International construction company John Sisk & Son have joined the network this year at strategist level. We are delighted to get to know their Head of Sustainability for UK and Ireland, Brian Handcock, in our monthly In Conversation piece.
Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company
Joining John Sisk & Son in 2015 as Head of Sustainability, my role is to drive the sustainability and environmental agenda in the business across our UK and Irish operations.
What was your background previously? How did you enter the CSR field?
My career started in 1990 as a researcher investigating waste management opportunities for a UK construction company. At the time, new environmental legislation came into effect in the UK, and the responsibilities placed on businesses increased. A little later the forerunner of ISO 14001 – BS 7750 came out and I am proud to say I helped steer that company towards one of the first certifications.
After that I moved into consultancy and began to work internationally and then I went to a waste management company as an environmental business manager in the oil and gas sector with further international work.
A further move into the manufacturing sector, in cement, as an environmental manager saw me managing a facility and associated support plants – that across them had every type of environmental permit available. It is in this role that community engagement came to the fore.
More recently I was Group of Head of Sustainability for a major UK construction contractor before joining Sisk.
Throughout my 27 year career I have always had an environmental responsibility, which over the time has evolved into a wider recognition of the role that social and economic aspects, in addition to environment now has.
How has the sustainability/CSR programme evolved at your company?
I think it is fair to say that the sustainability programme in any business continues as an evolution. Initially the focus has been on environmental protection; the natural extension is the interface with the local community and ultimately the direct economic business benefits that can arise.
Sisk is still on that journey; many environmental controls are in place and are what I would call mature. We’ve recently helped launch the Considerate Constructor Scheme in Ireland; this has its focus around improving the image of construction – essentially our relationship with the communities in which we work.
We’ve also got take into account commercial aspects; a business such as Sisk with its lineage going back to 1859 can truly be described as a sustainable business. To stay in business, an organisation has to achieve a return on its investment and today that now has to include the wider aspects of sustainability.
In 2015, we undertook a materiality assessment, engaging with our clients, supply chain and our colleagues. We developed an informed view on what was important to those groups and built our sustainability strategy around that piece of work. Our programme continues to evolve, to take account of new and upcoming business drivers and reflect society’s needs. We will check back with our key stakeholders next year to make sure we are still on track, addressing those issues that are deemed important.
What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?
The key challenge is the challenge itself! Many sustainability professionals, myself included continue to challenge the business as usual approach; we continue to challenge and question: is there a better way to achieve the end goal? Can we reduce the environmental impact and burden? Can we positively contribute to the local community or market, and if so how? However, we’ve got to do this in a pragmatic engaging way; without being detrimental to the overall business goals. It’s a real balancing act. Equally we need to be mindful of the wider business agenda; following through on a strategic business goal and then seeing actions and practices being implemented on one of our projects to deliver that goal is the inspiring part of the role. Its better still if we can bring an innovation or new approach into play.
What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?
The most recent one is the engagement of our projects with the Considerate Constructors Scheme for the first time in Ireland. A lot of people on our sites have in effect committed to improving the image of construction and engaging with communities; that takes work and dedication. To see it being delivered and our projects achieving great scores, reflects the hard work on all part that has gone into this. As more projects enrol with the scheme, the wider benefits will be realised.
What is your motto in life?
I can’t say I have a single motto in life; it’s more a philosophy of mutual respect, acknowledgement and being up for a challenge. When my children were young; the phrase that ‘I can’t do that’, would be met with the response of ‘well, let’s see what you can do and we’ll see how far we can get!’
What would a perfect day entail for you?
Probably three things:
Find out more about John Sisk & Son’s approach to sustainability on their website.
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