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Together We Have Solutions – 2023 CIC Members’ Conference

Posted: 15th June 2023

Dr Wei Yang

Deputy Chair

Construction Industry Council

I had the pleasure of attending my first CIC members' conference, where I chaired a delightful morning session focused on Nature-Based Solutions and Decarbonisation on May 19th. The room was filled with nearly 40 passionate and influential individuals, including Chief Executives, Presidents, and Senior Managers from CIC member organisations.

The conference's formal proceedings began with an inspiring keynote speech by Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts. In his address titled "Nature and the Built Environment: Reasons to be Cheerful" Craig emphasised the importance of the construction industry viewing itself as part of the solution rather than the problem. He highlighted the industry's need to set its own agenda and rebalance its relationship with nature, aiming not just to reduce harm but also to actively contribute to our environment.

The subsequent panel, moderated by Louise Clark, a Board member of CIC and Group Head of Sustainability at Berkeley Group Plc, delved into the topic of "How can nature-based solutions provide a better living environment for everyone?" Distinguished speakers included Sue Bridge, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI); Ellen Fay, Founder & Executive Director of the Sustainable Soils Alliance; Sue Morgan, Chief Executive of the Landscape Institute (LI); and Nick White, Principal Advisor on Net Gain at Natural England.

Key themes emerged from the discussion, shedding light on the sector's responsibility to meet environmental targets as a country and how it perceives these responsibilities. Skills became a significant concern, particularly due to the challenges posed by an aging workforce in terms of green skills. The panel also underscored the need to acknowledge the manifold benefits that nature can bring, surpassing the typical focus on grey infrastructure. It was noted that despite a considerable amount of soil ending up in landfills, the built environment primarily concentrates on soil contamination issues rather than recognising the advantages and health of soil. The panel advocated for using the term "environment net gain" instead of "biodiversity net gain," as it encompasses the broader concept that includes soil. It was emphasised that considerations for soil should be integrated into the design and conceptual phase of projects. Additionally, long-term stewardship and maintenance of assets were highlighted as areas of concern, alongside the adaptation and retrofitting of cities to address both the natural and physical infrastructure.

The second keynote speech, titled "Sustainability - The Bigger Challenges" was delivered by esteemed Dame Fiona Reynolds, Deputy Chair of the Food, Farming, and Countryside Commission and Chair of the Royal Agricultural University Council. Dame Fiona reiterated the crucial role of the construction industry and emphasised the connection between retrofitting, history, beauty, health, and the collective quality of life. She also delved into the broader concept of the circular economy and stressed the necessity of creating effective financial incentives and mechanisms to drive meaningful changes.

During the panel discussion on decarbonisation, chaired by Aled Williams, CIC Education Champion and Executive Director of Innovation & Partnerships at the University College of Estate Management, a diverse range of perspectives was presented. The panel featured excellent speakers including Nooshin Akrami, Environmental Sustainability Training Manager at Wincanton; Julia Evans, Chief Executive of the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA); Neil Johnstone, President of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT); and Valerie Vaughn-Dick, Chief Executive of The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The panel shared valuable insights, discussing topics such as the importance of sustainable practices in logistics and supply chain management, the role of innovative technologies and building systems in achieving decarbonisation goals, perspectives on sustainable transportation and urban planning, and the significance of sustainable design principles in shaping the built environment. Throughout the discussion, the panel stressed the urgent need for knowledge sharing within the sector to accelerate progress in decarbonisation efforts. They strongly advocated for an official national retrofitting strategy, recognising its potential to drive substantial reductions in carbon emissions. Moreover, the panel underscored the importance of fostering stronger multidisciplinary collaborations, acknowledging that addressing the complex challenges of decarbonisation requires a collective and integrated approach across various disciplines and stakeholders.

The discussions at the CIC conference were highly insightful, bringing together industry leaders and experts to address pressing issues in the built environment. The knowledge shared and ideas generated during the conference will serve as a foundation for the CIC's future activities.

Looking ahead, I am delighted to share that in the coming weeks, I will be chairing a roundtable on "The Interdisciplinary Future of Built Environment Education." Through this initiative, we aim to foster cross-disciplinary connections, driving innovation, addressing complex challenges, and promoting a more holistic and integrated approach. Furthermore, CIC is actively developing a communication strategy to better facilitate its objective of being the single voice for professionals across all sectors of the built environment. With a collective membership of 500,000 individual professionals, CIC is committed to promoting collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and best practices among its diverse membership base.

In my role at CIC, I am dedicated to strengthening cross-disciplinary collaborations between professionals in both the built and natural environment. By working together, we can harness the collective expertise and experience to achieve sustainable and inclusive outcomes for the industry and society as a whole.

Dr Wei Yang

Deputy Chair

Construction Industry Council

Dr Wei Yang is the Deputy Chair of CIC appointed in June 2022. She will be the first female Chair of CIC in June 2023. Wei is Chair of Wei Yang & Partners. She was President for 2021 of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) and an Independent Trustee of the Landscape Institute (LI).