Interview with Paul Toyne, Group Head of Sustainability, Balfour Beatty

What do you feel are the main challenges for the UK construction industry within the next 2-3 years? 

As an industry, we are responsible for providing the nation with first class infrastructure to meet the needs of our growing population. As we are already tasked with updating our existing, ageing infrastructure, we are also faced with the added pressure of scarce resources and the need to adapt to a changing climate.  It is important that we develop assets that are sustainable, durable and flexible. This challenge provides many opportunities for new talent entering the marketplace, and it is important that we nurture and encourage this, to build skills and knowledge into the industry. 

In which ways is Balfour Beatty welcoming school leavers, undergraduates and graduates into the UK construction industry? 

As a member of The 5% Club, we are committed to ensuring that at least 5% of our workforce is comprised of Graduates, Apprentices and placement students by 2018; currently we’re at 4.6%. We are heavily involved in developing new apprenticeships under the government’s Trailblazer scheme and at any one time have almost 1000 employees in the UK on various training schemes. 

Our Apprenticeship scheme ranges from Intermediate to Advanced, to Higher level qualifications. These are suitable for schools leavers and post-A-level students who want to learn and earn on a structured training scheme and gain a nationally recognised qualification. Apprentices have the opportunity to continue their studies to gain a Foundation or Honours Degree while on the scheme at Balfour Beatty.

Balfour Beatty offers Graduates the opportunity to be part of either a technical or business graduate scheme. The two structured schemes focus on a variety of topics such as building and construction management, engineering, quantity surveying and commercial management, health and safety, transport planning and the environment, HR, IT, Marketing, general management and finance. 

By working with schools, colleges, universities, charities and not-for-profit organisations we are continuously raising awareness of the exciting careers available in construction, seeking to widen diversity and participation by working with organisations such as Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and The Prince’s Trust. Balfour Beatty has a long, successful history of working with The Prince’s Trust, supporting over 3,700 disadvantaged young people over the last nine years. As well as this, our support of the ‘Get in’ programme has provided specific help to develop young people’s skills in the built environment sector and supported them into employment.

In 2015, Balfour Beatty also partnered with WISE to help create the best opportunities for girls and women to work and thrive in careers using STEM qualifications. It is important to have diversity, in all senses of the word, within the industry and this is something we are actively seeking to promote.  

What would your advice be to those entering a career in construction? 

First, and foremost, that the construction industry is an industry of opportunity. You would be joining an industry that can make a real difference to improving Britain, creating a more resilient, sustainable future with the provision of vital infrastructure, be it transport, housing, schools and hospitals and commercial property. There are a vast number of opportunities so my main advice would be – apply; get involved and be a part of improving the infrastructure of Britain.

Here at Balfour Beatty we’re working to maintain and refurbish existing infrastructure, looking to the future, working on projects that are improving our transport infrastructure, flood defences, renewable energy and reducing our own, and our client’s, impact on the environment and you can be a part of that in joining the industry.

What are Balfour Beatty’s sustainability goals/what is its Blueprint Strategy? 

We have an over-arching strategy to help us become a more sustainable business – called our Blueprint. It is an approach to minimise environmental impacts and maximise social benefits through the provision of infrastructure that enables improvements to citizen’s quality of life. The strategy touches on managing our environmental impacts like carbon emissions and managing materials responsibly, but also on collaborating with our supply chain to unlock innovation and collectively improve our services to customers.

The Blueprint also covers a community investment programme. We call it the Involved programme and it’s embedded in all of our projects across the UK.  It sets out a framework for supporting the local community with employment and skills, local procurement and other community engagement activities such as volunteering, mentoring and fundraising.

How does this all manifest itself? Well an example of the positive impact the Involved programme has had, is the Diamond Building at the University of Sheffield. 

Sustainability was a key focus of the project, with the intention to deliver an exemplary “building as a lab” that allows students to understand energy consumption in relation to operational strategies, occupancy, ventilation strategies and external weather conditions; and also the structural performance of the project in comparison to theory. Some of the key sustainable outcomes of this project were:


  • 97% demolition waste recycled.
  • 99.7% excavation waste reused for land restoration.
  • Waste pallets used by students to design/manufacture a bench sculpture for local area.
  • Community project taking other timber waste.
  • Packaging takeback schemes with suppliers covering pallets, polythene covers, cable drums.
  • 100% recycled content in steel reinforcement, coming from a local supplier.
  • Up to 58% of labour coming from Sheffield postcodes.
  • 19 local suppliers / contractors / branches of larger firms.
  • Over 50% spend with SMEs from start to June 2014. 
  • Delivering apprenticeships, work placements and Princes Trust “Get into Construction” placements – four of the latter leading to employment with the project team or supply chain.
  • Delivering a “building as a lab” and using BIM to intelligently design, operate and manage a more sustainable building.

How does Balfour Beatty face the challenges of sustainability? 

We work tirelessly to integrate and embed the principles of sustainable development across the company in all of our work. It is important that sustainability is seen as ‘business as usual’ and is fully aligned with the corporate strategy. That way it happens de facto.  

Ultimately the biggest impact we can have is through the provision of quality, affordable infrastructure that is designed and constructed in such a way that adds to our sustainable built environment throughout the lifetime of that asset.  

Is the construction industry too risk averse?  

The key is to ensure a balance between trialling new ways of doing things, such as flowing the use of technology throughout projects, and providing the required level of certainty of performance that clients are looking for. 

The key is to ‘de-risk’; explain the benefits of utilising new technologies such as BIM or 3D scanning throughout projects. If the customer understands the benefits and is reassured with regards to any potential risks that may be associated, then as an industry, the opportunities are endless. 

Looking further into the use of technology in construction, there are many opportunities to adopt new and exciting technology such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) into the construction process. This can provide benefits such as improved efficiency, reduced risk to people and reduced defects. All of which can contribute to improving the end users experience. 

At Balfour Beatty we are a strong advocate of using technology, such as BIM, drones and 3D scanning across our projects to help deliver enhanced benefits, project efficiencies and cost savings for the customer.

We’re delighted that you’re speaking at North England Build this April, how do you feel construction events are contributing to the future of the industry? 

I’m really looking forward to speaking at the North England Build; particularly because I know the audience will be engaged and primed with some challenging questions! 

Events like this provide the perfect opportunity to share ideas and best practice. By providing a forum for conversation to discuss sustainability, community engagement, skills shortage and much more, we are providing the construction industry the ability to collaborate extensively; something I believe is crucial to fostering innovation, skills and knowledge.

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