Sustainable Building Materials Shaping the Future in Construction
Sustainability in construction has been a growing area of interest for a number of years, with advances in technology and knowledge making it easier for both new builds and existing projects to adapt and lessen their impact on the environment.
Whilst there will always be elements in the industry that are resistant to change (for example, listed building repairs that require specific materials and methods), overall, sustainability is becoming key across the majority of projects. Part of this includes the materials being used and the recognition that eco-alternatives can be as, if not more, efficient.
One key area of sustainability is to use reclaimed building materials. There are suppliers who specialise solely in offering reclaimed materials for building and industrial use, including:
Reclaimed – aka recycled – materials primarily offer eco-benefits; saving energy in the production of new materials and reducing the amount of material that goes to landfill. If these are secured from existing building sites and reused, this further reduces the eco impact of demolition or repair work.
The eco-impact of cement
Another material that’s gained itself a bad eco-rep is cement. Cement has been seen to contribute to the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment, as it requires extreme heating during the production process. This in turn produces carbon dioxide (CO2); in fact, the cement industry alone generates more CO2 than any country except China and the US. The figure has been seen to exceed 2.8bn tonnes of CO2 each year, on a worldwide basis – which equates to 4-8% of all man-made carbon emissions.
To counteract this negative impact on the environment, eco-friendly alternatives have been a primary focus in the construction industry of late, and there has been good progress in this area. Eco-cement blends “Ordinary Portland Cement” (OPC is the most common form of cement across the world) with a range of waste products from places like coal fired power station and iron manufacturing plants, which both reduces emissions and stops this waste going to landfill.
There are also movements to reduce the production of OPC altogether, using different chemical pathways to produce a cement that does not require such intense heat (and therefore produce as much CO2). However, this has seen slower progress, as the end product does need to retain the qualities that OPC has of strength, durability and longevity, which is hard to gain without going through the same process that OPC does. However, progress is being made and this is a strong area of focus right now.
Like the reclaimed materials sector, some companies focus solely on the production of “green cement”.
Natural byproducts such as sheep’s wool and straw bales have been introduced to the construction sector and have gained in popularity for their insulating and strong properties. Taking the place of more traditional materials such as fibreglass, mineral wool or cellulose, sheep’s wool is eco-friendly, efficient, and sustainable.
Straw bales have also been used as insulators (although tend to not be as popular as sheep’s wool as an alternative) and can also offer load-bearing support. They replace the same traditional insulators as above and provide thermal properties such as wind resistance.
Sustainability into 2022 and beyond
We’re sure that the movement and awareness for a more sustainable future will continue into the next year and beyond, as new technologies and innovations make the construction sector not only more sustainable, but also more efficient as we move forward. We have already seen increases in bookings at our end for courses that raise environmental awareness, such as the CITB SEATS course as an example, as it is obvious that both employers and employees need to ensure they understand the impact they have on the environment, and how to best shape working practices moving forward.
Related training courses include:
- CITB Site Environmental Awareness Training (SEATS) – for staff with management or supervisory responsibilities on a construction site, who need to have an introduction to environmental issues on construction sites. This course provides the basic environmental knowledge that sub-contractors are required to know and demonstrate to major contractors.
Also available in an online learning format - CITB (SEATS) - Site Environmental Awareness Training - ONLINE CLASSROOM TRAINING