As COP26 heads towards Glasgow, I think friends and families – and particularly those with the grace of youth on their side – tend to be way ahead of our governments and business leaders.
Now I know this is not entirely fair. There are plenty warm words – reams of recyclable paper – out there. There are ever more international and sectoral promises and commitments – with, hopefully, actions to follow. But the volume of hot air generated still outweighs reality on the ground.
For a long time, I let that go because I struggled to see what climate considerations could have to do with my members, all specialists in construction health and safety risk management.
At the headquarters of the Association for Project Safety (APS) we did our little bit earning plaudits and points off services from the local council for managing our office waste effectively. We segregated our rubbish and only filled the kettle enough to make the cups of tea we were going to drink. We upgraded our lighting. We looked at the energy deals on offer – how quaint that seems now. And we even became co-signatories to a construction-wide pledge to take environmental damage seriously and do what we could to mitigate its ill-effects.
But it didn’t go much beyond that. We left the heavy lifting of policy development to other people because it just didn’t seem relevant to our work shaping and sharing good practice with the aim of making construction a safer place for workers and end-users alike.
I now see I was wrong. And not just because I think it is important, we lead by example.
My last incandescent lightbulb moment started with a phone call from an expert on asbestos. He wanted to talk about smart meters. As I used to work in the energy sector, I knew something about electricity, but I couldn’t work out the connection.
It turned out to be part of wider worries around retrofitting our homes and offices.
I think it is well known – and not just to people gluing themselves to the M25 and disrupting ferries at Dover – that Britain has a long way to go in ensuring our housing stock doesn’t leak energy and is properly insulated.
This is particularly pertinent in our Scottish cities where so many of us live in flats with high ceilings, draughty windows and United Nations level negotiations needed for new roofs and other communal bills.
Apart from retiring the combustion engine and running electric cars we must make our homes and offices energy efficient. We also need to find – as the Royal Academy of Engineering has said – ways to reuse buildings and the materials bound up in them.
But it turns out, there are also health and safety considerations to be addressed when we replace old windows, insulate walls, or find our old utility meters are attached to asbestos boards.
It must be done. It should be safe. But it needs political will.
The future of our beautiful blue-green world needs more than a willingness to defer the gratification of a new iPhone 13. We must all do our bit.
But we also need to keep up pressure on the people who supply us with goods and services. Those who invest our pension money. And our leaders – if they are to deserve the name.
Lesley McLeod, CEO, The Association for Project Safety