Sustainable construction




Research shows that the UK construction industry has an output worth over £110bn a year and it accounts for about 9% of GDP and employs over 3 million people (Some 30% of construction output is publicly funded with a further 10% accounted for by the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and similar schemes). However, buildings are also responsible for almost half of UK’s carbon emissions, half of water consumption, about one third of landfill waste and 13% of all raw materials used in the UK economy (HM Government 2009, 4) .



Constructing, maintaining and using buildings for homes and employment have a great impact on the environment, which is why sustainability in the construction industry is becoming increasingly important.

The UK construction industry needs to reduce its carbon footprint and consumption of non-renewable natural resources. Excess energy consumption is also a major source of carbon emissions in the UK. Sustainable building methods reduce the damage to the environment that the construction process and use of buildings create. They minimise energy use, waste and pollution, as well as maximising re-use and recycling wherever possible. The UK government and construction industry formed the Low Carbon Industrial Strategy as well as the Strategy for Sustainable Construction which aims for new homes to be zero carbon from 2016.

Many sustainable construction methods contribute to social and economic sustainability. For example, a well designed building is a usable building that people can, and want to, inhabit; which, in itself, helps to sustain communities. Good building design also helps to create financial sustainability by reducing energy costs at all stages of construction, and minimising vulnerability to shortages of fossil fuels.



Business benefits from sustainable construction
Although shifting to sustainable construction and business methods will probably involve some initial costs, these investments are likely to bring both short and long-term cost savings and increased profitability.

Potential business benefits include (WEB 6):

Short and long-term cost reductions from waste and disposal costs, as well as  increased energy and resource efficiencies
Competitive advantages when obtaining new work and tendering for contracts, especially public sector contracts where minimising environmental damage is specified in procurement guidelines
Better compliance with building, environmental and health and safety regulations
Better relations with your local community and media
Better staff relations because staff feel more valued, better motivated and better trained
'Future proofing' buildings against rising energy costs, tighter environmental regulation and sustainability requirements



Sustainable construction - the UK strategy


Sustainable procurement is; “ A process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisations, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment”. (Development for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2006, 10)

The Strategy for Sustainable Construction
On 11th June 2008 the UK Government launched the Strategy for Sustainable Construction.  The Strategy is a joint industry and Government initiative intended to promote leadership and behavioural change, as well as delivering benefits to both the construction industry and the wider economy.

It aims to realise the shared vision of sustainable construction by: 

Providing clarity to business on the Government's position by bringing together diverse regulations and initiatives relating to sustainability; 
Setting and committing to higher standards to help achieve sustainability in specific areas; 
Making specific commitments by industry and Government to take the sustainable construction agenda forward.



Why is this strategy needed?
The construction industry is significant: its output is worth over £100bn a year. It accounts for 8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides employment for around 3 million workers. The public sector is a major client of the industry and is responsible for directly procuring about a third of all construction.
The output of the construction industry, be it public buildings, commercial buildings, homes or infrastructure such as roads, harbours and sea defences, has a major impact on the ability to maintain a sustainable economy overall and has a major impact on the environment. Moreover, it is clear that one cannot meet our declared environmental targets without dramatically reducing the environmental impact of buildings and infrastructure construction; we have to change the way we design and build

The business case for the sustainable construction agenda is based on: 

Increasing profitability by using resources more efficiently; 
Firms securing opportunities offered by sustainable products or ways of working; 
Enhancing company image and profile in the market place by addressing issues relating to Corporate and Social Responsibility.


How to deliver the Strategy
To deliver the Strategy, Government and industry have devised a set of overarching targets related to the ‘ends’ and ‘means’ of sustainable construction. The ‘ends’ relate directly to sustainability issues, such as climate change and biodiversity; the ‘means’ describe processes to help achieve the ‘ends’.


Good procurement practice is crucially important to reduce the overall cost of projects, to improve the economic efficiency of the construction industry and to ensure that projects, when complete, are fit for purpose, thereby securing whole life value. This Strategy seeks to build on a shared commitment to procure in a more sustainable way and focuses on promoting the business case for better procurement practices in the public and private sectors (WEB 1).



Sustainable Procurement National Action Plan
In June 2006 the UK Government published the National Action Plan: Procuring the Future, which was prepared by The Sustainable Procurement Task Force . This plan aims to deliver sustainable procurement to stimulate innovation through public procurement. The UK Government stated that the goal with this plan was to be amongst the leaders in the EU on sustainable procurement by 2009.

Within the action plan it is argued that there was a need for a specific definition of Sustainable procurement, since there was no consistent definition in use across the public sector that both policy makers and procurement professionals could relate to – the SPTF recommended the following definition for sustainable procurement;

Sustainable Procurement is a process whereby organisations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organisation, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimising damage to the environment (SPTF 2006, 14).In the Action Plan it is discussed that it is evident that what and how Government buys and acquires goods, services and capital, makes a big difference, both to its ability to deliver sustainable development and to its credibility with those it seeks to influence. Furthermore, it is stated that the public sector needs to procure sustainably because that is the only way that they can be sure to offer real value for money over the longer term – unsustainable procurement is not good stewardship of taxpayers’ money.

One of the key barriers to sustainable procurement is that it costs more, at least in the short term, even if it offers long term savings, but the SPTF believes that if sustainable procurement, as part of an improved procurement process, cuts out waste, seeks innovative solutions and is delivered by well trained professionals will reduce rather than add public spending in both short and long term – a resource efficient public sector will have lower impacts.
According to the Action Plan the environmental technologies sector is one of the main markets in which public procurement can have an impact. New global markets are emerging, which will become a major potential consumer of sustainable designs and products, and YK businesses need to be able to compete in these markets of the future.