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Working together to boost construction sustainability

By 13th June 2016 Blog, Sustainability 4 Comments
Boosting construction sustainability means working together more - find out more at www.remsol.co.uk

Whether it’s a domestic extension, volume house building or the construction of commercial and industrial developments, one thing is certain: construction activities consume vast quantities of raw material resources, are indirectly responsible for substantial climate change emissions, and produce significant quantities of waste. Boosting construction sustainability and reducing those impacts means working together more.

Whether you’re the client, architect, specifier, principal contractor, a sub-contractor or a supplier of building products, everyone has a role to play in boosting construction sustainability.

According to the UK Green Building Council, it is thought that the built environment is responsible for 40% of the world’s extracted materials, and that demolition waste is the biggest offender in many countries when it comes to construction waste.

It’s why the government-backed Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has previously focused so much of its attention and efforts on the built environment sector: since 2000, its work has led to wide-scale environmental change through the development and execution of initiatives such as Halving Waste to Landfill (HW2L). Over 800 companies signed the commitment to reduce waste leading to:

– 5 million tonnes of waste per year diverted from landfill

– £400 million cost savings per year realised by the companies involved

Initiatives like this clearly yield both environmental and monetary improvements, and so are worth continuing – but there’s still more to do. And smaller companies need to follow the lead of their larger counterparts in order to multiply the benefits.

Tips on collaborating for construction sustainability

Here are some tips on how the entire built environment value chain can reduce environmental impacts and costs by collaborating more:

Clients

Whether you’re the end-user of a new building or a developer, you are uniquely positioned to steer the approach taken to sustainability on your project. Start by making it clear to everyone involved that it is your expectation that sustainability should feature in every design and procurement decision relating to the project, and work with the supply chain to develop targets and metrics to ensure your sustainability aspirations are achieved.

Architects

When you’re designing structures and spaces, do so with not just with aesthetics, user experience and functionality in mind, but consider also how they will actually be built and how intelligent design could be used to engineer-out waste. For instance, if you’ve got free reign over ceiling heights in a room, why not set them so it’s possible to avoid small off-cuts of plasterboard by ensuring that it’s only ever necessary to cut a sheet in half or quarters to achieve the required height? It goes without saying that modern buildings should also incorporate passive solar design, grey-water recycling, sustainable urban drainage and micro-renewables so that they have fewer lifetime operational impacts too – sustainable construction takes a holistic, lifecycle approach.

Specifiers

If it’s your job to specify the products used in a project, then you are also in a commanding position when it comes to construction sustainability. You could, for example, specify that certain construction products must have a minimum recycled content, or be sustainably sourced (like timber products), have the lowest VOC content in their category, or the lowest embedded CO2 etc. It’s also important to be open-minded about innovations too – just because something’s new, it doesn’t mean it isn’t better than the currently available alternatives.

Principal contractors

As the principal contractor that will have day-to-day responsibility for delivering the scheme and procurement, you have an important oversight role. It’s important that you ensure the project’s sustainability targets are cascaded throughout the supply chain, and for ensuring that sub-contractors and suppliers are meeting their commitments. A good Quantity Surveyor can help here, as can good project planning that ensures materials leftover from one phase of work get incorporated in a subsequent phase in order to avoid wasteage. Ensuring that there are appropriate skips and other receptacles in place to maximise waste segregation and recycling is also key.

Sub-contractors

You may feel like you’re a little too far down the pecking order to make much of a difference, but you are in fact very well placed to contribute to the sustainability goals of the projects you work on. For a start, nobody knows your trade quite as well as you do, and so you have an important role in making sure that clients, architects, specifiers and the principal contractors that engage you don’t overlook opportunities to enhance project sustainability. It is equally important, however, to ensure that you communicate the limitations that exist too – there’s no point placing demands on your particular trade, that can’t be met for very real practical reasons, just because they can be satisfied by others.

Building products suppliers

One of the biggest causes of construction waste is excess, single-use packaging – whether that’s bulk bags of sand, cardboard boxes or just the shrink-wrap used to palletise 25kg sacks of cement. You’re in a fantastic position to do something about this by working with your customers to develop delivery systems that cut out this waste, for example by supplying goods in packaging that others can easily and safely reuse, or in returnable packaging that you take back and fill again. And where that isn’t possible, it’s important to try and standardise packaging materials to make sure they are easily recycled.

You also need to communicate effectively

For this sort of collaboration to work, it relies on effective communications – including the ability for everyone involved to feedback on their experiences and offer suggestions for improvement.

You probably already do it for health and safety, so why not replicate that for sustainability?

For instance, you could incorporate sustainable construction themes into your induction training, and fold it into toolbox talks and any regular team briefings for the people doing the work. You might want to also consider posting sustainability information, guidance and site statistics on bulletin boards around your site – you could even display a bold sign at the site entrance (on larger developments) that proudly boasts the recycling rate achieved in the previous week or month.

Like the best advertising campaigns, which work on us almost subconsciously by drip-feeding us with product information and offers designed to entice us, so it is with sustainability communications: to embed sustainable thinking takes time, patience, effort and repetition.

But it’s worth it in the end.

Check out some case studies for more ideas

The good news, for anyone starting out on their journey to boost construction sustainability, is that there is a wealth of information and guidance available to help.

Here’s a selection of case studies we’ve found that you could use for inspiration:

Green Street new build, Nottingham

Low energy offices, Okehampton

Green Lane student accommodation, Durham

Of course, if you want some hands-on help, you need look no further. We can work with  you to deliver sustainable construction strategies and engage with your stakeholders right across the built environment value chain – why not contact us to find out more?

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