The construction industry is directly and indirectly responsible for about half the total UK emissions of CO2, 90% of all surface mineral extraction and over a quarter of all waste sent to landfill. These figures include new and existing buildings but they hide two important facts: the UK building stock is only replaced at the rate of about 1% a year and new buildings are more energy and resource efficient than older ones.

This puts an emormous burden burden on new build construction projects if we are to honour our commitments under the Kyoto agreement, as this is where there is the greatest potential for change and improvement.  However, even if all new-build achieved the goal of zero-energy design (which is possible and has been done), we would obviously not be able to reduce CO2 emissions quickly enough.

This puts an enormous burden on the existing building stock to clean up its act as well, so sustainable construction also encompasses refurbishment and change of use.   We aim to use this site to assist with the development of protocols and standards which will help to reduce the environmental impacts of construction.  Where possible, the results of these efforts will be quantified and published here.

Construction is the single biggest industry in the developed world, at around 13% of GDP, with arguably the greatest environmental impact. In Northern Europe, people spend over 90% of their time inside (and in Scotland probably considerably more). This means that the construction, use and management of buildings have a dramatic impact on both the human and wider environments.

The construction industry has been relatively untouched by the improving standards in environmental management which have affected other manufacturing sectors for many years now (with, perhaps the exception of increased exposure to the liabilities of developing brown field sites). However, the impact of this sector will not go unnoticed for long and improvements in environmental performance will inevitably be required.

History is repeating itself here, as this is exactly the situation that was faced by more obviously polluting industries about ten years ago. In the late eighties, the CBI was threatened with the prospect of stringent environmental legislation from Brussels. To pre-empt this, they came up with a voluntary code of environmental management, which was then called BS7750. This has now developed into an international standard, ISO 14001, which has been widely adopted by all kinds of companies around the world as a method of achieving and demonstrating environmental improvements.

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This pattern of events is beginning again in the construction sector with the advent of Environmental Standards such as the BRE's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

The main environmental impacts of construction are already well known and it is in these areas that improvements will initially be required:

Site assessment , contaminated brown field site use, remediation and development,
Ecological damage and waste minimisation during construction,
Site design to maximise passive solar, hydrological, ecological and other features,
Selection of sustainable and low impact materials
Integrated design of site, building structure, insulation, lighting, HVAC systems etc. to minimise running costs, heat losses and energy use,
Consideration of the environmental impacts of buildings throughout their life and continued facilities management to minimise them.

A typical Sustainable Construction Project involves the following criteria in the phases of Design, Construction and Use:

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Over the standard sixty year design life of a building, the operational and maintenance costs are around six times as much as the initial build costs.

Proper management of all aspects of building design, construction and use can dramatically reduce the overall cost of a building throughout its life, and need not even cost more at the design and building stages. Sustainable Construction improves the performance of building projects at every stage, both in financial and environmental terms. Construction accounts for the same amount of material disposed to landfill as all domestic sources and over 50% of national energy consumption goes to buildings. This programme aims to address these and other environmental issues facing the construction industry and to provide a cost-effective solution.