Skip to content

By Nicola Bird, Founder and Managing Director of AccXel.

I recently attended a fascinating talk about ‘net-zero for SMEs’. The title resonated with me. Our company – Bell Contractors – has north of an £80m turnover and 500 employees, but we all still feel as if we are running a small business.

Our family background and ethos makes for a tight-knit community of workers. It’s a ‘grafting’ company, one that has grown organically through the decades, and I know many similar firms.

Net-zero language is a barrier

Leaders of a ‘typical’ business like ours, understand construction and their own businesses well. What they struggle with, however, are the numerous papers and policies written about net-zero and carbon reduction.

I have spoken to many business leaders about what sustainability and the environment means to their businesses, and their answers are vague. There is a fear in the eyes of executives who find these questions difficult, not because they have no knowledge, but because they simply don’t know where to start or how to lead the change.

We need to educate

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that we need to demystify the language around carbon change and net zero. If we want to deliver change in the construction industry, we need education.

That’s why I founded my own company – AccXel – to help train and develop the next generation of talent in the industry.

That education must be expansive and far-reaching. We need to simplify measures for business leaders by demystifying words and showing examples to help the industry’s future talent think about construction in terms of its potential to create the exciting and eco-friendly buildings of the future.

ABC is playing its part

The Active Building Centre can help with that. Its three wonderful examples of low-emissions and eco-friendly houses, built to three different standards of building regulations, are perfect resources for illustrating what environmentally friendly housing might look like in practice. When you can see it and even visit it you immediately understand it.

It is also crucial that we encourage education of the environmental impact, and potential, of the built environment within construction apprenticeships, schools, colleges and universities.

Change is coming

The earlier we introduce language and wording around sustainability and carbon positivity, the more natural these vital conversations will become. A sustainable green mindset will become the default when we are talking and thinking about the built environment. We’ll be able to build confidence and assurance around the subject matter.

Change can be created from the bottom up and the top down, and I’m confident that we can get there.


Nicola Bird is Founder and Managing Director of AccXel’s: which is a Construction Skills Accelerator Centre based in Gloucestershire and is the first co-funded, industry led construction education facility in the UK.

She is also Safety and Business Development Director for Bell Contracting and K W Bell Group which specialises in contracting, civil engineering and groundwork operations to the major house building group, whilst constructing their own developments within Bell Homes.

Nicola is a guest speaker at the ABC hosted #COP26 fringe event on the 21.10.21