Developing a sustainability assessment tool to aid organisational learning in construction SMEs

Organisations engage with sustainability for a number of reasons, often implementing standards to demonstrate commitment to sustainability or benchmark performance. However, many scholars discuss sustainability from an operational or administrative perspective, largely neglecting the role of individuals making up the organisation. Central to organisational development are the learning processes of these individuals and how these translate into organisational learning. Although research into organisational learning is abundant, relatively little is known about how construction organisations, particularly those classified as SMEs, undergo learning processes in order to increase their knowledge. Furthermore, organisational learning requires high absorptive capacities (ACAP) and previous research has linked this with successful standard implementation. SMEs are often pressurised by customers to obtain certification to multiple standards, yet often lack the necessary expertise, and financial and time resources to implement these. This research argues that organisational learning is a key limiting factor in successful sustainability standard implementation. Specifically, the development phase of a sustainability self-assessment tool to identify environmental and social aspects most relevant to an organisation’s operations is presented. Following this, the tool then enables the level of organisational knowledge held about each of these aspects to be determined such that learning approaches are informed to increase learning and knowledge and hence absorptive capacities. The main components of this assessment tool are presented and rules for its operation and development established. Next steps for the assessment framework and suggestions for its applicability to construction product manufacturers are also offered.