By Sam Tracey, Regional SHEQ Advisor at Actavo Direct

Whilst COVID-19 has been dominated the world this year, climate change is still at the forefront of the minds of many of us, meaning that the pressure is ramping up on the biggest emissions culprits.

The construction and building industries emit up to 39 percent of the world’s carbon emissions – with operational emissions accounting for 28 percent and the remaining 11 percent from embodied or upfront carbon (from materials and construction processes).

And with the public more eco-conscious than ever- even throughout the pandemic- there’s plenty to gain for businesses who can demonstrate their green credentials.

Sam Tracey at Actavo Direct explores how businesses can make the switch to more eco-friendly practices.


Choose your materials

Many common construction materials, like concrete and steel, are unsustainable. Not only are they made using non-renewable resources, but they’re almost impossible to salvage or reuse.

However, alternative sustainable materials like bamboo, cork or ‘hempcrete’ offer greater abundance, shorter re-growth times and high strength-to-weight ratios – making them perfect for construction projects.

Another common pitfall for the construction industry is wasteful heating. Insulation during the construction process plays an important role in reducing waste and energy consumption post-construction in artificial heating.

There are many sustainable insulation materials, like sheep’s wool and hempcrete, which can be used to line buildings, reducing the need for artificial heating. Plus, they’re renewable and plentiful resources, contributing little to a business’ carbon footprint.


Making a splash

Reducing water waste and offsetting risks posed by surface runoff is key for construction businesses looking to minimise their environmental impact – especially in light of the calls from the EPA to address water conservation worries.

Surface runoff from construction sites – which contains common pollutants like oil and fuel from vehicles, paints and solvents and harmful dust and debris – sinks into the earth, contaminating local water supplies and potentially damaging the environment and affecting the groundwater supply which is used for human and animal consumption.

Make sure to schedule your projects in phases to limit the potential for surface runoff at any one time. And if you’re planning a site near a watercourse, avoid extending the site all the way up to the water, leaving a sufficient gap to make sure any loose soil or other materials don’t pollute the water.

Leaking pipes, dust suppression systems and toilets are among the worst offenders for water waste. Check over your equipment regularly – if you can identify any wear and tear,  look to repair or replace the damaged part before a full leak springs.

Dust suppression systems are notoriously inefficient. To save water, consider switching to hydraulic spinning systems that are 90 percent more efficient than conventional systems, as they create a high-pressure mist with minimal water consumption.

Toilets and urinals also use a surprising amount of water. But by installing dual-flush toilets and motion-sensor urinals, you can cut water waste by 50 percent.

And in today’s eco-conscious society, businesses won’t just be reaping the rewards of more efficient systems. Showing consumers your firm is committed to playing its part in the climate crisis will help you take advantage of increased brand reputation.


Keeping it in-house

More construction firms are taking advantage of prefabrication methods, with the technique showing a global year-on-year growth rate of 6 percent.

Manufacturing parts in a controlled warehouse environment, and then transporting them to the site, reduces emissions, material waste and even helps reduce noise pollution on busy sites. This is because it minimises external risks like weather and provides greater accuracy.

And because the panels are pre-made, they can often be recycled for use on a new site, reducing energy demand by up to 82 percent.

Another innovation aimed at minimising material waste is the just-in-time (JIT) delivery model. The method helps drastically reduce waste by encouraging companies to only order what they need.

This works through collaboration between contractors and suppliers and understanding of lead times for each part. It means contractors get the parts they need when they need them – so there’s no need to stockpile.

It helps prevent unused resources and product sitting in a warehouse, decreasing delivery time and reducing time spent on site, which ultimately means reduced emissions.


Reducing paper waste

The construction industry is notoriously under-digitised. However, interest from US investors is set to help the industry embrace innovation, boosting efficiency in the sector.

During the COVID-19 pandemic it has been more apparent than ever, that businesses need to digitalise their systems. Those able to make the switch to a digital system see the greatest benefits in admin and planning tasks, thanks to real-time collaboration, meaning all teams can view and edit documents simultaneously, minimising delays and down-time during projects.

Consider switching to digital data management systems and incorporating AI and BIM into your projects to drive efficiency – saving on paper and reducing time spent on admin tasks, allowing you to be more productive and speeding up time to site.

BIM systems include 3D walkable designs which feature all aspects of the construction process, including the technical work like electrical wiring and plumbing. Planning these more accurately in the design phase means less material waste in the building phase.

The system also assists everything from quantifying resources, to scheduling plans and cost calculation. All of this can be edited by different departments in real-time, keeping everyone up to date.

This means a reduction in labour costs, time spent on site, noise pollution, carbon emissions, and material waste as projects are fine-tuned by the time it comes to building.

And with 96 percent of industries planning to implement BIM within 5 years, those who refuse to make the leap to digital systems risk getting left behind the competition.