PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
A Sustainable Construction Industry

Building for the Future: Taking Steps Towards a Sustainable Construction Industry

If you walk through the City of London, there are plenty of impressive buildings to catch your eye. The majesty of St Paul’s Cathedral and the medieval Guildhall stand proudly beside more modern iconic office structures, like Lloyd’s Building and the Gherkin.

But there is one building in the square mile dubbed a “once in a generation” undertaking–and the winner of the 2018 RIBA Stirling Prize–which deserves our admiration and attention.  

Bloomberg’s new London offices may look pretty unassuming from the outside, but they warrant a second look. However, the building complex is revolutionary in its own way, as it’s been designed to be the most sustainable city office in the world.

bloomberg office building by foster + partners wins RIBA stirling prize 2018 from designboom on Vimeo.

Bloomberg’s relatively modest exterior is actually intentional, as the structure was designed to act in sympathy with the surrounding buildings of the present day–and the past. The building is a similar height and material to its neighbours. It even incorporates the Roman Temple of Mithras discovered on the site and the architects have included a footpath along the ancient Watling Street.

Ground-breaking power, lighting, water and ventilation systems run through the complex, to save as many resources as possible. And critically, the offices are designed to adapt to changes in the external climate and the needs of its users, to ensure the building is fit for use for many years to come.

A Consensus on Change

Today, sustainability is one of the most pressing issues in construction, sparked in part by growing public attention. In Winter 2017, David Attenborough’s TV series Blue Planet II helped to raise much greater awareness about humans’ material impact on the environment.

Meanwhile, in 2018 we experienced extremes of weather around the world; in the UK, we went from the chills of the Beast from the East in February and March to an uncomfortable summer heatwave just weeks later. This helped to bring home the reality of climate change–and highlight how unsuitable many existing building designs may be as we continue to endure extreme weather.

At least 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint is linked to the built environment, which means that building for the future is a more critical issue than ever before. But when times are tough, how can firms take steps towards a more sustainable construction industry–and what will the buildings of the future actually look like?

The Green Dividend

When construction firms are experiencing the pressures of squeezed access to labour, reduced government spending and increasing wage demands, it can be difficult to prioritise sustainability and still keep an eye on the finances.

But there is a growing commercial incentive. Simply put, it’s what clients in the public and private sector want. The UK government has launched the Transforming Construction programme to support greater innovation–and sustainability–throughout the industry.

The government is rewarding sustainability in its procurement processes, such as announcing a presumption in favour of off-site manufacturing (OSM) on all public sector projects. Private sector companies are also more concerned about delivering sustainable buildings than ever, due to pressure from their own customers to act responsibly.

3 Steps to a More Sustainable Future in Construction

Construction businesses that can integrate sustainable practices today can gain a competitive edge and be ready for any future legislative requirements. But pursuing sustainability doesn’t have to mean whole scale change; every firm can take steps to become more sustainable.

1) Integrating sustainability from the ground up

Construction methods are key to reducing the environmental impact of buildings, both during the building process and in their longer lifecycle. However, at present, many firms experience extensive issues with errors during construction; in fact, 68% of businesses say rework is the biggest blocker to their productivity.

As well as damaging profitability, dealing with mistakes can represent a significant waste of materials and energy. Importantly, it can also contribute to the sustainability performance gap: where a building is not as energy efficient in reality as in the design. Using digital tools to share plans on-site can reduce errors, to improve sustainability in the construction industry and overall productivity.

In the longer term, firms should also consider exploring new construction methodologies. OSM and prefabrication can be more energy efficient and reduce the risk of errors on-site. Close collaboration between firms will be key to realising these new methods, and this is another area where digital tools like PlanGrid can help through improved information sharing and communication.

2) Using green building blocks

The materials used in new buildings and redevelopments are critical. Consider not only how the materials have been manufactured (for example, using recycled or biodegradable components) but also their long-term function in the building. It’s better for a building’s sustainability–and the owner’s wallet–if materials last without requiring replacement for many years.

A platform like PlanGrid can enable firms to track the materials used and their environmental profile, to create reports at the end of every build. This could form a new green service for construction businesses to offer to clients, setting them apart from the competition.

3) Building for the future

In order to deliver a step change in sustainability, designs will need to be highly innovative–and adaptable. A great example may be seen at Ebbsfleet in Kent, a brand-new garden city designed to create 15,000 homes on brownfield land. The development includes an innovative and ambitious plan to create a series of artificial islands on a lake.

This ‘oasis’ will contain eco-islands, to support populations of bats, bees and insects, as well as a commercial centre for start-up businesses. And critically, the development will support quality of life in the town, with garden allotments for residents and centres for sporting and cultural activities.

This holistic design will ensure real sustainability, not only by limiting the settlement’s impact on the environment but ensuring that it remains a location that people want to live in for many years to come. This is an impressive model for firms ready to take the next step on their sustainability journeys.

A Sustainable Construction Industry

Sustainability is critically important to the future of our environment and our industry. But while projects like Bloomberg are impressive in their ambition, sustainability doesn’t always have to be about ground-breaking, flagship projects. Every construction firm can do their bit by making incremental changes to building methods and materials.

As public and private sector clients become more environmentally aware, firms that can fulfil these demands will win–and be ready for any future legislative change. Building for the future can benefit everyone, tomorrow and today.

Amanda Fennell

Amanda Fennell joined PlanGrid in October 2017. As Head of Marketing in EMEA, based in the UK. She has 20 year's marketing experience in IT, including working with some leading cloud organizations. She was the first marketing recruit in EMEA and supported the launch of the company in the region. Amanda holds an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from DCU, Ireland.

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