It’s widely acknowledged that the construction sector has lagged others when it comes to both digitalisation and sustainability accounting. Qflow is helping the industry play catchup for some of the highest profile projects in the country.
Earlier this month, the Vala Sustainable Growth EIS added construction-tech pioneers Qflow to its inaugural portfolio, and we couldn’t be more excited to have them onboard. We wanted to share our thoughts on why we invested, and why intelligent tools for the construction sector are going to be vital for a sustainable future.
Building Back Better
Build Back Better has been the mantra of both the UK and US governments’ platforms for recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and it seems to tap into something of a quietly forming public consensus: a return to the status quo will not be good enough.
The construction sector is one of the largest sectors globally, and it’s also one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. In fact, an estimated 39% of all carbon emissions are generated by the built environment and roughly a third of that comprises so called ‘embodied emissions’, which are associated with the materials and construction process. Furthermore, it is estimated that 40% of the world’s raw resources are used in engineering and construction – and 13% of all those materials go directly to waste. Any vision of a net zero future, then, has to make serious strides in the way we build. A key challenge historically to rallying around this challenge, however, has been a stark lack of transparency as to what’s actually happening on any one construction project at any single point in time. This may be about to change.
Qflow is a construction-tech business tackling the issue of onsite transparency head-on, making it easy to automate and validate data captured on construction sites. The mobile app-enabled platform let’s gate workers simply take a photo of the paper tickets for any materials on site, and then automatically extracts and stores information using machine learning. This data is made accessible in real time to all stakeholders, and piece-by-piece provides a holistic picture of a project’s sustainability profile, including materials used, waste produced and greenhouse gas emissions generated. This makes it possible not only to track the sustainability footprint of any given project, but also to start establishing benchmarks and targets across the sector. It additionally creates accountability, by ensuring actual materials brought onsite match up with design specifications, and catching costly mistakes before it’s too late. This saves time, energy and (of course) money for their customers. A win for the CFO, and for the planet!
Qflow’s two co-founders, Brittany Harris and Jade Cohen, launched the business to solve issues they experienced first-hand when they worked as civil engineers. They understood how important it would be to build a solution that fit seamlessly into existing on site workflows, and their deep sectoral insight has enabled them to build strong relationships in a notoriously difficult to break into space.
Qflow has successfully on-boarded some of the largest contractors and developers in the UK as customers – including Skanska, Berkeley Group, Bouygues and LandSec – who are deploying Qflow on some of the highest profile projects in the country. They have also demonstrated impressive sustainability credentials, with client case studies evidencing potential for 886kg of CO2e avoided per £1m of total project spend, and showing that a single customer using Qflow could reduce total site waste by 2,000 tonnes annually.
And they’re just getting started. Brittany and Jade have big plans for building out product features and expanding internationally, and Vala is thrilled to be joining them on this next chapter. There’s sure to be exciting updates from the team in the not-so-distant future, so watch this space!
Jonathon Spanos, Head of UK Investments, Vala Capital