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Next Generation Views

One of the key drivers for the development of the ZERO platform is give a voice to emerging talent within the built environment. The legacy we leave will impact them directly. The decisions we make in the next few years will impact their lives and their children’s.

One thing we’ve discovered while starting ZERO is how important the climate crisis is to the next generation. Those brilliant people just starting their career in our industry. This has been reinforced through discussions with Alison Watson the founder of Class of Your Own, so we decided a short interview would be valuable.


We met Lauren Cunningham at Digital Construction Week last year. Lauren is a former student of the Class of Your Own program, and passionate about improving our industry and the Net Zero challenge. 

Hi Lauren, firstly, thank you for letting us ask you a few questions. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Lauren Cunningham, 22 years old and I am a Degree Apprentice at SWECO. I have been in the industry for 5 years now, having completed my BTEC Level 3 and achieving EngTech status with the ICE. I have since moved on to study a BEng Civil Engineering Degree part time where I will graduate summer 2023 and look forward to attaining IEng status shortly after. 


Prior to joining Sweco, I worked with WSP for 4 years and undertook a one year site secondment with Balfour Beatty.


ZERO wants to help shape a sustainable future for the built environment, I believe you are about to start a dissertation on the sustainability crisis. What made you pick this direction?

For me, it’s both a personal and professional responsibility. We all know the planet is at breaking point and from COP26 we have a small window to really make a change. As this is a hot topic it’s something I want to explore further and understand whether firstly, it is feasible. And secondly the initial actions that need to be taken. I also want to explore how I can continue to make a difference in my everyday design work and understand the changing trends so I can accommodate for those. 


How do you feel your generation views the construction industry and building a sustainable future?

The words “social eco anxiety” seem to be a common phrase that occurs when sustainability is discussed amongst my peers, particularly those I attend university with. We know that there is a small window to act and if successful we need to continue to be in front of the curve and manage sustainable development, or if unsuccessful, we have an even bigger problem to try and tackle. At only 22 years old, it is safe to say that my generation will have a large personal and professional responsibility to make a change. However, with some politicians and governments saying they will “reduce” greenhouse emissions and not eradicate them, it sends the wrong message and is infuriating to those that actually want to make a change. It is frustrating to hear that that’s the precedent that global leaders are setting, and to be honest, very concerning but it’s the vicious circle that it always come back down to financial implications.


What role do you think the built environment has to play in providing infrastructure that is fit for sustainable future?

The world cannot operate without sufficient infrastructure, from brushing your teeth and using clean water, the building you live in/work in, the infrastructure you use to get to work/places of leisure whether that be via car or train etc. it is fundamental to everyday life. So to live in a sustainable environment and be “future ready” the built environment have a huge role in providing infrastructure that is sustainable for generations to come. This for me is a hot topic due to the skills shortage we have in our industry, that some may argue we struggle to maintain our existing infrastructure let alone improve it for the years to come. In my opinion, we need address the skills shortage first before we set ambitions targets for sustainable development. 


Name one thing that the construction industry needs to change to reduce embodied carbon on projects?

Typical concrete can be replaced with low carbon concrete mixes such as fly ash and slag.

Maximising structural efficiency when choosing material options, e.g. can a low carbon mix be reinforced?

Reducing the carbon footprint, so SCAPE are a great example of this, where projects work on a KPI system which encourages materials to be locally sourced and the success of this is reflected in the scoring system.


How important is it to you that companies you work for engage with the UKs Netzero objectives? 

Critical. As discussed in question 3, my generation will hold a large responsibility for change making, so working for companies that are proactive in making change now is firstly very encouraging and enables me to learn and secondly, it is just the right thing to do.


Thank you so much Lauren!


We will be digging deeper into Lauren’s NetZero thinking in the new year, but this again reinforces the drivers for establishing ZERO and the ambitious road map we are setting ourselves.

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