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Building today, caring for tomorrow

Sinead Hickey

SINÉAD HICKEY, John Sisk & Son’s Head of Sustainability for Ireland and Europe, speaks with Barry McCall for Irish Construction News about the contractor’s ambitious sustainability plan.

Last year, building contractor John Sisk & Son set out its sustainability roadmap for the rest of the decade. Based on the three pillars of people, planet and performance, the ‘Building today, Caring for tomorrow’ strategy sets out a range of challenging targets linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which will be subject to independent verification.

Sisk Sustainability roadmap

Sinéad Hickey, Head of Sustainability for Ireland and Europe, Sisk, says that it is a very ambitious roadmap with five themes and 21 targets.

“We now have to ensure that the targets are met, and to do that, we need to ensure there is a robust governance model in place to achieve the targets,” Hickey explains. “Board and CEO oversight are critical to bringing the roadmap to life. My experience over the years of organisations that succeed in this area is that leadership and accountability at board level are essential.”

That top-level engagement is baked into the strategy.

“Each of our construction board members sponsors a sustainability working group,” she continues. “These groups address different areas, such as climate change, equality, diversity and inclusion, electric vehicles, social value, etc. And each group is responsible for a range of targets. One of the primary responsibilities of the board members is to support the groups in achieving those targets.”

The Sisk 2030 Roadmap outlines an ambitious set of targets and actions, aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Dynamic targets

“The 21 targets address five different themes,” she adds. “The targets are dynamic and will evolve and change over time, just as some of the challenges we face will change.”

The five themes cover “responsible business practices”, “enhancing communities”, “embracing innovation and digital technologies”, “tackling climate change and air pollution”, and “caring for the environment”.

“Many of the targets are intertwined, and we will see some of the working groups collaborating and coming together to help each other achieve the ambitions. One good example is social value and caring for the environment. For example, there is a huge opportunity to deliver social value by engaging with our local communities and supporting biodiversity initiatives. We are excited to see what the opportunities are to deliver a shared value.”

Working collaboratively with University College Dublin, Sisk initiated a feasibility study into the viability of super capacitor batteries as an alternative to diesel generators.

An investment of £135,000 has enabled Sisk to be the first contractor in Europe to introduce robotic bricklaying to its contracts.

Carbon neutral plan

One of the company’s most ambitious targets is to achieve carbon-neutral status without the need for offsetting by 2030. It means setting a science-based target in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. Sisk has committed to the “Business for Ambition” and is currently undergoing the process of setting a net-zero target in line with a 1.5C future and ensuring it is verified by the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi).

“Construction and the built environment account for 39% of the world’s carbon emissions. The challenge is real,” Hickey adds. “There are many ways we can achieve this target, and one of them is by 2024, 50% of our fleet will be electric vehicles. All internal combustion engine vehicles will be eliminated from the fleet by 2030. We have also committed to planting 1.7 million trees in natural woodland in Ireland, the UK and Europe, and we are supporting the restoration of peat bogs. We want to achieve zero avoidable waste and eliminate single-use plastics by 2023. We also want to embed circular economy principles into the business. We are also working towards achieving a CDP A rating. CDP is an international organisation that runs a global disclosure system addressing environmental issues. Currently, our rating is B-minus, and the global average is C. We are already in the management band, but we want to be a leader. We are working hard to achieve that, but we have more work to do.”

Field of Dreams: In conjunction with the Bio Cork 2 project, Janssen Sciences Ireland UC, Sisk partnered with the Cork branch of Down Syndrome Ireland to support the development of their Field of Dreams project in Curraheen.

Societal impact

But carbon is just part of the picture.

“People’s understanding of sustainability can vary. What do you think responsible business means? It’s how an organisation measures and manages its overall impact on society too. Part of that is supporting a range of organisation, including charities and NGOs, but you also have to think about the social and economic value of contributing to communities through areas like apprenticeships and the supply chain, how you support your employees and addressing issues such as diversity and inclusion. You have to look at all these things and bring them together. Importantly, that is why our targets are aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Sinéad Hickey concludes.