Three ways to create a more sustainable construction site
It’s no secret that the construction industry negatively contributes towards the overall international greenhouse effect. With large volumes of materials and resources utilised each year, a high carbon output and increasing pollution levels, the construction industry poses a significant threat to the environment. In order to curb the industry’s rising emission output and notably reduce the planetary impact of construction work, it is necessary for individuals and corporations to implement a number of sustainable changes.
There are plenty of ways to protect the planet without compromising on safety, quality, or efficiency. Here are four ways it’s possible to symbiose sustainability and construction sites:
1: Utilise sustainable materials
All materials have an ecological footprint. Even the most basic and essential building materials, such as concrete and steel, are largely unsustainable due to the volume of non-renewable resources used in their manufacturing processes. Concrete is a construction site staple, but accounts for approximately 6% of the world’s CO2 emissions. In order to begin reducing the amount of unsustainable and non-salvageable materials used currently, the industry must begin incorporating greener practices into everyday construction, as well as ensuring greener and more ecologically sound materials are used as an alternative to traditional building supplies.
As research develops, a larger choice of sustainable and affordable building materials are more readily available. From concrete alternatives, such as hempcrete, to different types of piles and a variety of other materials, it is important to consider the environmental footprint of materials and how long it will take to offset these in the future. One of the most effective ways of reducing whole life carbon, is to design buildings with a long-life span and use materials which will last without the need for replacement. Alternative materials can be just as effective as their traditional counterparts but require fewer resources to be produced and are a more long-term sustainable option.
2: Responsible waste management
In addition to utilising greener materials, it is also important to consider how product waste will be disposed of efficiently and in a sustainable manner. Waste can usually be divided into five core categories: liquid, solid, organic, recyclable, and hazardous. In order to dispose of site waste as effectively and greenly as possible, it is important to consider which materials can be recycled and reused, and which need to be dealt with appropriately. In the UK the majority of waste synonymous with construction sites such as timber, cardboard, glass, and masonry can all be recycled. In some cases, surplus materials can be reused in other projects rather than being disposed of. Similarly, there are a handful of materials which can be given a completely new lease of life, such as timber being converted into mulch or biomass fuel. Recycling and reusing materials can, when done correctly, bring unexpected benefits such as reduced waste disposal costs and money saved on materials for future projects. By 2025, the predicted volume of waste is approximately 2.2 billion tonnes per year, therefore by recycling as much as possible will help to combat the effects of climate change.
Additionally, when thinking about site related waste, it is important to consider and prevent surface run-off. It’s common knowledge that a poorly managed site has the potential to leak harmful chemicals and pollutants into the environment. It’s crucial that companies and individuals take responsibility for the products used on site and ensure that their subsequent disposal is managed well. Preventing run-off can stop contaminants negatively impacting local water supplies and eco systems, which are often crucial to human and animal consumption. Taking into consideration factors such as nearby watercourses, terrain, and associated geographical features, can help to avoid a possible leak. Furthermore, using preventative measures, such as silt-fences to prevent soil washing away, could help protect the immediate environment from leakage and run-off. Being mindful of the materials used on site and knowing how to dispose of any generated waste appropriately, should enable a business to acknowledge where they can implement further sustainable practices.
3: Consider efficient transport
Transportation is a key activity of any construction-based business. However, the carbon footprint emitted by haulage and transportation vehicles adds up quickly. In order to reduce fuel input and carbon output, there are a variety of small changes that can be implemented without disruption. Effective route planning is often an area which is overlooked. Pre-planning journeys and calculating the most carbon efficient route from A to B, will not only save time but also reduce air pollution and emissions. Managing transport systems, monitoring drivers, and mapping out the best possible routes, are all small contributions which can substantially reduce pollution levels over time. In addition to effective transportation management, ensuring all vehicles, and on-site machinery, is well maintained will enable a better fuel economy to be achieved, as well as saving capital in the long term by making operations/logistics more efficient overall. Plus, reducing the overall environmental footprint is an added bonus. It may also be appropriate to consider switching to an eco-friendly fuel. Biodiesel, for example, is a clean burning diesel alternative which can be used in many existing engines without the need for modifications. Many manufacturers are starting to produce biodiesel compatible construction equipment and haulage vehicles, ensuring mechanical functionality and performance remain key factors.
The construction industry is recognised as a primary contributor to environmental pollution and carbon emissions. However, all sectors within the industry are working hard to incorporate more sustainable practices into their everyday operations. Independent contractors and large-scale businesses are starting to convert to closed loop systems in order to preserve resources, reduce their environmental impact, and pave the way for others in the construction industry.
There are clear reasons, both ethical and environmental, as to why companies should choose to invest in sustainable construction practices. Furthermore, economically speaking, going green has big financial benefits. From the lower long-term cost of alternative sustainable materials to government grants and tax relief for becoming a certified sustainable company (depending on location), going green can be hugely beneficial. Moreover, in a world geared towards creating a sustainable future, implementing better practices could prove to be advantageous when it comes to winning over customers and providing a competitive edge. Genuine sustainability, not just green washing, is a huge selling point in today’s market. Both consumers and the government are increasingly focused on green credentials and are more inclined to use companies who are authentically environmentally conscious and eco-focused. Proving to consumers and stakeholders that a business is committed to tackling the climate crisis will help build brand reputation and ultimately make a positive impact on the industry.
Becoming a completely green company takes effort, and often these incoming sustainable changes will not occur overnight. However, the rewards for implementing eco-conscious decisions and recognising how to become a more sustainable business, certainly outweigh the challenges potentially faced by those who are trepidatious about going green.