Sustainability in the UK Construction Industry
The words reuse and recycle are two of the most important and misunderstood words in the construction industry today. Perhaps not as exciting though as the terms; carbon offset, digital design, and smart infrastructure.
Energy, resources, and materials must be conserved in future construction works. Currently far too much emphasis is placed on “energy efficient buildings”, when the real gains can be achieved from “sustainable construction practises”.
Construction accounts for:
- 36% energy consumption
- 40% CO2 emissions
- 59% waste
Sensible sustainability in civils construction should start by taking steps to ensure that temporary enabling works wherever possible can become foundation elements for the future permanent structural works. Reducing on-site reworking and offsite disposal of waste materials.
Unfortunately, recent changes in the way we now procure our major projects is hindering some of the cost savings and material reuse gains that onsite project managers can make during the progress of infrastructure projects.
It has become normal practise in the industry to set up separate procurement frameworks for permanent and temporary works. With the permanent works addressed by large multi-disciplinary design houses who are usually included from the outset of the project, and the smaller specialist companies introduced at a later stage to address temporary and enabling works.
As the latter procurement is often close to construction dates there is a limited opportunity for the temporary/enabling works to be considered or engineered to form a reusable engineered element for the permanent construction works.
This disconnection between procuring the permanent and temporary works often results in overly conservative designs allowing little opportunity to consider the reuse or retention of the temporary access roads, working platforms and other temporary works areas.
Recent improvements in bound soil base technology, now enables hydraulically bound in-situ soils to exceed traditional imported stone temporary works by a stiffness by factor of up to ten. Providing suitable, durable engineered foundation for most permanent structural work requirements.
For the UK construction industry to improve the way that structures are designed and built, changes will have to be made. Clients should have more of a role to play in incentivising contractors to drive for efficient, practical, and above all sustainable construction practises, enabling the re-use of materials in integrated designs.
Large multi-disciplinary design companies, who will be delivering the permanent structure designs, need to be encouraged to team up with smaller specialist temporary works engineering consultants to produce these combined sustainable designs.
If this requires a rethinking of insurances, or procurement rules across the clients, contractors, and designers on large projects. Then it is a small price to pay for delivering a sustainable whole project approach that encourages the incorporation and reuse of the initial temporary works elements, eliminating the current wasteful practise of dig up and replace.
The UK civil engineering industry can only achieve optimal use of in-situ site materials and the reduction of imported virgin stock by unifying design and procurement processes.
Other industries are leading the way by adopting sensible planned integrated solutions, as part of carbon net zero and the reduction of virgin material consumption targets.
The UK construction industry has already grabbed the easy gains with a get it done attitude and real enthusiasm, the next steps we take are going to be steeper and require more thought and change.