06 April 2018

The statistics

In 2015, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reported in their second edition of the Digest of Waste and Resource Statistics that, while efforts have been made to reduce the industry’s contribution to our waste problem, very little has been achieved. Other numbers published at that time also painted a dire picture; however, in the past three years, new information and better baseline data have shown us that things are not as bad as we originally thought.

DEFRA reports in their February 2018 edition of UK Statistics on Waste that in 2014 the UK generated 202.8 million tonnes of waste. Construction, demolition and excavation (CDE) was responsible for 59% of that number. However, the recovery rate for non-hazardous construction and demolition rate in 2014 was 89.9%, placing us ahead of the EU target of 70% by 2020. So, while the construction industry is still amongst the largest contributors for waste, we’ve come a long way with our recycle and reuse habits. We’ve also made a small improvement in the area of hazardous waste. In 2010, CDE was responsible for 4.8 million tonnes of the UK’s hazardous waste. In 2014, that number had gone down to 4.3 million tonnes.

In regards to materials consumption, BREEAM Mat 6 states that the construction industry accounts for approximately 55%, with buildings (including their operation) contributing 50% of total CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions. It’s also important to note that 55% of the global industrial carbon emissions come from the manufacture and processing of five key materials: steel (25%), cement (19%), paper (4%), plastic and aluminium (3%). Of these materials, our industry is a primary consumer of cement and is responsible for consuming approximately 26% of aluminum, 50% of steel, and 25% of plastic. Industry use of paper is difficult to quantify, as it's not specific to the construction process but one of its by-products.

one glaring, immediate problem is that we are running out of places to put it [construction waste].

The problem

The problems arising from the over production of materials and accumulation of construction waste are several-fold; however, one glaring problem with sending waste to landfill is that we are running out of spaces to put it. There is also that pesky issue of cost; the more waste a project produces – including the cost of buying materials that end up not being used – the more negative the impact it has on the profit margin. Some companies approach this by factoring in waste from the beginning; however, that is a self-defeating method that is becoming increasingly unacceptable as the globe pushes to find a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to build and produce things.

The solution

When we talk of the solution to construction waste, a lot of things spring to mind; however, the solution can actually be boiled down to a single idea: material efficiency. Inherently, a focus on material efficiently will reduce the amount of waste produced within any given project. And the earlier that focus begins the bigger the potential for cost savings. As an added “bonus”, early implementation of a material efficiency-minded strategy also results in a lesser impact upon the environment and a reduction in natural resource depletion. So, it’s a win for us and a win for the planet.

Defining material efficiency

For the purpose of this article, we turn to two sources for our definition. BS 8895-1:2013 (page 6) defines material efficiency as:

[The] process of undertaking a building project to enable the most efficient use of materials over the lifecycle of the building and its components. (Note: This includes using fewer materials, reusing existing demolition/strip-out materials and, where appropriate, procuring materials with higher levels of recycled content. It also includes following the waste hierarchy to avoid and reduce waste wherever possible).

To that, BREEAM Mat 6 adds:

It may also include the adoption of alternative means of design/construction that result in lower materials usage and lower wastage levels including off-site manufacture and use of pre-assembled service pods.

Guidance and framework  

BS 8895, designing for material efficiency in building projects

When fully published, the BS 8895 series will consist of four documents. At the moment, two documents are in publication:

  • The first document, BS 8895-1 was published in 2013. It is entitled: “Designing for material efficiency in building projects – Part 1: Code of practice for Strategic Definition and Preparation and Brief. It covers Stages 0 (Strategic Definition) and 1 (Preparation and Brief) of the RIBA Plan of Work.
  • The second part came into effect on 31 July 2015 and is entitled, “Designing for material efficiency in building projects – Part 2: Code of Practice for concept and developed design. It covers Stage 2, Concept Design and Stage 3, Developed Design of the RIBA Plan of Work.

The final two parts in the series are scheduled for release at a later date. They are:

  • Part 3: Code of practice for technical design, which builds on parts 1 and 2 by setting out the process for integrating material efficiency into Stage 4 of the RIBA Plan of Work (Technical Design).
  • Part 4: Code of practice for operation, refurbishment and end of life will aid end users (owners, operators, facilities managers) by providing information that will help them make informed decisions regarding resource efficiency during operation, retrofit and end of life (reclamation).

BS 8895 supporting documentation

As with most codes of practice and standard documents, the BS 8895 document suite should be read in conjunction with several reference documents. The BS 8895 documents cite the following supporting documents as essential:

*Please note that, while BS 7832 is cited in the documents, it was withdrawn on 31 July 2015 due to a conflict with BS 8536:2010. There was no replacement document issued. BS 8536:2010 was also withdrawn on 31 July 2015 and has been superseded by BS 8536-1:2015, Briefing for design and construction – Part 1: Code of practice for facilities management (building infrastructure). We recommend that you read BS 8536-1:2015 in place of the withdrawn BS 7832.

BREEAM Mat 06 Material efficiency

BREEAM certification works material efficiency into their programme in order to help minimize a project’s environmental impact regarding material use and waste. BREEAM Mat 06 also recommends WRAP, Designing out waste: a design team guide for buildings as part of a solid material efficiency strategy framework.

Material efficiency as part of a sustainability strategy

In order to optimize the use of materials at every stage of a project, a material efficiency strategy should be part and parcel of a project’s overall sustainability strategy.

Business case for sustainable building

The World Green Building Council’s “The Business Case for Green Building: A Review of the Costs and Benefits for Developers, Investors and Occupants” presents evidence that shows, amongst other things:

  • When sustainability strategies are woven into every stage of a building’s lifecycle – starting from preparation and brief – that building saves money and resources over the long term.
  • In areas where green building is mainstream, sustainable builds attract more tenants, demand higher rents, and have a higher sale/resale value.
  • As a result of water and energy savings, operating costs for green buildings over the long term are usually proportionally far less than their non-green counterparts.
  • There is a visible correlation between improved employee productivity and health and the improved indoor environments afforded by adopting sustainable building practices.

Most importantly:

  • The design and construction of green buildings doesn’t necessarily have to cost more, especially when strategies are put into place at the very beginning and are intricately woven through the project fabric at every stage.

Sustainable materials lifecycle

When looking at material efficiency and sustainability strategies, ideally, the first place to start is with the materials themselves. While there are a lot of questions to ask when determining whether a material is sustainable, the short answer is that sustainable materials are those whose creation, production and distribution: does not deplete non-renewable resources, has minimal (if any) adverse effect on the environment, and creates minimal waste. Sustainable materials are long lasting and can be used, recycled, renewed, or responsibly disposed of at the end of their lifecycle. Sustainable materials also take human factors into consideration; ethical working practices are an important part of the sustainability equation.

Factors to consider when selecting materials include:

  • Design and manufacturing: selecting materials that use fewer raw resources and whose production process produces less pollution and waste.
  • Distribution: sourcing materials locally and/or closer to home wherever feasible. This can require some creative thinking, but it can not only result in cost savings but innovative design.
  • Use: selecting sustainable materials that can provide an optimal service life. At its core, sustainable means lasting. Products that do not last are not truly ‘green’, no matter what their production and design.
  • Maintenance: green building is about selecting products that do not last/wear out quickly or need regular upkeep (repainting, retreating, etc.), especially if said upkeep produces waste or environmental negatives of its own.
  • Disposal: here’s where good practices like reclamation, reuse and recycling come into play.

Designing Build Wiki provides some good information on sustainable materials, including tools and techniques, project management, and good sources for additional guidance.

Order what you need. Use what you order

Of course, a project strategy that sources sustainable materials but mismanages those materials cannot realistically consider itself sustainable. Materials efficiency means that situations where materials are wrongly or over ordered and/or damaged as a result of improper storage are eliminated. A good materials efficiency strategy must take into account the impact that every decision will have on materials needed and used and provide an audit trail. The use of lean management principles, Theory of Constraints, and critical chain project management can help with implementation and aid in the success of a material efficiency strategy.

The earlier the better

Construction waste costs money, and the only feasible way to address it is to produce less of it. While each stage of a building’s lifecycle presents new opportunities in regards to reducing waste, as the BS 8895 code of practice documents rightly assert, to see the greatest impact, a solid, well thought out materials efficiency strategy should be put into place as early as possible – during the planning and design stages.

Communication and collaboration is essential

No matter what stage of a project you’re in, in order for a materials efficiency strategy to work, proactive information sharing and collaboration is essential. While this is something inherent in the BIM working process, it is, historically, not the way the industry mind is geared to work. So, the final element of a good materials efficiency plan is a step change in traditional thinking. Fortunately, there is a lot of guidance out there to help you get started.


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