The value of promoting sustainability in the construction industry?

Given the rapid developments in awareness and activism surrounding climate change, the question of sustainability has taken pole position in the strategic thinking of many sectors of the economy. More and more construction companies are taking important decisions to make their operations greener and minimise the impact of their footprint on the environment. One of the ways this is being done is by developing and promoting sustainability.

Look across the skyline of any major city and you see just how widespread the activities of the construction industry are. In fact, when it comes to sourcing, using and, unfortunately, wasting energy in general, buildings have had a harsh impact.

Up-to-date statistics note some sobering statistics about the built environment:

  • 45% of total UK carbon emissions come from the built environment.
  • 72% of domestic emissions come from water and heating.
  • 32% of landfill comes from the construction and demolition.
  • 13% of material sent to construction sites never get used and go straight to landfill.

Nowadays, increasing mindfulness regarding the opportunities sustainable construction offers has caused even the most hard-nosed of companies to integrate sustainable practices throughout the entire value chain. These endeavours have become increasingly important to the consumer. Those who invest in contractors, whose funding makes these buildings and structures possible, know that they are under scrutiny from the wider population and activist groups like never before.

Cities like London are getting in on the act of promoting sustainability in this respect – the enormous amount of hot air escaping from the underground rail network is set to be used to heat domestic housing around several districts in the city.

When a new construction is given the green light, there is a commitment to consume resources. The value is added in limiting that consumption in all its forms.

Inception and development

Contracting an independent adviser with expert knowledge of sustainability is essential in order to address decisions made at a strategic level. Architects and designers are playing an increasing role in influencing factors such as the building’s shape, structure, and materials to use, from which will emerge an environmental plan specific to that project.

Business planning

This is addressing whether a new building is actually required, or whether refurbishment of an existing structure can reduce the impact of working practices on energy consumption. Risk management and mitigation measures should already be uppermost in the minds of planners.

Design

Advances in materials technology and production techniques mean the designers of new constructions are now able to apply innovative and energy-saving approaches. These include embodied energy, and, depending on location, renewables like solar and hydropower.

Location

Local is the keyword in terms of transport links, site choice and availability of services and resources locally, acting alongside local infrastructure and ecology.

Procurement route

Using the best material (not necessarily the cheapest) and avoiding waste is key in addressing the impact on the local land and its ecosystem, the sources and use of energy and agreed on standards and operating procedures around working methods on the site.

Waste management

Recyclable systems need to bear in mind material selection and additionally, water must be managed intelligently, and pollution and its effects minimised.

Operation

The construction industry has had a poor track record over the last fifty years when it comes to energy. All other issues mentioned in the sections above need to be continuously monitored, with procedures in place for feedback, serious evaluation of problems, and corrective measures applied where necessary.

Disposal

The impact on landfill of dismantling and demolishing existing structures is enormous. Progress in science now permits a much greater degree of recycling, re-use, and even re-sale of unused material. Finally, the disposal of hazardous materials and their possible impact on the local and wider environment is now being regulated.

It’s not just the question of value in promoting sustainability at issue here, but the necessity.

Climate change is already posing major challenges to the ingenuity of those responsible for planning and executing construction projects, not least when it comes to resilience in the built environment in the face of climate change. Sustainability is no longer a luxury choice, but the most intelligent strategy to adopt if, as societies,  we want to save ourselves a lot of trials and tribulations in a few decades’ time.

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