How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of the Construction Industry

How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of the Construction Industry

Sir David Attenborough kicks Jennifer Anniston off the top spot on Instagram for most followers, within an hour.

David’s content strikes a clear message that “the world is in trouble”. In response to the UK's net zero carbon emissions goal Sir David responds with "the moment of crisis has come"...

According to the UK Green Building Council, around 10% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions are directly associated with construction activities. The number rises to 45% when taking into account the whole of the built environment sector.

Steps are being taken within the industry to encourage sustainable behaviours and to put tangible goals and measures behind the commitments that have been made. 

Read on for details on the key areas of focus:

1. Using the existing sustainability options

A number of methods currently available to industry operators to achieve more sustainable construction, include:

  • Including life-cycle costing, whole-life carbon modelling and post-occupancy evaluation as part of the basic scope of work.
  • Collaboration between developers, designers, engineers, contractors and clients to brainstorm further reductions in construction waste.

2. Research of the most sustainable practices

The development of more sustainable materials is popular on the sustainability agenda within construction. For example, the manufacture of cement is responsible for about 8% of overall global CO2 emissions. Less carbon-intensive and more environmentally efficient methods of construction are also key to help drive efficiencies and in turn sustainability.

Advances in technology, data capture and the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) should all help with this evidence-based and performance-focussed design approach.

Technology can also be utilised. Such tools can optimise a building's performance in operation and provide owners with a clearer means for managing the sustainable performance of their building. 

3. Adoption of new sustainability metrics

Present industry standards mainly evaluate buildings based on their design and not their operation. Operational metrics are the key to ensure long-term sustainability. The recent Better Building Partnership’s Design for Performance initiative is often viewed as being better suited to the challenges of long-term sustainability compared to the UK’s present certification process.

4. Raising awareness and lobbying

Many within the industry have pledged to continue to raise awareness of the urgent need for climate change and biodiversity action amongst designers, developers, contractors, funders, investors and supply chains. As well as promoting change within the industry, there has been a commitment to lobby the government for higher levels of funding and policy change in support of these aims.

Government support for enhanced sustainability in construction is already translating into public policy. In September 2019 the Welsh government announced over £30 million for innovative housing in Wales – part of a £90 million fund to test new approaches to develop sustainable social and affordable housing.

While existing climate commitments within the industry are encouraging, action is needed to rise to the challenge posed by sustainability targets and declarations set by government, employers and the industry itself, and to align industry practices with wider public (and investor) sentiments.

Though the challenges are many positive steps which can be taken through better working practices, smarter buildings and smarter cities, via a combination of education, investment, collaboration, innovation and by embracing emerging construction-technologies.

Experts state that the next decade is likely to see a revolution in the advancement of technology and automation driving optimisation and efficiency of building. Much of this change will be utilised to lessen the impact the construction industry has had on climate change.

If you wish to get involved, many charities across the country are actively combating climate change. The works of Trees for Cities has aided in the maintenance of urban greenery. We wish to play our part and so for each company which joins us since David Attenborough joined Instagram (24/09/2020) we will plant a tree! 

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