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The UK construction industry hasn’t always been noted for its vision when it comes to sustainable practices. But further changes are to be expected as the industry moves forward.

As Dr Aidan Bell, co-founder of Envirobuild, a self-modelled sustainable construction company puts it, ‘As more and more people accept the detrimental effects of man-made climate change, it makes sense that the construction industry adapts its business approach to incorporate a more environmentally conscious stance.’

Any drive towards greater sustainability has to strike a balance between sound business sense and making a meaningful contribution. Here are five methods that impact sustainable building construction without compromising business activity.

  • Prefabrication of materials in controlled environments – this saves time and enhances quality because planning and assembly are done in a warehouse offsite
  • Waste Management – construction generates a lot of waste materials. Many companies have now adopted a Site Waste Management Process which details how disposal can be managed efficiently
  • Lean Manufacturing for reduced energy consumption – JIT deliveries means materials aren’t left on site before they are required
  • Material Selection – as far as possible, materials are sourced locally and manufactured from recycled products.

The following four diverse construction projects exemplify the practical application of these principles.

B&K Structures – Dalston Lane

The Dalston Lane mixed-use project is, according to B&K, the world’s largest load-bearing timber building, with the entire structure made up of cross-laminated timber above the podium on the first floor.

The panels were manufactured offsite to save time and reduce waste levels and almost 100% of the material used was recycled. Strategic planning meant only 111 road deliveries were required, compared to the roughly 700 journeys which would have been needed for a similarly-sized conventional build using concrete. The project’s approach can be explored in greater detail in this industry press article. 

Kier-Elliott’s Field Shopping Park (phase two), Warwickshire

The Elliott’s Field shopping centre in Warwickshire has been hailed as the world’s first carbon-neutral shopping centre and the first ‘multi-let’ retail location to receive a ranking of outstanding on the BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method).

The project removed practically all its waste from landfills and only used recycled aggregate. Site cabins used solar panels and rainwater harvesting to lower environmental impact. The contractor focused on BREEAM benchmarks and even wrote crib sheets for each supplier package. This resulted in improvements from collaboration throughout the supply chain.

Verto Homes – Island Reach

This development on the coast of Cornwall saw the efficiency of material usage as one of its primary outputs. All homes built have EPC A-rated insulation and mechanical ventilation using heat recovery systems. They also use air-source heat pumps and solar PV panels. The timber-framed properties were built by local contractors and are both sustainably sourced and recyclable once they reach the end of their natural life. The company received two awards for its efforts in sustainable construction.

The Thameslink Programme, Network Rail – London Bridge station

Network Rail’s large-scale redevelopment of London Bridge station was delivered in 2018. It used 100% recycled aggregates and landfill waste was limited to 2%. The company made improvements in apparently insignificant areas like training delivery drivers to drive more economically, resulting in a 20% drop in diesel use. Onsite offices used green electricity tariffs, which prevented 742 tonnes of CO2e emissions.

UK companies are adopting innovative and imaginative ways to reduce carbon footprint and increase build lifespan. The not-for-profit Constructing Excellence Platform gathers thought leaders from within all areas of the construction industry in what they define as the need to ‘drive much-needed change in the Construction sector… through innovation and collaboration’. Their ‘sustain guide’ acts as a rallying call to all who wish to make the built environment a cleaner and more sustainable one.