Irish businesses in the construction sector – from public works contractors to house builders – face a raft of sustainability requirements, increased regulation and scrutiny to improve the industry and meet ambitious climate change plans such as the Climate Action Plan (CAP) and Project Ireland 2040 as Ireland moves to a more sustainable business model.
With a focus on sustainable construction practices and sector-wide improvements to training and safety, management systems certified to ISO standards can help construction firms find firmer footing over the coming decade.
Standards such as ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and ISO 45001 can all play a pivotal role in driving up quality, building a safer workforce on site, and increasing monitoring and management of environmental impacts from the use of materials, building practices and construction waste.
Irish construction – building a sustainable future
The Irish construction industry experienced considerable disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with site closures and supply chain disruptions. However, green shoots of recovery appeared in 2021, particularly in residential construction, with housing remaining a significant concern as the demand for new homes exceeds supply.
The result has seen a surge in new residential construction projects. According to data from Ernst & Young, construction output in Ireland is forecast to grow at the strongest rate among 19 European countries, expanding by 4.4% in 2024.
Yet while the sector has faced disruptions, it is the government’s focus on initiatives such as the Climate Action Plan and Project Ireland 2040 that aim to drive sustainability and infrastructure development that has provided further impetus and fuelled the need for environmental management systems to form a key plank in construction planning and operations.
This focus on ‘green’ and sustainable construction is expected to increase over the coming years.
How can ISO standards help Irish construction businesses?
Irish construction businesses can use management systems certified to ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 to enhance further the quality, sustainability, safety and environmental impact of Irish construction practices.
From improving site safety for workers via an occupational health & safety (OH&S) system certified to ISO 45001 to improving overall quality of output via a quality management system certified to ISO 9001 – ISO standards have long been a critical component in tenders, contracts and industry improvement.
However, the drive to sustainable construction, as detailed in Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, has the potential for the biggest impact on the sector.
What does the Climate Action Plan mean for Irish construction businesses?
CAP may affect Irish builders in the following ways:
The Plan stipulates a series of stricter construction regulations and standards, especially regarding energy efficiency and carbon emissions. Builders need to be aware of these changes and adapt their practices accordingly.
Focus on renewable energy
The Plan strongly emphasises renewable energy. Builders may need to consider incorporating renewable technologies (such as solar panels) into projects.
The Climate Action Plan seeks to have 500,000 homes achieving a Building Energy Rating (BER) of B2 (or cost-optimal equivalent) by 2030. Builders will need to adapt their construction methodologies to meet these standards.
There is a strong focus on retrofitting existing buildings for improved energy efficiency. For example, the Plan has called for 400,000 heat pumps to be installed in existing premises to replace older, less efficient heating systems by end-2030. This could open up a new market for builders and contractors.
Training and skills
Builders will need to gain new skills to meet the new sustainable construction requirements. This might involve understanding new materials, technologies and building practices.
The Plan encourages the use of sustainable materials and practices in construction. This might mean a shift in sourcing and using more eco-friendly building materials.
Why prioritise sustainable construction and business practices?
There are several vital reasons why Irish construction companies should consider sustainable construction and business practices.
The construction industry significantly impacts the environment through the use of resources, construction waste generation and emissions. Sustainable practices can help to minimise this environmental footprint.
As awareness about climate change grows, governments worldwide are enacting stricter environmental regulations – not just in Ireland. Irish firms looking to expand abroad or build international partnerships may need to prove their sustainability credentials overseas.
While the upfront cost of sustainable materials or technologies may be higher, long-term operating costs can be significantly lower due to energy and water savings, as well as lower maintenance and replacement costs.
Improved reputation and marketability
As sustainability becomes a growing concern, having environmentally friendly practices can improve a company’s reputation and make it more appealing to clients, investors and partners.
Increased property value
Green buildings often have higher property values than traditional buildings. They can also attract higher-quality tenants and achieve higher occupancy rates.
Healthier living spaces
Sustainable construction practices often result in healthier buildings due to improved air quality, natural lighting and thermal comfort.
Sustainability encourages better resource management, reducing waste and promoting recycling and reuse.
By adopting sustainable construction methods now, companies are preparing for a future in which such practices might become mandatory.
Read our guide to carbon offsetting and how to get started.
Where does ISO certification fit in?
Construction firms with ISO certification may be at an advantage.
Aside from the benefits of implementing effective management systems that result in higher quality, improved worker safety and better environmental outcomes, there are commercial benefits, too.
Commercial and public body tenders may increasingly require ISO certification, such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, but also ISO 50001, opening the door to new business opportunities. Public sector tenders, in particular, are increasingly sensitive to government commitments to environmental change, and ISO 14001 may provide a competitive edge to certified firms.
The importance of energy management should not be overlooked, especially in today’s era of rising energy costs and increased environmental awareness. ISO 50001 can provide organisations with a structured framework for improving their energy efficiency and also support construction projects that aim to be as energy efficient as possible.
Four ISO standards should be considered by the construction industry, covering quality of output – from materials to builds – workplace safety and environmental impact.
ISO 9001 – Quality Management
ISO 9001 is a Quality Management System (QMS) standard focusing on consistent production quality and satisfying customer requirements. Implementing ISO 9001 can help Irish construction businesses by:
Defining clear operational procedures that can help reduce mistakes, reworks and delays.
Improving customer satisfaction by ensuring projects are delivered on time and within budget, fulfilling the customer’s quality expectations.
Enhancing communication and collaboration within the organisation, leading to improved project outcomes.
Find out more about ISO 9001.
ISO 14001 – Environmental Management
ISO 14001 provides a framework for better environmental management. It helps businesses develop an Environmental Management System (EMS) that reduces environmental impact. For Irish construction businesses, this can mean:
Better resource management by efficiently utilising resources to reduce waste and lower project costs.
Mitigating environmental impact by minimising construction waste, properly disposing of construction debris and using eco-friendly materials, further reducing construction impact on the environment.
Compliance with legal regulations can help businesses stay on top of environmental regulations and avoid legal penalties.
Improved reputation by being seen to care about its environmental impact, which can improve reputation with clients and the wider public.
Find out more about ISO 14001.
ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management
ISO 45001 helps businesses create better workplaces by reducing occupational injuries and preventing worker harm. For Irish construction businesses, ISO 45001 can help by:
Identifying potential hazards. By identifying hazards beforehand, such as site risks, firms can take steps to mitigate them, reducing the chance of workplace accidents.
Enhancing employee morale. Employees feel more valued and productive when they know their employer values their safety.
Compliance with legal regulations. Similar to ISO 14001, ISO 45001 helps businesses stay compliant with health and safety regulations, avoiding legal penalties.
Find out more about 45001.
ISO 50001 – Energy Management Systems
ISO 50001 gives construction organisations a framework to help manage and improve energy efficiency, use and conservation. It lays the foundation for an Energy Management System (EnMS) that assists organisations in reducing their environmental footprint and energy costs.
For Irish construction businesses, the benefits of implementing ISO 50001 can include:
Better management of energy usage. By reducing energy waste and overall consumption, businesses can reduce their costs.
Businesses can develop strategies to manage supply uncertainty and supply volatility by identifying and assessing energy risks.
As with other ISO standards, complying with legal regulations helps businesses avoid potential penalties relating to energy use and efficiency.
By demonstrating a commitment to energy efficiency and environmental consciousness, businesses can attain a competitive advantage, particularly in public sector tenders.
Find out more about ISO 50001.
By integrating ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001 and ISO 50001 in their operations, Irish construction businesses can improve their efficiency, productivity and reputation while promoting safer and more environmentally friendly practices. Not only can this result in a healthier bottom line, but it can also contribute to a healthier planet and a safer, happier workforce.
Learn more about Certification Europe’s ISO certification services.