17 September 2020
Being ‘green’ is not something the construction industry has always been associated with. However, with increasing concern and pressure to reduce emissions and negative impacts on the environment, this is a sentiment that needs to be readdressed. Yet, according to C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, emissions from the construction industry are likely to form the largest category of consumption-based emissions between now and the net zero target of 2050.
The forms of global pollution from construction range from noise pollution, of which thousands of complaints a year are received, air pollution; the industry is accountable for 4% of particle emissions, plus water pollution, an area where construction is accountable for more incidents than any other industry.
However, with continuous development of new materials, techniques and processes, there are plenty of ways to reduce pollution in construction, whilst improving construction efficiency and productivity.
The choice of building materials has the potential to significantly reduce air and dust pollution from construction and sediment pollution control. In particular, the reduction in use of steel and cement would dramatically impact emission rates, given that minerals in cement account for 32% of all emissions from material consumption. Materials such as locally and sustainably forested timber, bamboo, cork and sheep’s wool insulation are viable alternatives. A longer-term solution would be to reuse materials and components, particularly steel, reclaimed wood and metal. Concrete and cement account for some of the highest emission rates in construction, however, there are new ‘greener’ alternatives; carbon injected concrete or MOC (magnesium oxychloride cement). These environmentally friendly alternatives are benefitting from continual research and development, with notable benefits in productivity without compromising on integrity or strength.
The availability of on-site connectivity makes it easier than ever to use data intelligence to reduce construction pollution, whilst increasing productivity and efficiency. Real-time updates ultimately mitigate risk and error, eliminating bottlenecks and removing the need for travelling to site on a frequent basis, all of which contribute towards a reduction in emissions. Sensors on machinery would also help to reduce particle emission, along with noise pollution and potentially, even light pollution. By ensuring all site machinery is optimised in terms of journey routes and improved workflow, the need for machinery running idle when not in use is removed; increasing construction efficiency, producing less air pollution and lower costs, particularly when paired with vehicle diagnostics.
Site machinery is not held to the same standards as on-road vehicles. As air pollution from road users declines, the impact from the construction industry will be felt. However, firms like Off Grid Energy have developed products that turn traditional diesel generators (responsible for 25% of construction site particle emissions, plus noise pollution) into hybrids, reducing fuel consumption by up to 60%. A UK lighting rig manufacturer, Taylor Construction Plant, has created hydrogen fuel cells, resulting in zero particle emissions and reduced noise pollution, whilst being cheaper than many conventional alternatives. Hybrid diggers and excavators are also in the development stage, with Volvo trialling a model.
60% of consumption emissions are associated with the production and delivery of building materials and analysts estimate that emissions from simply the construction of buildings will increase by 37%. Combine these staggering statistics with the decline in high street footfall and requirement for office space and there is a real opportunity. Repurposing existing buildings would not only remove any pollution from the construction of the physical building, but also the infrastructure required with it. Reusing existing structures would minimise water pollution, particularly that which is caused by sediment and silt, due to the removed process of land clearing, whilst the overall development of Brownfield sites is potentially more financially beneficial and favourable in the local community.
Whilst there is ample opportunity to source more environmentally conscious materials and machinery, adopting new processes could also be beneficial. Along with the use of data intelligence, something all construction sites should utilize for a host of reasons (visit our supporting blog), simple on-site changes in habit can go towards the reduction of water pollution, air pollution through minimising dust and noise pollution. By retaining as much vegetation cover as possible, minimising land disturbance, plus protecting and covering drains, the risk of water pollution is lessened. To reduce dust pollution, simply cover materials where possible and finely spray with water to keep damp.
These are just a few ways to reduce construction pollution. The processes and products used in construction are likely to evolve dramatically as we speed towards 2050 and the goal to become net zero. By providing connectivity solutions, we aim to make that one step towards pollution reduction as easy as possible, along with providing many further benefits in efficiency and productivity.
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