Sustainability in Construction in The United Kingdom
Within the United Kingdom, approximately 40% of the nation’s total carbon footprint comes from the built environment [source] and the sector is also responsible for generating roughly 40% of the nation’s landfill waste [source].
With a national goal to achieve “net-zero” emissions by 2050, it’s clear that the construction industry has a crucial role to play in the UK reaching this ambitious target.
While progress has been made to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment, there is still much work to be done. Policies aimed at improving the efficiency of existing buildings are needed (particularly in terms of decarbonising the country’s heat supply), and annual embodied emissions in construction alone are presently higher than the Green Construction Board’s target for total built environment emissions by 2050 [source].
Global Sustainable Development Goals
Formulated in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 interrelated goals that serve as a road map for creating a better and more sustainable future for all.
The SDGs are categorised according to five broad themes (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership) and are intended to be achieved by 2030.
The United Kingdom is committed to implementing the SDGs locally and internationally, and now requires all Single Departmental Plans to incorporate SDG targets.
Within the United Kingdom, approximately 40% of the nation’s total carbon footprint comes from the built environment.— UK GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL (UKGBC)
GOAL #7 AFFORDABLE AND CLEAN ENERGY
Reduction of operational carbon emissions from buildings is the primary sustainable construction driver in the UK and currently accounts for approximately 40% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The UK has set a target to realise a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment by 2025 (from a baseline in 1990) [source] and halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030 [source].
At a more micro level, the country aims to offer smart metres to every household and small business to offer citizens more control over their energy consumption. As of June 2020, there were 21.5 million smart and advanced metres in homes and small businesses across Great Britain. Energy suppliers are also now installing second generation (SMETS2) smart metres as the default metre [source].
HOW STONECYCLING CAN HELP
Improving energy efficiency is central to the UK’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Preliminary research done by an external agency found a significant reduction in the total environmental impact for our WasteBasedBricks® when production is fully scaled up.
At StoneCycling, we now have a preliminary EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) of our products. If you are interested in learning more and would like to download the EPD, please contact us!
GOAL #9 INDUSTRY, INNOVATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
In the UK, BREEAM is the favoured environmental assessment method for buildings. Many publicly funded buildings are required to have a minimum BREEAM rating and many commercial developers opt to use BREEAM voluntarily. Since its launch in 1990, BREEAM has certified over 200,000 buildings [source].
Aiming to assess, encourage and reward environmental, social and economic sustainability in the built environment, BREEAM encompasses a number of best practice measures and performance standards for buildings. Measures are grouped into the following nine categories: Management; Health and Wellbeing; Energy; Transport; Water; Materials; Waste; Land Use and Ecology; and Pollution.
Credits (scores) are weighted according to environmental category and then added together to produce a single overall score.
HOW STONECYCLING CAN HELP
Our sustainable building materials can assist developers in meeting institutional or legislative requirements and aid tenants in meeting sustainable floor space requirements.
Developers who use BREEAM get a higher score if they use the WasteBasedBrick® in the following categories:
- Substantiated origin of materials
- Use of recycled material
The final score and the contribution of the WasteBasedBrick® to the project depends on the total design. In one of our recent projects in the Netherlands, LC Packaging HQ achieved a BREEAM Outstanding **** certificate and a second StoneCycling project, CROSSOVER in Amsterdam, has also been certified as Outstanding.
In the United Kingdom, our project Technique is set to achieve a BREEAM Excellent sustainability rating, a rare achievement for a refurbished building.
GOAL #11 SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES
According to the UK National Planning Policy Framework, Local Plans should favour sustainable development and offer clear guidance on how policies should be applied locally [source].
Many local planning authorities within the UK have prepared additional supplementary planning guidance or documents specifically geared towards sustainable development and construction. These supplementary documents are often aligned to sustainability assessment methods such as BREEAM, and generally refer to the environmental impact assessment ratings in the Green Guide to Specification.
HOW STONECYCLING CAN HELP
Our WasteBasedBricks®, as with other bricks, are generally considered to be a sustainable product due to their longevity (50+ years). However, unlike traditional bricks, our products are also made up of at least 60% waste and focus on the use of waste as a resource instead of digging up natural and limited resources.
To decrease our carbon footprint further, we not only rely on more efficient firing curves but we’re also planning to shift to alternative CO2 neutral firing processes in the coming years.
GOAL #12 RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION
Reducing waste is a big priority for the UK Government. In 2018, the United Kingdom published a new strategy for waste management and broader waste issues. Strategy milestones include doubling resource productivity and eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050 [source].
In line with this, the UK espouses that construction companies have a “duty to care” for any waste generated on site and have instituted a standard Landfill Tax of £96.70 per tonne (as of 2021) as an incentive for waste producers to switch to more sustainable alternatives [source].
An Aggregates Levy was also introduced in 2002 to reduce demand for primary aggregates and encourage the use of recycled and secondary aggregates. The current levy is £2.00 per tonne of primary aggregates and is payable on sand, gravel or rock that has either been quarried, dredged or imported [source].
In 2008, further regulations were introduced in the UK requiring the development and implementation of Site Waste Management Plans (SWMPs) for all construction projects costing more than £300,000 [source]. Plans need to identify different types of waste produced by the project and specify any design and materials specification changes that aim to minimise waste. They also need to consider how to re-use, recycle or recover the waste generated by the project.
Additionally, under BREEAM, waste is one of the environmental categories for which credits are awarded. While BREEAM does not directly address demolition waste reduction, it does encourage the use of recycled and secondary aggregates. Construction waste management is also highly weighted, with credits being awarded according to the amount of waste generated per 100m2.
HOW STONECYCLING CAN HELP
StoneCycling relies heavily on the use of secondary aggregates in the production of our WasteBasedBricks®, and all of our products are at least 60% waste. Our products also have the necessary properties to last more than 100 years, though most modern-day buildings are being demolished much sooner than that.
The good news is that our sustainable building materials can be recycled and used as ingredients for new WasteBasedBricks® at the end of their life cycle.
GOAL #13 CLIMATE ACTION
The UK is the first major economy to legislate a ‘net zero’ target, which requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 [source]. As an interim step, a target has been set to realise a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment by 2025 (from a baseline in 1990) and halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030 [source].
Furthermore, the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge includes targets aiming to reduce operational energy demand by at least 75% (before offsetting) and embodied carbon by at least 50-70% (before offsetting) [source].
The UK also has an ambition for businesses to improve energy productivity by 20% by 2030 [source].
HOW STONECYCLING CAN HELP
StoneCycling upcycles waste that would otherwise end up as a construction landfill to produce our WasteBasedBricks®.
Most of our products are also fired on forest compensated gas, meaning that our CO2 footprint during production is compensated by planting trees. When possible, we further believe in producing locally, with local waste. However, for clients situated outside of The Netherlands, we currently offer the option of compensating their transportation footprint.
If sales continue to grow, we will definitely start working with more local producers, but until that time we believe that building global reference projects will have a positive impact.
Reducing waste is a big priority for the UK Government. Strategy milestones include doubling resource productivity and eliminating avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050. — UK GOVERNMENT, DEPARTMENT FOR ENVIRONMENT FOOD & RURAL AFFAIRS
RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) published a guide in 2019 to help the construction sector embed sustainable outcomes into practice. The guide aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and outlines eight clear, measurable goals that practices can aim for on projects of all scales, underpinned by specific design principles to achieve them:
(1) net zero operational carbon, (2) net zero embodied carbon, (3) sustainable water cycle, (4) sustainable connectivity and transport, (5) sustainable land use and biodiversity, (6) good health and wellbeing, (7) sustainable communities and social value, (8) sustainable life cycle cost.
The Guide outlines the key performance metrics and design principles that architects and project teams need to follow. Its aim is not to set up another sustainable assessment method, but to clarify the absolute targets for a sustainable future.
Time To Take Action
We hope that the many resources in this article will help you not just inform, but also inspire you to use the available data to take action and realise future-proof sustainable projects in the United Kingdom.
Collaboration will be critical if we want to create lasting change within the built environment when it comes to sustainability. The time to act is now.
Are you an architect, developer, contractor or interior designer based in the United Kingdom or currently working on realising projects in the UK? Share your thoughts and ideas with us or get in touch to explore ways in which we can work together. You can also visit our FAQ page for answers to all your questions.
- The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [2015, United Nations]
- Climate Change [2021, UK Green Building Council]
- How to close the circular construction skills gap [2020, RICS]
- Industrial Strategy: government and industry in partnership [2013, HM Government]
- The Grand Challenges [gov.uk]
- Smart Meter Policy Framework Post 2020 [2020, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy]
- BREEAM Brochure & BREEAM Website
- LEED rating system
- National Planning Policy Framework [2019, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government]
- Green Guide to Specification [BREEAM]
- Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England [2018, HM Government]
- Environmental taxes, reliefs and schemes for businesses [gov.uk]
- Rates and allowances: Aggregates Levy [gov.uk]
- The Site Waste Management Plans Regulations 2008 [2008, legislation.gov.uk]
- UK net zero target [2020, Institute for Government]
- 2030 Climate Challenge [RIBA]
- The Clean Growth Strategy: Leading the way to a low carbon future [2017, HM Government]
- RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide [2019, RIBA]
- Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the UN Sustainable Development Goals [2018, The UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD)]
- The Sustainable Development Goals in the UK [2020, The UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD)]
- Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals [gov.uk]
- Voluntary National Review of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals [2019, HM Government]
- United Kingdom country profile – SDGs and the environment [2020, European Environment Agency]