Tackling Sustainability in Construction

12th July 2019

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Tackling Sustainability in Construction 

Sustainability is a huge issue for the construction industry, and one that covers many aspects of building design, materials, and the construction process itself.

According to the UN Environmental Global Status Reports 2017, building and construction works have the largest single share in global resource use and pollution emission. In OECD countries the built environment is responsible for around 25-40% of total energy use, 30% of raw material use, 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions (45% in the UK), and for 30 to 40% of solid waste generation.

These statistics are concerning, and highlight the responsibility that the construction industry has to try and tackle these sustainability issues. The UK Government is also looking to the industry to improve its sustainability record, with the launch of its Sustainable Construction Strategy in 2014, and it’s Clean Growth Strategy in 2018.

So how can the industry tackle its sustainability issues? We take a look at some of the options for improving the sustainability of construction projects.



Prefabrication is important for sustainability, as it uses less energy and can result in fewer errors, saving on energy consumption in the long run. Prefabrication also allows significantly easier material retrieval which is of significant benefit to the circular economy.

Circular Economy

The concept of a circular economy in construction involves moving away from a resource intense process where materials are often ordered in excess and wasted, to one where materials are used and re-used in a considered manner.

This often involves the repurposing of materials into something that can be used again e.g. recycled plastic lumber, using plastic in cement instead of sand, or as a more robust alternative to asphalt as a road covering.

Reuse marketplaces, such as Globechain, enable construction companies to reduce their waste to landfill, whilst benefiting charities, or SMEs. The construction company lists its surplus materials on the Globechain site, which can then be claimed and collected by registered users, resulting in both an environmental and a social benefit.

Bills of Quantities

Ensuring accurate bills of quantities on a project is essential in reducing waste on site. At Soben, we use cutting-edge measurement software to complete bills of quantities (BQ) commissions with increased efficiency and accuracy.

The software enables Soben’s quantity surveyors to take off measurements electronically in 2D and 3D, and prepare bills of quantities linked to marked-up drawings, cost plans, and estimates all within a single integrated platform.

The software also allows the interrogation of BIM models, enabling the Soben team to generate automatic quantities from the model, perform a gap analysis on the information, and identify any errors and discrepancies.

The resulting BQs provide the contractor with the most accurate overview of a project, increasing pricing accuracy, and reducing material wastage.

Building Information Modelling

Building Information Modelling (BIM) has the potential to include information about embedded energy of materials, but its use in general helps to improve productivity and resource management throughout the lifespan of a project as all information is contained in one place, and is easily accessible to all stake holders.

Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC)

Significant energy savings can be made by the improvement of roof, wall, and window insulation, which allow for the incremental change in temperature control. Heat recovery systems and the use of ‘products of the future‘ such as hydroceramics which absorb water from the environment and release it on hot days to cool the building.

Renewable Energy 

The use of renewable energy options such as solar panels and CHP can help to achieve wider sustainability targets. The Merton Rule means that new commercial buildings over 1,000 square meters must generate at least 10% of their energy needs using on site renewable energy equipment.

Water Usage

There is an increasing interest in the use of grey water and dual plumbing systems in new builds. Greywater reuse reduces the demand for clean water, whilst dual plumbing works allows reclaimed water to be delivered to residential or commercial buildings.

The construction industry still has a long way to go in achieving its sustainability targets, but the appetite for innovation, a circular economy, and more responsible construction practices overall is taking us in the right direction.