The drive towards sustainability in construction has become much more than a fleeting trend in recent years. A seismic shift in practice has been predicted, influenced by increased awareness among...Continue Reading
The drive towards sustainability in construction has become much more than a fleeting trend in recent years. A seismic shift in practice has been predicted, influenced by increased awareness among clients, regulators, industry experts and the general public.
Today, the industry is starting to gravitate towards more sustainable building methods and materials, with energy-efficient systems being incorporated into building design. This article will first consider the importance of sustainability and what this means in practice. It will then explore practical measures to help companies increase sustainability whilst remaining compliant, so they can maintain a competitive stance in the industry.
What is meant by sustainability in construction?
Broadly speaking, sustainability is a term used to describe the measurement and assessment of the construction process in line with social, economic, and environmental criteria. However, in the context of this guide, we can define sustainability in terms of energy efficiency, social impact and waste reduction. This definition is used by the following benchmarks and guides within the construction industry:
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)
This not-for-profit charity ranks companies by their carbon footprint. Currently, 95 cities across the world have achieved a position on their high-ranking A list, including Greater Manchester, Nottingham City Council and the Greater London Authority. Companies are evaluated based on their impact on climate change, forests, and water security with organisations like L’Oréal, Danone, Mondi PLC, and Philip Morris International scoring highly in all three categories.
FTSE4Good Index Series
For listed companies, including construction companies and their clients, this platform is essential for attracting investors who care about sustainability. Ranking highly on this index can be a key part of maintaining compliance in an increasingly green-regulated economy. At the same time, it is also a priority when sourcing construction investors as the number of ‘green bonds’ issued in the UK continues to grow.
The Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS)
For construction companies, this NPO is a good resource for meeting sustainable goals. You can register your organisation and your sites and meet best practices by adhering to CCS’s various guidelines and codes. Importantly, being a CCS-registered construction company shows an open commitment to a range of social and environmental goals. As a registered company, these credentials are significant when it comes to winning sustainable building contracts and obtaining green bonds.
BREEAM is the world’s leading third-party certification standard for sustainability in the UK. It evaluates asset performance in terms of energy use, waste production and progress towards net zero goals. BREEAM also offers tools such as case studies and sustainability frameworks to help guide design and construction processes.
The Construction Playbook
This is the UK government’s code for best practices in the construction industry, with parameters for promoting net zero carbon and sustainability in construction. It also contains Environmental Policy and Management documentation regarding audits and inspections, climate change countermeasures and risk management.
Why is sustainability in construction important?
The benefits of a sustainable construction industry span social, economic, and environmental benefits. Importantly, it is also linked to profitability as many clients and tenders are beginning to prioritise green construction projects.
A stronger economy
The UK’s construction industry contributes over £117 billion to the economy each year, providing 7% of all jobs. As a mass employment driver, the government is supporting the sector through the 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, which is set to create 25,000 green jobs at the forefront of industrial transformation.
This supports the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) prediction that sustainable practices and technology in the construction industry have the potential to create 18 million jobs worldwide. The commitment to sustainability is therefore a driver in delivering the critical skills needed to grow and increase profitability.
Environmental protection and compliance
In the UK, the construction industry is responsible for almost 47% of total carbon emissions, emitting 11.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 alone. From a compliance perspective, adhering to sustainability regulations is crucial to winning tenders for both public and private works.
There are currently many environmental regulations in place. These include UK-based initiatives such as the Building Act, the Environmental Bill 2020, the Water Act and the Energy Performance of Buildings regulations. Complying with these policies can fortify the role of environmental sustainability in the growth of construction businesses.
Client demand and brand reputation
Clients are increasingly showing a preference for sustainable construction, with 87% of construction firms reporting sustainability as a retention factor. Maintaining strong relationships is central to any successful business, and firms report that customer expectations (84%) and competitive advantage (75%) are central to their adoption of sustainability initiatives.
Nowadays, customers are wanting to support green businesses and the savings from running a sustainable building are considerable – as is their assets’ increase in value. Once you build a reputation as a proactive sustainable construction company, you can expect to see more relevant projects coming in.
Cost savings and reduced wastage
The upfront costs associated with sustainable construction processes are a barrier for some firms, but the payoffs over the long term are worth looking into. This is especially important as increasing regulations show the move to more sustainable practices is almost inevitable.
According to the European Commission, utilising sustainable technologies and processes could result in global energy savings of €410 billion per year by 2030. Additional savings can be derived from using building materials more efficiently and reducing waste removal costs.
What are the three pillars of sustainability in construction?
Three core principles govern the use of sustainable construction methods. These inform every aspect of the project from design and feasibility through to the construction process and the performance of the building over its lifetime.
This is about minimising the impact of construction on the sites’ physical environment. This includes utilising suppliers and materials who practice sustainability measures in their manufacturing and supply chain processes. From Environmental Risk Assessments (ERAs) and waste management processes to environmental value engineering and reducing carbon emissions, there are many ways to make your processes more sustainable.
The focus here is on ensuring the design and construction process benefits both local communities and wider society wherever possible. For the construction industry, this can include creating opportunities for employment and upskilling or promoting diverse and inclusive work environments. It also means prioritising onsite safety as well as using suppliers and contractors with proven ethics and sustainability policies.
Here, construction companies prioritise meeting present economic needs without negatively impacting future economic needs. This means optimising material usage, manufacturing, and supply chains to reduce waste and maximise resource efficiency. This can save money over time, whilst offering short and long-term environmental benefits.
How is sustainability measured or assessed?
This article has already covered some of the resources, tools, and guidelines used to evaluate sustainability efforts within the construction industry. Here are some additional certifications to elaborate on how sustainability in building construction is assessed.
This is the international standard for designing and implementing an environmental management system, providing a framework to ensure nothing is overlooked. It includes both organisational and operational requirements such as policies, roles, and responsibilities to keep Environmental Management Systems (EMS) running smoothly.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) offers a global rating system for commercial, residential, and other building developments. This includes minimum requirements for certification and a multi-tiered scorecard system. Top LEED-certified buildings in the UK generate widespread coverage, such as The Crystal in London.
The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREAM) is the most widely-used sustainability rating system for built environments. As with LEED, it offers proven requirements for certification and assessment, as well as scorecard-ranked levels of achievement. The first building to achieve an Outstanding rating in the UK is Apex Park in Daventry.
What are some examples of sustainability in construction?
If you’re in the formative stages of making building processes more sustainable, you may want to consult case studies of noteworthy green projects. Here are some of the top examples in the UK with insights into how they achieved their sustainability goals:
The Kensington Building
This building achieved a 35% reduction in embodied carbon compared to a typical new-build office. They reused 78% of the building’s substructure and 48% of the superstructure and used smart IoT systems to reduce operating costs, energy demand and carbon impact. 100% of demolition and excavation waste was diverted from landfills as well as 99.4% of construction waste. This culminated in the project achieving a BREEAM rating of Excellent.
This 10-storey eco building achieved an Outstanding BREEAM rating by using greywater collection systems for toilets, integrated lighting/heating/cooling ceiling panels, and LED lighting. Employees are empowered to recycle and compost waste, while the use of smart airflow reduces energy usage while improving air quality and employee health. The building also ‘breathes’ using bronze blades that open and close to enhance natural ventilation. Finally, it is a zero-landfill building, with all waste being reused or recycled.
The National Trust HQ
Within the charity’s budget, small improvements in construction and design led to great results. From optimising natural light and ventilation into the building to carpeting it with Herdwick wool from the National Trust farmland, the National Trust HQ highlights the role of creativity and innovation within sustainability. The building has an Excellent BREEAM rating and generates just 20kg of carbon dioxide per square metre per year.
Built in 2012, The Crystal uses highly-insulated glazing to control solar heat gain and maximise energy savings. It created 50 local jobs and offers free public amenities to fulfil the social aspect of sustainability. The building is completely free of fossil fuels and showcases real-world examples of sustainable innovation and building planning such as rainwater harvesting and low-energy ventilation.
How are regular processes or materials becoming more sustainable?
To meet compliance requirements for sustainability, traditional methods and processes are changing in the construction industry. Here are a few key examples:
- Using hybrid gas-electric heavy machinery to minimise reliance on fossil fuels
- Including high-efficiency electrical systems, smart networks, and water recycling systems from the design phase
- Recycling construction waste rather than sending it to landfill
- Sourcing sustainable alternatives to traditional materials, including recycled steel, glass and aluminium
- Incorporating as much of existing buildings and materials as possible on refurbishment sites
How can passive fire protection support sustainability in construction?
Passive fire protection isn’t always thought of as being part of sustainability measures, but they do share goals in common. As well as being an important regulatory and compliance process, passive fire protection can help to fulfil sustainability requirements. Here’s how you can use passive fire protection in your sustainable project:
- Utilising products with ISO50001 Energy Management Systems accreditation
- Installing cavity barriers to increase thermal insulation, whilst also containing the spread of flames and smoke in the event of a fire.
- Considering the environmental benefits of water-based intumescent coatings, although it should be noted that solvent-based coatings are more water-resistant, can withstand various weather conditions and leave a smoother finish.
- Having passive fire protection systems installed professionally to minimise wastage and increase resource efficiency.
Ultimately, passive fire protection is a sustainability issue. By protecting people and structures, projects can meet sustainability goals by improving the safety and durability of the building throughout its lifespan.
CLM is a leading provider of passive fire protection services for high-rise buildings, public works and commercial, and residential developments. Our team of firestopping specialists work with clients to implement passive fire safety strategies to ensure regulatory compliance while minimising the many risks associated with fire damage. Contact our expert team today to find out more.