Stakeholder interview: Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive at UK Green Building Council

SH Julie Hirigoyen

Julie Hirigoyen became CEO of UK-GBC in April 2015 with ultimate responsibility for organisational strategy and execution. Previously she was UK Head of Sustainability and an International Director at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a financial services firm that specialises in commercial real estate services and investment management. JLL acquired Upstream, a leading sustainability consultancy which was co-founded by Hirigoyen.

‘The role of innovation could not be more significant’

What is the most important catalyst for further sustainable development in construction?

‘There was a time when I might have suggested that legislation could provide one of the most important catalysts for more sustainable construction practices. Indeed the clarity of escalator policies such as the landfill tax have had remarkable success in reducing construction waste to landfill. But the truth is that genuinely sustainable construction practices are hard to achieve commercially and require much more holistic thinking. For instance, reducing waste to landfill doesn’t necessarily address the quantum of materials specified in the first place. 

In my view the most important catalyst for sustainable construction has to be the measurement, management and disclosure of environmental and social impacts throughout the entire supply chain. This should encourage more innovative procurement and contractual models that encourage circular design practices, and a whole life cost approach to design and building practices.’

How do we ensure sustainability will continue to be a theme – and what role do digitalisation and innovation play?

‘Sustainable development is inherently a very long-term theme – encompassing issues that are multi-generational and cross-disciplinary. The seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs - officially referred to as ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’) are extremely ambitious and have a 15 year timescale. The targets set by 195 nation states underpinning the Paris Agreement themselves span until 2050 and beyond. 

The role of innovation could not be more significant. Indeed, SDG9 is called ‘Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure’ and relates directly to construction and the built environment. We will not achieve the trajectory that is required to achieve these goals unless all industry sectors embrace innovation and new ways of working. Digitalisation and technology offer one lens through which innovation can be viewed, yet a very important one due to their potential for improving productivity and efficiency in the construction process.’