Pushing the boundaries: our pathway to a more sustainable future

Rossella Nicolin and Hollie Hynes Heads of sustainability, Europe and Australia (respectively)
6 min read

With December’s COP28 still fresh in our minds sustainability is, rightfully, in the headlines worldwide. This year included the first ‘Global Stocktake’ – a temperature check of the world’s progress towards net zero, our current trajectory and the implications for each nation.

Decarbonisation was a critical focus at the conference, identifying best practice examples, placing pressure on nations to deliver their commitments and using data to emphasise the size of the challenge.

It was by no means the only area under discussion, however. The Conference of Parties also focused on commitments to nature protection and promoting biodiversity, on placing fairness, inclusion and equity at the heart of our transition to a low carbon economy, and our collective responsibility to the planet and to one another.

With large parts of the UK flooded following Storm Henk – the UK’s eighth named storm in three months – it seems an important moment to reflect on what more needs to be done. The publication of our sustainability report, “Pushing the Boundaries”, provides a chance to do just this. The report presents our sustainability strategy and describes how we, as a company, are pushing the boundaries in four key areas - for our clients, the environment, our people and society.

The cornerstones of our sustainability approach are authenticity, innovation and targeted action. We know we don’t have all the answers today, but we’re working with the best information available and are determined to find those answers and drive change.

Data-driven decision making

In developing and refining our strategy we have conducted our own net zero ’stocktake’. We have undertaken a significant amount of work in recent years to improve our data integrity, particularly for Scope 3, which includes the emissions associated with all the goods and services that we purchase – our most substantial source of emissions. We’ve invested time and resource to ensure we have as accurate a picture as possible, recognising that developing a robust baseline is vital for target setting and prioritising the activity that will have the biggest impact on carbon reduction.

As we have built and continue to refine this important data set, decarbonisation has remained high on our agenda. Tackling the emissions associated with the use of diesel, concrete and steel are priorities, and areas in which we have taken decisive action.

Working with our specialist, in-house plant business, Select, we’re deploying electric and hybrid plant across our sites in Australia and the UK to reduce diesel usage on-site. Minimum standards have been applied in Australia to actively reduce diesel, and in the UK we mandated the use of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) in place of diesel from April 2022.

Our Technology and Innovation teams in both hubs are working to identify lower carbon building solutions, addressing minimising material usage, lower carbon design and innovative new materials. Our UK business mandated the use of low carbon concrete on all our new projects from April this year, with minimum standards introduced in Australia, and as a Group we seek to incorporate high levels of recycled materials wherever possible on our projects.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) states that the Stocktake presented at COP28 provided a “key opportunity to enhance ambition and implementation”, and the same is true within an individual business context. Certainly, at Laing O’Rourke we’re using that baseline to challenge our ambitions and set science-based targets.

Prioritising people

Delivering projects that connect and support people and communities is both a privilege and a responsibility. As a family owned business, we have always sought to ensure our work delivers a lasting benefit for people, in line with our purpose.

That means driving transformative change through the construction industry, ensuring it’s a sector that welcomes a diverse employee base and provides opportunities for all.

One of our goals is to achieve 50:50 gender balance by 2033 among our global staff – no mean feat in an industry that is traditionally male-dominated. We’re making year-on-year improvements. Today, a quarter of our UK employees are female. In Australia, we have maintained 35% female participation across our staff. 45% of our Australia Executive Committee and 50% of our Board is female, providing important role models for younger women across the business.

We are incredibly proud to have achieved the prestigious Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) citation in Australia for two consecutive years, acknowledging our visible commitment to gender equality as a strategic imperative.

We know that it’s vital to inspire the next generation to consider careers in construction, and we have dedicated STEM programmes in place tailored to students from primary education all the way through to tertiary. These programmes help us showcase the range of exciting careers available within the industry and are helping us to attract more diverse talent.

Achieving gender parity in our organisation is a key target, but cultivating an inclusive environment for everyone means addressing more than gender. One of the achievements we’re most proud of is that we are the first UK Tier 1 contractor to achieve Disability Confident Employer level 3 status. In Australia, we have set a target to become a Disability Confident Employer in FY26.

We’re passionate about leaving a legacy in the areas in which we work, and part of that means investing in local people and local economies. We create job opportunities in areas where unemployment levels are high, and support people with multiple barriers to employment into work. In fact, we’re committed to delivering £2bn in social impact in the UK and $800m in Australia by 2030.

Moving forward - together

During COP26, UN Secretary General, António Guterres, famously made a stand against corporate greenwashing, referring to a “surplus of confusion and a deficit of credibility” over emission reductions and net zero targets. Certainly, an increased focus on data integrity and transition plans are part of our journey as a company. Working together with our clients, delivery partners, competitors, academia and local communities, we believe that we can rise to the challenge as a company and as an industry, shaping a lasting legacy for our clients, our environment, our people and society.