Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 222222
Loughborough University

Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Construction Engineering

Current research engineers

Mohammad Rickaby


Defining the relationship between project performance, sustainability performance and collective organisational values


Action Sustainability


Prof Jacqui Glass
Dr Scott Fernie

Shaun McCathy
Ian Heptonstall

Director of Research
Prof Jim Chandler

Research Period

2014 - 2018




Defining the relationship between project performance, sustainability performance and collective organisational values

Company Background:

Action Sustainability is a small, niche sustainable supply chain consultancy business. We work with leading edge businesses around the world, primarily in the following sectors; property, construction, aerospace, FMCG, retail, oil and gas, transport and public sector. The company has a turnover of around £700K and forecasts steady profitable growth as demand for this type of service grows.

We were lead technical authors of the world’s only standard for sustainable procurement practice, BS 8903 (2010) and have published two books on the subject. We are also delivery partners for the Supply Chain School, www.supplychainschool.co.uk an innovative collaboration between the UK’s top contractors to deliver a virtual learning environment to develop sustainability competence through the supply chain of the UK construction sector. We are working with partners to roll out a similar initiative in Australia as part of our ambition to develop a global brand and market presence.

One of our Directors was chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 www.cslondon.org and the Learning Legacy from London 2012 helps to inform our work. Our involvement in exemplary sustainable projects such as the Olympic Park, Crossrail and flagship buildings commissioned by companies such and M&S and PWC, along with the collaborative effort driven by the Supply Chain School will provide extensive access to project data, beyond the grasp of most small consultancies.

Action Sustainability CIC (ASCIC) and Action Sustainability Trading Ltd. (ASTL) have different objectives and so will support the EngD in different ways. The company operates a social enterprise model with a trading company, ASTL which donates 3% of its turnover to the social enterprise ASCIC Ltd. The social enterprise has a mission to build the body of knowledge in sustainable supply chain management and would sponsor this project financially. The trading company would host the researcher and provide access to markets in UK and Australia through the Supply Chain School and other client contacts and benefit from any commercial opportunities arising.

Current state-of-the-art:

Extensive reporting and auditing of high-profile projects, such as London 2012, Crossrail, HS2 and flagship building commissioned by clients such as M&S and PWC contribute to a growing body of evidence that suggests the delivery of traditional project performance measures and sustainability goals need not be mutually exclusive. Yet there is still a tacit assumption in the industry that sustainable solutions cost more, despite there being very little evidence to confirm or deny this assumption. Academic studies and reports from bodies such as RICS, have provided data which supports various types of positive causal links between sustainability attributes (such as BREEAM ratings) and project value, in terms of capital cost savings, operational cost/energy savings or rental returns.

However, the data arising from these studies tend to be temporally or geographically delimited, so generalisation is problematic. Furthermore, the benefit of demonstrating the relationship between initial capital investment and whole life cost savings to a developer or contractor may differ, depending on what is being measured (e.g. waste, use of secondary materials, local employment, operational energy) as savings will only be realised by one party, not all. There is also a problem with methods of measurement; a recent desktop study of the top 25 UK contractors by the PI revealed an inconsistent and incomplete dataset for even the most well-known and extensively measured indicators, such as carbon, waste and water. It is also argued that the units being used may be incomparable and lack a connection to the ‘real world’ of construction projects. In addition, when accounting for social/societal benefits it is even more complex (e.g. the relationship between community engagement and the cost of obtaining planning consent). Hence, there is an incomplete understanding of the relationship between sustainability goals and overall project performance.

There is also a gap in knowledge about the underpinning human and organisational values present within the delivery teams of major project coalitions. A previous EngD project supervised by the PI has made a strong case for the role of collective organizational values in construction consultancies, yet this research trajectory remains under-explored across other types of organisations and in particular across multi-organisation project coalitions. For example, it could be hypothesised that a better understanding of the role that underpinning human or collective organisational values play in the delivery of major projects could be beneficial to achieving better performing projects.

Aim and Objectives:

The aim is to enable construction teams to achieve more sustainable and competitive projects by exploiting the benefits of a framework that better integrates and is sensitive to collective organisational values. The specific objectives of the project include:

Explore the relationships and connection between the values individuals hold and organisational values. This would be done at the level of the firm and the temporary multiple organisation; the project.Develop an integrated guiding theoretical framework that connects contemporary perspectives and views on values, project management, project success and sustainability.Design and refine a number of theoretical propositions and models that theoretically integrate values, traditional project performance measures and sustainability goals.Empirically test and validate propositions and models across a range of project settings. Develop and refine throughout the project a fresh perspective that enables Action Sustainability to offer an enhanced service to the market underpinned by robust, relevant and reliable action orientated research.

Proposed Research Design and Methods:

Drawing upon an action research approach the research will be guided by ongoing negotiation and collaboration between Action Sustainability and Loughborough University mediated by the appointed researcher. The research will be embedded with an industrial context dominated by major projects, such as London 2012 and Crossrail. These large and complex projects, where temporary multiple organisations form for extended periods, provide a unique and rare opportunity to achieve the research aims and objectives. These projects will provide significant access for the researcher to collect the necessary and extensive data required to facilitate robust analysis that tests and validates propositions, models and proposed service packages within complex project environments. Whilst it is difficult to predict at such an early stage of an action research project research methods that will be used, it is expected that access provided will facilitate a combination of desk-top, statistical and social survey methods, including both qualitative and quantitative methods. The proposed research programme will include:

An extended critical analysis of relevant theory will be an ongoing feature of the action research. This analysis will seek to synthesise a variety of disparate and contemporary theoretical perspectives on values, project management, project success and sustainability.Ongoing throughout the project will be observation and analysis of practice that both informs and is informed by the synthesis and refinement of theoretical perspectives.The activities above form the basis of a research framework that both integrates theory and practice and also forms the basis of developing and testing interventions in the form of novel service offerings. Data collection and analysis to both inform the framework and test interventions will be ongoing.Analysis, mapping and modelling of the above data to establish tentative relationships at the level of the firm and the project coalition will provide the basis of developing new theory and novel practices and services for Action Sustainability.Further validation of developed theories, practices and service offerings will be achieved by drawing upon case studies with Supply Chain School member companies, engaged in a variety of live construction projects both small and large.Development of a client-facing methodology for capturing and modelling live project, sustainability and collective organisational values data, suitable for use in planning and managing major projects.

Expected Benefits and Outcomes:

As with all action research projects of this nature, benefits and outcomes are distributed amongst those active constituencies to the research. Thus, firstly, Action Sustainability[1] will benefit from the development of practices and novel services during the project and thus enhance the organisations collective knowledge and skills base. Ultimately, Action sustainability will commercially benefit by being able to offer its current and future clients an enhanced robust and independently verified service. Secondly, construction clients will benefit from a service that provides the basis of better control on managing the delivery of successful projects measured across a wide range of interests. Thirdly, an emphasis on developing theory will provide the academic community an opportunity to explore, develop and test novel theory in applied setting. In summary, the project will benefit both theory and practice. The following outputs are based on delivering the above and show the potential impact the project will have:

Combining within the action research approach the development of robust problems and questions with valid and robust data analyses will lead to the publication of academic papers in high quality academic journals such as Building Research and Information.An enhanced and refined body of knowledge on what constitutes pivotal project performance attributes as well as success factorsNew theoretical understandings about the relationship between collective organisational values and sustainability goalsPublished analyses of previously untapped datasets that can inform subsequent research undertaken by academics in the areaReadily digestible findings suitable for wider dissemination to industry (e.g. e-learning modules) via the Supply Chain School members (to contribute to improved competence among the thousands of companies in their supply chains)

[1] Action Sustainability CIC (ASCIC), as a social enterprise, will support the academic work and its publication. ASCIC's mission is to build the body of knowledge of sustainable supply chain management and share any IP for free.

Action Sustainability Trading Ltd. (ASTL) will sponsor the development of the methodology as a web-based tool, as part of ongoing activities to develop tools for projects as a commercial proposition. ASTL would pay for the IT development of the tool and would retain the IP of this development for commercial purposes.



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