UK: Sustainable Construction What´s Your Strategy?

Last Updated: 4 September 2008
Article by Adam Hiscox and Jon Close

Green issues are considered more, not less important, in times of economic stress. That is the announcement coming from shadow ministers this week.

The release of the Government's latest white paper on sustainability is rather timely given the current economy. The fact that some of the UK's largest public sector clients have signed up to commitments under it indicates that the message is starting to get through - you cannot divorce economic growth from sustainability issues ...or you do so at your peril.

BPE Construction & Engineering Associate, Jon Close, comments "The long awaited action by the Government is to be welcomed. The fact that institutions such as the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) have been busy consulting on changes to their standard documentation for some time is not entirely coincidental. This has been eagerly anticipated by the construction industry."

Given the wide-ranging content of this report it is difficult to predict the impact that it will have on the Construction and process industries. Areas assessed range from design to climate change adaptation involving more effective waste management processes, sourcing and use of materials and people.

Some of the more headline-grabbing objectives of the strategy include:

  • Recruitment of 230,000 additional trained construction workers by 2010;
  • Cut the number of work-related deaths by 10 per cent year on year;
  • Supply an extra 13,500 apprenticeship placements by 2010;
  • Achieve a 50% reduction in the amount of construction, demolition and excavation waste to landfill;
  • Ensure 25% of materials used in construction projects are responsibly sourced by 2012; and
  • Ensure all construction projects over £1 million have biodiversity surveys carried out and instigate the necessary actions by 2012.

One of the principal strengths of this reports is that it brings together the shared vision of various departments and think tanks into one document. However its weaknesses include that the targets that have been set may not go far enough - as highlighted by organisations such as RICS who say that it fails to consider the environmental impact of dealing with existing housing stock.

It would be tempting to look at the targets and dread the inevitable rules and regulations which the government are bound to lay down to "assist" the industry in adhering to the "grand plan". Upfront costs are likely to be significant for some. However, when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture the question becomes not, 'can I afford to go along with all this' but 'can I afford not to'.

Sustainable Construction - cont.

"The targets are aspirational", notes Jon, "whether they are achievable or not remains to be seen, but given the amount of industry input into this document, there should be no reason why companies should not be held to their own yardstick."

In achieving the goals, best not look to Government for the answers", adds Jon wryly, "Platforms such as Constructing Excellence, FBE and the Business Council for Sustainable Development are superb in bringing people together to work on how lasting change can be brought about by exchanging and implementing best practice. The industry is, and is likely to always be self regulating in this field."

The Code for Sustainable Homes

It is not only Government that is considering the environmental issue. The Code for Sustainable Homes complements the system of Energy Performance Certificates for new homes, introduced in April 2008, which impacts as much upon private individuals as it does businesses. It also gives house builders, and indeed anyone looking to sell, an added angle by which to showcase how superior their properties are compared to others.

The Code will be inevitably hyped up by those who seek to obtain the highest marks in its 6 star rating system in 9 categories namely: Energy/CO2, Water, Materials, Surface Water Run-off, Waste, Pollution, Health and Wellbeing, Management and Ecology.

Jon doesn't regard this as necessarily a bad thing, however, as he explains, "If the industries are actively implementing technologies and methods that are sympathetic to our environment and are achieving profits on a mass scale at the same time, then the system is working. We may still suffer the superficial marketing, awkwardly employed by the few opportunists, but those that do not invest tend to fall into the hands of insolvency practitioners very quickly indeed. This stuff costs serious money to do properly and amounts to a sizeable investment for many."

As the Code's requirements are higher than that of Building Regulations, it also provides a useful insight into the direction that Building Regulations might take in relation to cutting carbon emissions and energy use in homes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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