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A guide to greener construction projects

Sam Tracey of Actavo Direct offers sustainability tips and looks at the rewards on offer for those making construction work more eco-friendly

Posted by Julian Owen | July 24, 2019 | Sustainability

The construction sector currently leaves a lot to be desired in terms of emission standards, contributing around 23 percent of global air pollution. A need for bulk materials, plus a demand for electricity, resources and fleets of fuel-guzzling machinery, are mostly to blame for the alarming output. 

However, there are plenty of proactive steps construction companies can take towards making daily processes greener. 

Fuelling change

Research shows building and construction accounts for around 39 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions. In an industry tackling such large-scale projects, even the smallest changes could have a huge positive effect. 

Construction sites are packed with machinery - loaders, excavators, etc - all performing key tasks that simply couldn’t be achieved by manual labour. While these machines can’t be replaced, businesses can certainly make them more efficient.

The focus, where possible, should be on minimising distances and reducing wasted journeys and operation time. When first planning a site, maps should be outlined to work out the most efficient and safest routes around the site, minimising travel distances. 

Telematics tools are useful for tracking and reporting machinery usage. On construction vehicles, telematics equipment can be used to track hours of use, meaning project managers can assess which are the most efficient and streamline their fleet to limit wastage. 

Another expensive - yet effective - solution is to replace machines with alternative models providing a more efficient output and running on greener fuel. 

It’s not just on-site businesses that can look to reduce vehicle emissions. Using telematics and route-planning, construction businesses can limit excessive journeys made by staff. 

In an industry steeped in tradition and seemingly hesitant to adopt new processes, those that demonstrate a commitment to improving their output and reducing waste will race ahead of the competition

The role of technology 

Construction projects have traditionally relied on pencil and paper sketches for planning, with project managers requiring multiple drafts to cover every angle and detail. 

The introduction of technology such as building information modelling (BIM) has revolutionised construction planning, allowing everyone involved – from builders to finance employees – to access one comprehensive database. BIM tools include a 3D walkable design, plus all project data in one hub. 

Not only does this save on paper from endless redrafts, but the biggest savings come as a result of achieving a much more accurate planning stage. Creating a detailed 3D plan means all building work, plus plumbing, electrical work and more can be theorised in the planning stage, minimising mistakes in the build, and reducing waste and time spent on projects. 

Businesses able to harness the potential of technology will reduce waste across the entire project timeline, from planning to communication to reporting. Tools such as Microsoft Teams and Slack make team communications effortless, while online file-sharing platforms - Google Docs, for example - allow all authorised employees to view and edit documents simultaneously, removing the need for printed reports. 

Reuse and recycle 

In the UK, construction waste accounts for 50 percent of all landfill. Material waste is inevitable in an industry built on creating and destroying buildings, but not all construction waste needs to be sent to the nearest skip. 

Many construction materials can be readily recycled or even reused in future projects. Traditional building materials such as timber, thermal insulation, lining, roof claddings and PVC are suitable for recycling, and can account for a significant amount of material in larger projects. 

Consider which materials can be re-used, either in future projects or by other tradespeople, such as landscape gardeners. Plastic and composite lumber, for example, are ideal for using as durable landscaping materials, and recycled-content material can often be used for patios, decks and driveways. 

When material waste is unavoidable, companies can still make green choices, like opting to use removal services emphasising green processes and sustainability. Similarly, speak to suppliers about how they source their materials. You’ll likely find switching to a supplier which promotes eco-friendly activity won’t cost any more than your current provider. 

In an industry tackling such large-scale projects, even the smallest changes could have a huge positive effect

People power 

Getting buy-in from the whole company is key to ensuring sustainability standards are met in all projects. It’s up to those at the top to ensure all employees are working towards the same goals and not cutting corners. 

The simplest way to promote accountability throughout the team is to order inspections at all stages of the project. Often the most challenging aspect of introducing new processes is gaining the initial buy-in, after which employees will continue to work to the new standard. 

Make sure all new initiatives are outlined clearly, including which materials are to be recycled, the new routes around the site to minimise travel time, and so on. Finally, make rewards available to those employees who set and keep the new green standards. 

In an industry steeped in tradition and seemingly hesitant to adopt new processes, those that demonstrate a commitment to improving their output and reducing waste will race ahead of the competition – especially in today’s eco-conscious society

Sam Tracey is SHEQ Advisor at Actavo Direct

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