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From the judge’s chair: Simon Knott’s take on what makes a winner in environmental stewardship

In the realm of construction, where every material and method carry the weight of impact, Simon Knott, Director and owner of Naturally Compliant, has lent his expertise as a judge for the 2023 Leading Light Awards. With a discerning eye for innovation and a committed belief in progress, Simon brings to the table a wealth of experience in guiding the industry towards a more sustainable future.


As we delve into his perspectives after assessing this year's contenders for the Environment and Sustainability Award, it becomes clear that these awards are not just a celebration of achievement but a call for environmental stewardship that resonates with the next generation of construction professionals.





I was particularly drawn to the winner’s holistic approach to reducing their CO2 emissions. They started by setting a CO2 baseline for the project, which wasn't just a metric to measure against; it was a springboard to pinpoint where the emissions were highest. This strategic focus meant they could target the most significant areas for CO2 savings. By challenging the norm and embracing innovative materials and designs, they achieved commendable quality without the usual CO2 cost. The baseline became more than a mere formality—it was a catalyst for tangible, positive change in the construction process.





The construction sector often finds itself wedded to long-standing ‘good practice’, some of which trace back to guidelines established decades ago. There's a certain comfort in sticking to the tried-and-true, especially when any deviation could mean financial risk if new methods fail to match the quality of conventional ones.

But what was once considered ‘good practice’ may not meet today's environmental challenges. The courage to test new concepts, despite the commercial risks, has not only proven the viability of innovative practices but also set a precedent for industry-wide acceptance. It's this willingness to take a calculated leap towards sustainable practices that will advance the conversation and pave the way for elevated environmental performance across the sector.





This year’s submissions showcased a clear and robust emphasis on sustainability, particularly focusing on CO2 emissions, waste, and materials reduction. These are the hot topics in the current climate, but while vital, these aren’t the only environmental challenges the construction sector is facing.


There’s a world of innovative environmental solutions out there—methods that not only minimise harm but also actively improve the environment we’re building within. It's these novel and effective approaches that deserve to be in the spotlight. As we move forward, it’s important that we celebrate and elevate such initiatives that go beyond what’s trendy and contribute to a holistic environmental stewardship in construction.





For those eyeing the prize in future Leading Lights Awards, my advice would be to underscore the positive impact of your initiative, and this starts with establishing a solid baseline. It’s essential to present the judges with concrete results, which demonstrate the efficacy of your project. Illustrate how the landscape would have looked without your intervention (X) and contrast that with the reality you've achieved (Y). This comparative insight not only adds weight to your entry but also provides the judges with the substantive evidence they need to make an informed decision. Remember, it's the tangible transformation that your project drives which will capture the judge’s attention.





This year's award winners send a resounding message to the industry and to future construction professionals: the construction sector is uniquely positioned to enact substantial, positive change in our built world. As we've seen, altering the course of a traditionally risk-averse industry is no small feat—it demands the identification of new incentives for change.


By championing environmentally conscious projects and spreading the word about their benefits, we can encourage a shift in industry values. Awards like these play a pivotal role in that shift, as a mark of excellence and guide to the industry towards a more sustainable and responsible future. They tell us that ambition and environmental stewardship are not only compatible but are increasingly expected and celebrated.


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