The construction industry is responsible for the built environment we all live in and enjoy. But, as the UK population continues to grow, more housing is needed and a new industrial infrastructure must be built. It doesn’t really matter what needs building, as long as it is done with one key word in mind, sustainability. Coming hot on the heels of Boris Johnson’s pledge of £350m to cut emissions in heavy industry, it looks like we are moving in the right direction.
Sustainability and construction have always had a strained relationship going all the way back to the industrial revolution. A pivotal time in human history, the need to innovate and expand superseded the environmental concerns and the impact on the environment wouldn’t begin to register until some 200 years later. Throughout history there had always been more resources than the demand for them, we now know that in today’s day and age, this is simply not the case. Just look at coal, a previously abundant resource relied on throughout the industrial revolution. At the time Britain had a huge supply and was using it to fuel steam engines and furnaces. The impacts of this non-renewable resource on the environment would not be understood for a long time.
Coming a long way since the Industrial Revolution, construction firms understand the need to pursue sustainable methods for their materials and their workers. And, whilst great progress has been made, there’s still plenty to do. Reading a recent report from the Institution of Civil Engineers, we can see that construction makes up 45% of total UK carbon emissions. This may seem high but is reflected across the global with an estimated 40% of global emissions coming from construction. A level of this is completely unavoidable, if you are building something new from scratch you have already committed to consuming resources, but there are ways to use them more effectively and that comes at the design stage. Before construction begins, the early stages of development must set measurable goals, assess energy use and material sources to name a few. If these elements are only discussed after a project has been greenlit, those materials have already been ordered, so any attempt to use less will result in wasted materials.
It is important that construction firms take this responsibility as regulations and help from the government is woefully behind that of the construction industry, which is why it is so refreshing to see the pledge from Boris to “fuel a green, sustainable recovery”. The government hasn’t always been this helpful when it comes to emissions, for example, way back in 2006, the Labour government committed that from 2016 all new homes would be zero carbon. This did not go ahead and in 2015 the government published ‘Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation’ which scrapped the initiative. With this new pledge however, the UK has an opportunity to prove itself as a leader in green innovation.
With such an investment from the government I want to take a look at a change we can all make in the construction sector, with a statistic that the industry can hopefully address in the coming years. Again addressing this comes in the early stages of a project, 13% of products delivered to construction sites are then sent directly to landfill without ever being used. Now this statistic is particularly troubling because these are finished products, construction material that has been treated and processed going to waste needlessly. The solution comes back to the planning stage, plan before you buy and avoid keeping materials in storage for too long. Storage is another integral part of the process, construction companies need to make sure their storage is away from damp, excess moisture, rain, daylight and secure from theft.
This is a change that can be implemented across the UK with very little training or investment, just a bit more careful programme and project management with skilled personnel. In the long run getting the job done by a competent manager will lead not only to more profits but healthier environment for us all to share.