Our industry needs to change. To do this, we must cast a critical eye over our own behaviour and acknowledge our shortcomings; something many feel understandably hesitant to do. The bad news is that the UK construction industry is currently responsible for 45% of total UK carbon emissions, 32% of all landfill waste and is responsible for more water pollution incidents than any other industry. The good news is that we have the knowledge, skills and technology to facilitate real change in the world, when we put our minds to it. Offsite construction is the clearly catalyst. It’s time to stop quietly knowing it and start being proud bastions of our trade… before it is too late. Buildingspecifier.com Editor Joe Bradbury discusses:
One of the key factors that will either seal our reputation as innovators or sully it indefinitely is the materials we use and how we choose to use them. With an unprecedented shortage of housing and schools in this country (coupled with a thriving private sector), it is clear to see that despite what construction industry doomsayers print, the UK has a voracious appetite for buildings that isn’t going away any time soon.
The construction industry is the largest consumer of natural resources in the UK today; a stark point that highlights just how high up on the agenda reconsideration of our building practices should be. The impact of our materials usage on the environment in of itself is staggering; a recent report by Willmott Dixon Group suggested that the construction industry alone is accountable for around 45-50% of global energy usage, nearly 50% of worldwide water usage, and around 60% of the total usage of raw materials.
Construction will always eat up a lot of resources by its very nature, but modular construction is taking steps to address this through combining modern building techniques to reduce cost and time with a moral sense of duty to minimise the negative effects on our environment.
The benefits of adopting more considerate ways to use materials are far-reaching. Take FSC-approved timber as just one of many examples; manufacturers who use forest products that are FSC approved can do so with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they are helping to ensure our forests are alive and well for generations to come. But the benefits are also far more immediate and closer to home than that; wood is a natural, renewable material, used often in modular building. It offsets our carbon footprint and offers significant thermal efficiency, keeping energy bills low.
For the four million people in Britain living in fuel poverty today, building more energy efficient homes using modern methods of construction is urgent. Interestingly, if housing targets were met through timber-frame construction alone, new build homes in the UK would serve as carbon ‘banks’, capturing and storing nearly 4 million tonnes of CO2 every year… unfeasible I know, but food for thought!
According to ‘The Waste and Resources Action Programme’, offsite construction can generate up to 90% less waste than traditional onsite building methods. This is largely because a factory is a much more controlled environment than a traditional building site – with far fewer variables. Within the four walls of a purpose built factory we can continue to learn how best to use (and more importantly, re-use) resources and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill; something which is financially unproductive, unpopular, unsightly and unhealthy for our planet.
Another reason for offsite methods generating less waste is due to the fact that modular construction offers a greater degree of reusability; buildings can often be disassembled and moved to another site entirely if necessary. They can be shifted and repurposed when required. However, should a modular building find itself no longer fit for requirement as it stands, many of its components can be salvaged and re-used in another project, reducing the need for fresh new materials in each new build. This reduction in materials usage protects depleting stock of resources whilst simultaneously lowering waste.
Offsite construction is far less energy intensive than traditional building methods. The carbon footprint left by the many construction vehicles and machinery on the site of a traditional construction project alone is considerably larger than that of modular construction. Put simply, fewer vehicles involved and less time spent on site results in less greenhouse gases being released into our environment.
Construction pollutes our world in more ways than one, and noise pollution has always been a serious problem on building sites throughout the country. There’s no getting away from it, the construction industry has a huge impact on all our lives, with most construction work taking place in sensitive locations. But there are things we can do to soften that impact. If all construction sites and companies presented an image of competent management, innovation, efficiency, awareness of environmental issues and above all neighbourliness, then they would become a positive advertisement, not just for themselves but for our industry as a whole. Due to being built away from the construction site, modern methods of construction such as offsite and modular are a great way to reduce and control noise levels, causing less disruption to the environment and the people around it.
The positive effects of modular construction on our environment cannot be understated and implementing it into our daily lives as an industry needs to happen fast. Widespread adoption coupled with a continuing focus on eco-friendly materials can only increase those benefits.
In the past, fines for pollution have been relatively low and environmental regulations notoriously slack, and it could have been perceived as cheaper (and easier) to pollute rather than take adequate steps to prevent pollution. Thankfully, this situation is now changing. Legal enforcement of environmental regulations expensive and can irreversibly damage the reputation of a firm. This is something that should be avoided at all costs.
With the UK Environment Agency and other government bodies putting increasing pressure on construction companies to reduce pollution and conform to environmental regulations, it is clear to see that change is imminent – the future is coming and we can either chase it or make it our own. Expect modular construction to take an even larger share of the construction industry, for awareness of its benefits to increase even further over time and stand at the forefront of that change.