes set at government level being done in an effective way.

COVID-19 has shown that while we have more reliance on technologies and AI, there are risks within the systems. These systems need to be built with resilience to avoid or minimise disruptions, with stricter legislations to prevent cyber-terrorism. Also, in less developed countries, ICT infrastructure is more vulnerable to disaster. Closing the digital divide would increase social development, social mobility of people and boost innovation and economic growth.

Achieving this will require the right investments by both public and private sectors.

Andrew O’Driscoll, Senior Project Manager, Abu Dhabi, UAE

SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities)

1. What’s your vision for the city of the future?

The city of the future must run in an adaptive manner, where government entities can take immediate action surrounding policies and legislation, allowing cities to adopt the “smart city” ethos, providing positive outcomes to the current scenario. Key areas we should look to develop are urban infrastructure, operations, smart mobility, community engagement and digital transformation.

Adequate funding is needed to ensure the development and implementation of the smart city and to eradicate existing weaknesses and future-proof for events, such as a global pandemic.

For bigger cities, this includes public transport and a strategy to combat mass crowding. This could be zoned working hours per sector or creating micro central business districts to avoid mass gatherings in stations or one single business hub destination.

2. How can the construction industry improve development focus on urban green space and better factor in its social, economic and natural value?

I’ve seen a shift in mentality towards the implementation of urban green spaces and how they can provide better social and natural value to areas. This can help create low to medium economic growth from amenities that are introduced to the area.

Governments need to introduce legislation and planning guidelines that promote the integration of agile and sustainable urban green spaces within future and existing developments. This could be through financial contributions by the developers to enhance existing spaces within the localised areas or providing the infrastructure to develop an urban green space to form part of the development plan.

3. What can be done to help cities balance the needs of economic growth, communities, and nature as we plan ahead?

Creating balance between these functions has historically been an arm-wrestle to create an area that produces high volumes of economic growth within communities that are also looking to create a more sustainable and natural environment.

By creating sustainable and aesthetically pleasing community spaces, the community will thrive. The economic development should encourage using local resources that enhance economic opportunities while improving social conditions in a sustainable way.

Changes to planning guidelines to force developments to meet a level of sustainability and to create active zones can have a lasting positive effect on the developments, their environment and thus communities as a result.

For further information contact:

Lydia Parnell
Global Corporate Responsibility Manager