Skanska is positioning itself globally as a construction company that aims for the highest standards in safety, ethics, environmental friendliness, community investment and diversity & inclusion. The decision to go down this route – being a leader rather than a follower – is associated with greater operating costs. How do you balance the high standards you have set for yourselves with the need to demonstrate growth and profitability to your shareholders?
For over a decade now, the Skanska Group has been implementing solutions aimed at improving the environment, social responsibility and corporate governance. We consider it a long-term investment and we have proof that this strategy and approach also pay off from the business point of view. By investing in the health and safety of our employees, we observe better construction-site performance. By implementing energy-efficient solutions in our buildings, we lower the buildings’ operational costs, which is beneficial for us and our clients. By creating a diverse and inclusive culture in our company, we have better performing teams, which are proactive and creative. These are just a few examples demonstrating that our approach is profitable in many different aspects.
Skanska is investing heavily in new technologies that will help in the dash for Net Zero. Cement-free concrete is one area, photovoltaic perovskite film that can be applied to office windows another. How far – or how close – are we to seeing these game-changing ideas being turned into commercial applications on the market? Are there any other technologies that Skanska is involved in that have similar potential?
At Skanska we have been putting great emphasis on promoting various ESG practices for many years. However, continuing our journey towards climate neutrality is possible only through teamwork. We have the know-how, but we still need partners to implement new solutions.
One good example of such activities is our cooperation with Saule Technologies in terms of perovskites. The solution was tested in the Spark office building in Warsaw, followed by the launch of a pilot production line, enabling the production of cells in a larger format. The final version of such a single photovoltaic panel will be able to cover the energy demands needed to light one employee’s workspace for eight hours or powering one computer for the entire day of use. We plan to cover most of the facade surfaces with perovskite cells in the future.
Another example is implementation of concrete with reduced carbon footprint which we used this year as the first developer in Central Europe. The emissivity of the Vertua concrete launched by our partner Cemex is on average 42% lower than that of a traditional concrete mix. It was laid for the first time as part of the construction of the company’s office investment P180 in Warsaw. We would like to ultimately use low-emission concrete in all our projects in Central and Eastern Europe.
But that’s not the end of our activities in this area. We are constantly looking for new forms of cooperation with various companies in connection with the implementation of our sustainable projects aimed at reducing energy consumption and bringing us closer to our zero-carbon goal.
Skanska itself aims to be carbon-neutral by 2045 – you have already made progress against the 2015 baseline. What are the future milestones that Skanska has set itself on its road to meet the 2045 target?
Skanska has recently updated its climate target to include a reduction of the company’s own carbon emissions by 70% as early as 2030, with 2015 as the base year. The update to the previous target, which was a 50% reduction by 2030, is the result of a need to drastically increase the pace toward a carbon-neutral society. Our company has already reduced carbon emissions in its own operations by 40% so far, compared with the base year 2015, through its goal-oriented initiatives. Skanska’s overall goal is to become carbon neutral by 2045.
The total energy use of buildings represents 17.5% of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. Of this, our homes generate 10.9% while commercial buildings are responsible for a further 6.6%, in the form of energy-related emissions from the generation of electricity for lighting, appliances and heating. Let's look at the typical office occupied by a typical member of the British Polish Chamber of Commerce – a law firm or accountancy practice with around a hundred employees located in the centre of a major Polish city. What can that firm do to reduce those emissions? Yes, you can move into a newer, more energy-efficient building – but won't the old office still create greenhouse gas emissions from another tenant? And what are the 'low-hanging fruit' for office managers which can at least help contribute to reducing some of that 6.6% emitted by our existing commercial buildings?
General and significant refurbishments of older office buildings will require money and time. Yet, there are certain things in secondary assets that can be upgraded into more efficient versions, such as motion sensors, ventilation systems etc. Nevertheless, education plays a key role in changing our general approach towards sustainability, because even the newest building will not be sustainable as much as it could be if tenants don’t know how to use its features. That’s why I believe that we need to put greater emphasis on educating tenants how to behave in a more sustainable way, regardless of the type of building they are using. It all starts with small steps, such as using energy and water in a more efficient way, which leads to lowering general consumption in the long-term.
The construction sector is highly competitive. We will be seeing large amounts of EU money flowing into big infrastructure projects across Europe within the next financial perspective. How do you compete for tenders against companies that do not have such high environmental standards? Will public tenders based on purely on lowest price be replaced by ones with strict environmental criteria? How does Skanska see the public-procurement process in Poland, compared to other EU member states? And do you see the Green Deal as an opportunity for Skanska and the construction sector?
The ESG issue is getting more important for companies and this is reflected in the tenants’ and investors’ focus on office buildings that are ESG-compliant or can be easily adapted to new requirements. We notice that tenants and investors pay attention to properties in terms of their impact on the environment, green solutions inside, great architecture and placemaking, where people can use the office space for more reasons than solely daily work. For over ten years now, the Skanska office business unit in CEE has been designing and building projects with environmental, health and wellbeing impact in mind. This was also confirmed by external parties with the following certifications. To date, Skanska has delivered over 1,000,000m2 of LEED-certified and 110,000m2 of WELL-certified workplaces. Ten of our projects across CEE have received the WELL Health & Safety Rating certificate, which is awarded to office spaces with the highest safety parameters, limiting the risk of disease transmission and also allowing the creation of a healthy and friendly work environment. The interest in our buildings shows that these aspects are important to our clients.
Across Europe, the construction sector is facing a skills shortage, exacerbated by a leap in building technology, from BIM to proptech, and ever-greater environmental demands. How are you coping with recruitment and retention here in Poland? Your diversity and inclusivity goals suggest the entry into the traditionally male-dominated construction sector of a large number of women. How does this look like in practice?
We have always focused on creating healthy and inclusive working conditions for all our employees. We not only provide the best possible workplaces that support the safety and wellbeing of our employees, but we are also involved in various initiatives in terms of diversity and inclusion. This year we conducted a series of training sessions to develop leadership skills among our employees within the Skanska office business unit in CEE. We provided our employees with knowledge and experience that will allow them to manage their teams effectively, regardless of how diverse they are in terms of sexual orientation, age, gender, physical fitness, race, religion, or origin the members of such teams are. What’s more, Skanska regularly organises satisfaction surveys in which one of the important points of analysis relates to the way women and men perceive their working environment, thus searching for areas to be developed further. Another example of Skanska’s approach is the fact that male employees are granted two additional weeks of paternity leave, which is still not a standard on the market. The best proof that we are moving in the right direction is the fact that Skanska has recently been recognised in the prestigious World’s Top Female-Friendly Companies in 2021 ranking published by Forbes. Our company was ranked fourth out of 300 other candidates on the list, and at the same time achieved the best results in our sector.
How has the pandemic changed the way you work – from the specifications of new buildings, to make them safer for their occupants from airborne viruses, to procedures on the building site? How many of these changes are here to stay?
Since the very beginning, Skanska’s office unit in the CEE region has drawn attention to health and safety issues, including high standards of buildings and workplaces. Due to the pandemic outbreak and introduction of hybrid office-working models, tenants and investors will require properties meeting even higher ESG standards, as was underlined in Skanska’s report 100 Most Important Trends in the CEE Economies. In the face of this new reality, Skanska has taken steps to outline a way of readjusting the working environment for employees who will return to offices. Our efforts have been directed at indicating how to create a working environment, which will encourage people to work in offices, and at the same time maintain the company culture. Together with our partners, we have tried to redefine the future of workplaces and adapt the concept to help respond to their needs. As a result, we have developed the Care for Life Office Concept to adapt to the new normal. It has been designed with the focus on making employees feel safe when they come back to work. The Care for Life Office Concept includes consulting services for tenants and implementing safety protocols and solutions to mitigate the transmission of Covid-19 and/or any other potentially infectious diseases in the future. It consists of four areas: air quality, touch-free solutions, social-distancing measures, and building management. Apart from the Care for Life Office Concept we have also concentrated on the WELL Health & Safety Rating certification process for our buildings. The certificate confirms that office spaces in high-rise building, when prepared properly, are entirely safe for users. As mentioned before, ten of our buildings in CEE have received this distinction.