4 Questions for… Guillaume Texier and Mike Chaldecott

11/04/2020

The construction sector is crucial to building a more sustainable world, but it must be sustainable itself. Saint-Gobain’s purpose is to help drive change across the industry. Guillaume Texier, Senior Vice-President, CEO Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa Region, and Mike Chaldecott, CEO Saint-Gobain UK & Ireland, discuss the connection between the construction sector and how to make the world a better home.

How crucial is the construction sector for the future of our societies?

Guillaume Texier: Housing is one of the most fundamental human needs. With the world’s population expected to exceed 10 billion before the end of the century, this need is here to stay. However, buildings are also heavy contributors to global warming – in France, 25% of all GHG emissions come from buildings. One of the biggest challenges our societies face is how to provide housing for all, while reducing the impact on the planet. For this to happen, we need to work both on new construction and renovation.

New buildings need to be state of the art: in terms of carbon content of materials, energy efficiency and comfort of buildings. But we also need to accelerate renovation of existing buildings, as we cannot just wait for existing buildings to be replaced by new ones. The French “green recovery plan” places the renovation of buildings as a top priority. This will improve energy spending and comfort for households, while reducing CO2 emissions. And crucially, it will also help to fight social inequality as many poorer households live in extremely uncomfortable conditions and have large heating budgets.

Mike Chaldecott: Absolutely, construction is about the well-being of people. If we can make homes more energy efficient, people can spend more money on food and other necessities rather than heating bills. Equally, if we make schools more comfortable and easier to learn in, children’s education will improve. If we make hospitals more hygienic and easier to run, it will help people recover faster. And if we can make buildings more efficient, we can significantly reduce the amount of carbon emissions.

What are the main challenges that we – collectively – need to address for construction to become more sustainable?

Guillaume Texier: The first step is to create solid demand for green construction. This means educating everyone across the value chain, from end users to regulators, contractors, distributors, and suppliers. Governments should adopt regulations and incentives to speed up this learning process. Once the demand exists, you also need the supply to be available: materials, innovative solutions and skilled contractors.

Mike Chaldecott: And we must not forget that construction is one of the oldest trades in the world and change doesn’t come quickly. Making the sector more sustainable means helping everyone in the industry understand what they need to do differently and how easily it can be done. If you can make these changes as simple as possible, and if people have the right training and products available to them, the transition will be easier to achieve.

Which actions need to be taken to achieve sustainable building? What role can Saint-Gobain play?

Guillaume Texier: After the French government announced its green plan, we put together our own plan to help the construction sector seize this opportunity. Many business units within Saint-Gobain participated, which resulted in a set of very practical measures. For example, distribution will launch new digital training for contractors to help them get certified on energy renovation and insulation will double its production capacity of wood fiber insulation. We will also set up internal incentives for our employees to contribute time to the “green plan” or to renovate their own houses.

Mike Chaldecott: As a result, Saint Gobain has a number of pilot projects underway, such as a complete house at the University of Salford that we monitored in all weather conditions and for thermal efficiency. These types of pilot projects help us to measure what works best and how we can scale up the commercial viability. 

Digital technology is also crucial for measuring, monitoring and proving how to make buildings more energy efficient. Building information modelling (BIM) allows us to build digital twins, that enable everyone on the value chain, from the architects to building operators, to get a better view of the lifecycle of a building. This helps inform us of what repairs, modifications and improvements we need to make to new homes, schools or hospitals.

Saint-Gobain is also working closely with the UK government on its recently launched £2 billion Green Homes Grant scheme. We are not only suppling the right products, but to also providing training for tradespeople, so they can be accredited to the level required. 

How can Saint-Gobain’s purpose help to drive change?

Guillaume Texier: Saint-Gobain’s purpose, Making the world a better home, encourages us to move faster in an area in which we were already very active. It is a great motivation for the team as we all get an opportunity to contribute to something much bigger. For customers, stakeholders and governments, it is a very bold statement.

Mike Chaldecott: It is also fair to say that Saint-Gobain has done a lot of hard work on developing its purpose and it has become a real rallying cry across the organization. By involving employees in the process and listening carefully to their ideas and what it means for them to work for Saint-Gobain, we relied heavily on peoples’ thoughts and emotions to capture the true meaning behind our purpose. This was quite radical for a traditional engineering company. 

Saint-Gobain’s purpose requires engagement across the organization from forklift drivers to salespeople. To have a purpose is one thing, but to be a purpose-driven company is another. When we talk about home, it’s not just a question of where we live, it’s our identity. And that’s something people are incredibly proud of.