Traceability in the construction supply chain
A Traceability Framework has been developed to help with the complex process of tracing the source, production and distribution of construction products, and verifying the claims made about them.
Many construction products have long and complex journeys before reaching their end consumers, who often know little about the origins of the products, or the circumstances in which they are sourced, produced and distributed.
Traceability involves knowing where products come from, their journeys through supply chains and the conditions within those supply chains. Tracing helps to verify claims made about the products, such as that they are manufactured without workforce exploitation (for example without using modern slavery), and about their embodied carbon and life-cycle energy use, quality and so on.
Little known about traceability in construction
Traceability is established in the automotive, pharmaceutical and food sectors, but little is known about traceability in construction. A BRE Trust supported PhD research study by Asselya Katenbayeva at Loughborough University, has been conducted in response to this gap in our knowledge. It has investigated how traceability is understood and implemented by contractors and manufacturers, and developed and validated a Traceability Framework for the construction sector.
As part of this study, thirty interviews were conducted with large contractors and manufacturers in the UK. The latter included manufacturers of steel, heavyside construction products (such as concrete, cement, aggregates, asphalt and natural stone), plasterboard and insulation products. They were asked about their motivations to trace products, their practices related to traceability, the challenges they face when tracing products, and their recommendations for facilitating traceability in the sector. The companies’ corporate reports were also reviewed to investigate how traceability is communicated at a corporate level.
Hindered by a fragmented sector
The study has revealed the critical role of responsible sourcing and supply chain sustainability for driving traceability in construction. However, a lack of supplier collaboration and information exchange, stemming from the fragmented and complex nature of the construction sector, hinder traceability. This is compounded by the absence of regulations governing traceability, and low awareness of its benefits, scope and implementation.
On the other hand, the development of digital technologies offers the potential for traceability to optimise product supply chain processes, improve product quality management and facilitate the circular use of products in the construction sector.
Based on the interviews and on traceability literature from other sectors, a Traceability Framework has been developed to provide a holistic way of understanding the complex process of tracing products within construction. It was validated with the contractors and manufacturers who participated in the interviews, and then with construction sector stakeholders.
The framework can be a starting point for construction companies developing their own company-specific traceability strategy. Also, although the framework was developed specifically for construction, it could potentially be used in other sectors.
Asselya was supervised by Dr Chris Goodier, Dr Peter Demian and Prof Karli Glass at Loughborough, and Dr Shamir Ghumra at BRE.