Sunday, 26 October 2014

How sustainable is the construction industry? ... 'Concrete is responsible for 7-10% of CO2 emissions' ... 'The industry must shift its emphasis beyond recycling and towards reuse'

There are plans to 'manage' the eastern beach at Sidmouth by importing sand and aggregate:
Futures Forum: Sidmouth Beach Management Plan: providing a protective 'winter blanket' with emergency funding

Meanwhile, the building boom in East Devon is slowly but surely taking off:
Futures Forum: Housing in East Devon: "I don’t see it as the floodgates opening, but I do see a stampede coming.”

But what are the effects of this - further back in the supply chain?

Here is a recent report - itself following on reportage from Spiegel Magazine - on the devastating effects of one of the key extraction industries which feed this development:

Thieves are plundering the world’s beaches for sand as global demand for concrete grows

|  October 09, 2014 |
shovels-and-sandOnce-beautiful beaches in many parts of the world are losing their most distinctive feature at an alarming rate due to a rising demand for concrete.
According to a report from German publication Der Spiegel, men and women outfitted with only shovels and buckets are plundering beaches in Senegal, Kenya, New Zealand, Jamaica and Morocco for their sand.
“It’s the craziest thing I’ve seen in the past 25 years,” Robert Young, a coastal researcher at Western Carolina University, told Der Spiegel. “We’re talking about ugly, miles-long moonscapes where nothing can live anymore.”
The report describes “sand thieves” in Cape Verde, Senegal, waiting for the tide to ebb before spending six hours wading in the ocean filling bucket after bucket with wet sand to sell. Writer Laura Höflinger says that in the town of Ribeira de Barca, “the rule of thumb here is that those who have money buy sand. Those who do not sell it.”
This black market for sand exists due to a worldwide scarcity of sand due to a boom in global prosperity and construction. Of the 40 billion tons of sand and gravel consumed each year, the United Nations Environment Program estimates that 30 billion is used in the production of concrete. The UNEP said in March 2014 that sands are being extracted at a rate “far greater than their renewal.”
Thieves are plundering the world’s beaches for sand as global demand for concrete grows | Equipment World | Construction Equipment, News and Information | Heavy Construction Equipment
Global Sand Stocks Disappear As It Becomes Highly Sought Resource - SPIEGEL ONLINE

This report itself follows on from earlier journalism:


Les voleuses de sable - YouTube
The Women Sand Thieves | Coastal Care
The Sand Thieves: World’s Beaches Become Victims of Construction Boom. It’s not Just Cape Verde. | Coastal Care

There are positive alternatives to such exploitative extraction:

Small-scale building projects:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: "Basic renovation of the Drill Hall could pave the way for the redevelopment of the whole of Port Royal" ... but "Councils do not consider it worthwhile for anyone to invest in the building."

Futures Forum: A solution to our housing problems: repurposing... on George Clarke's Amazing Spaces

The circular economy and reusing resources:
Futures Forum: The Circular Economy ... and looking after our water at a local level

This is a piece from earlier this year from the Guardian's Sustainability Forum:

Construction industry needs circular economy for sustainable future
It's like Monopoly – but everyone is losing. The industry must shift its emphasis beyond recycling and towards reuse

'We're playing a game of monopoly where everyone is losing ... People can't afford the homes they want, builders can't afford to deliver the quality of buildings we want.' Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Claudia Cahalane Wednesday 19 March 2014 14.30 GMT

When the founder of building waste reuse business Yooz was offered a 10,000 tonne steel roof from the London Olympics for a large sports centre for disabled people, he thought it might be his lucky day. "The roof would have been so ideal for the centre," said Ian Strachan. "But we were building it near Glasgow and the logistics of getting it to us were impossible. It was cheaper to buy a new one in the end."

The predicament highlights the unsustainable nature of the facilities management and property sector he says, where properties are rarely built to last or be reused. The construction and demolition sector is the largest contributor to waste in the UK, responsible for generating 120m tonnes every year, according to the Green Building Council.

"When new stuff is being built like this, especially when it's only for a 12-day event and it's going to be deconstructed soon after, there really needs to be more thought about what will happen to those materials," said Strachan, who spoke at this month's Resource event "releasing the opportunities of the circular economy" in London. He is expecting a similar situation to arise after Glasgow's Commonwealth Games this summer, and added: "A lot needs to be learned around major investments like this."

Fellow speakers at the event said the sustainability agenda in construction had increasingly gravitated towards recycling, when it should be focused on reuse. There were calls for more information and records on materials used in buildings to enable them to be more easily reused, as well as more modular buildings.

"So much energy and effort goes into crushing up concrete and then cementing or gluing it back together," said Graham Hilton, director of the Alliance for Sustainable Building. "It takes a huge amount of energy and uses more virgin materials. Things need to be made so that they are bolted together and then taken apart for reuse."

Dan Epstein, senior director at sustainable design organisation Useful Simple Trust, added: "There are so many products that we don't know what do with after a certain amount of time, we need to be thinking about these things from the beginning – assembly for disassembly."

"Lessons could be learned from the car industry," said Hilton. "Cars look completely different but underneath the modular design is the same, it's easy to replace components rather than just scrap the whole car when something goes wrong. What we need in the building industry is one way to put things together and take them apart. We need a Tesco room to be able to fit into an M&S room – they can still look different."

Panellists in the session entitled "closed loop in action in facilities management and property construction" were concerned about about the future of the construction and property sector if more effort wasn't made to record data on materials used, design out unreusable materials and create markets for previously used materials.

"We're playing a game of monopoly where everyone is losing," said Hilton. "People can't afford the homes they want, builders can't afford to deliver the quality of buildings we want; there's a huge gap in what's designed and what's delivered. Buildings don't last as long as they should and banks don't feel confident enough to secure loans against them.

"Let's start using better designed reusable components from the start, so we can take a bite out of the huge amount of waste that comes from this sector. There is a slightly higher front-end cost, but the cost benefits work out very well in the long run," he said.

Join the community of sustainability professionals and experts. Become a GSB member to get more stories like this direct to your inbox

Construction industry needs circular economy for sustainable future | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian

In fact, parts of the industry are getting themselves together.

The Holcim Foundation promotes the ideas behind sustainable construction:

Understanding sustainable construction

Living up to the five "target issues" for sustainable construction: Training center for sustainable construction, Marrakesh, Morocco; winner of the Holcim Awards Bronze 2011 Africa Middle East.

Defining sustainable construction

“Sustainability” is one of the world’s most talked about but least understood words. Its meaning is often clouded by differing interpretations and by a tendency for the subject to be treated superficially. For most companies, countries and individuals who do take the subject seriously the concept of sustainability embraces the preservation of the environment as well as critical development-related issues such as the efficient use of resources, continual social progress, stable economic growth, and the eradication of poverty.

In the world of construction, buildings have the capacity to make a major contribution to a more sustainable future for our planet. The OECD, for instance, estimates that buildings in developed countries account for more than forty percent of energy consumption over their lifetime (incorporating raw material production, construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning). Add to this the fact that for the first time in human history over half of the world’s population now lives in urban environments and it’s clear that sustainable buildings have become vital cornerstones for securing long-term environmental, economic and social viability.

The pace of change means we don’t have the luxury of time. With urban populations worldwide swelling by around one million people every week, there’s an urgent need to come up with clever ideas that optimize the sustainable performance of the buildings that we live and work in.

Building a sustainable future

Sustainable construction aims to meet present day needs for housing, working environments and infrastructure without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in times to come. It incorporates elements of economic efficiency, environmental performance and social responsibility – and contributes to the greatest extent when architectural quality, technical innovation and transferability are included.

Sustainable construction involves issues such as the design and management of buildings; materials performance; construction technology and processes; energy and resource efficiency in building, operation and maintenance; robust products and technologies; long-term monitoring; adherence to ethical standards; socially-viable environments; stakeholder participation; occupational health and safety and working conditions; innovative financing models; improvement to existing contextual conditions; interdependencies of landscape, infrastructure, urban fabric and architecture; flexibility in building use, function and change; and the dissemination of knowledge in related academic, technical and social contexts.

Based on this concept and to make sustainable construction easier to understand, evaluate and apply, the Holcim Foundation and its partner universities have identified a set of five “target issues” for sustainable construction, which serve as the basis for the adjudication process of the Holcim Awards and as a framework for other activities of the Holcim Foundation.

Understanding sustainable construction

And here are some of the latest technologies in sustainable construction:

Five Sustainable Building Materials that Could Transform Construction

November 12, 2010 by Joe Peach

As global populations increase, so too will the need for accommodation. However, current mainstream building methods are unsustainable, producing large amounts of CO2 both during construction and throughout a building’s life. Thankfully, sustainability is becoming a priority for developers, and with many exciting innovations happening in the construction industry, sustainably addressing global accommodation needs seems possible. Here’s five materials that could help:

1. Wool Bricks

Developed by Spanish and Scottish researchers with an aim to ‘obtain a composite that was more sustainable, non-toxic, using abundant local materials that would mechanically improve the bricks’ strength’, these wool bricks are exactly what the name suggests. Simply by adding wool and a natural polymer found in seaweed to the clay of the brick, the brick is 37% stronger than other bricks, and more resistant to the cold wet climate often found in Britain. They also dry hard, reducing the embodied energy as they don’t need to be fired like traditional bricks.

2. Solar Tiles

Traditional roof tiles are either mined from the ground or set from concrete or clay – all energy intensive methods. Once installed, they exist to simply protect a building from the elements despite the fact that they spend a large portion of the day absorbing energy from the sun. With this in mind, many companies are now developing solar tiles. Unlike most solar units which are fixed on top of existing roofing, solar tiles are fully integrated into the building, protecting it from the weather and generating power for its inhabitants.

3. Sustainable Concrete

Whilst 95% of a building’s CO2 emissions are a result of the energy consumed during its life, there is much that can be done to reduce that 5% associated with construction. Concrete is an ideal place to start, partly because almost every building uses it, but mostly due to the fact that concrete is responsible for a staggering 7-10% of global CO2 emissions. More sustainable forms of concrete exist that use recycled materials in the mix. Crushed glass can be added, as can wood chips or slag – a byproduct of steel manufacturing. Whilst these changes aren’t radically transforming concrete, by simply using a material that would have otherwise gone to waste, the CO2 emissions associated with concrete are reduced.

4. Paper Insulation

Made from recycled newspapers and cardboard, paper-based insulation is a superior alternative to chemical foams. Both insect resistant and fire-retardant thanks to the inclusion of borax, boric acid, and calcium carbonate (all completely natural materials that have no associations with health problems), paper insulation can be blown into cavity walls, filling every crack and creating an almost draft-free space.

5. Triple-Glazed Windows

In fact, super-efficient windows would better describe this particular building material. The three layers of glass do a better job of stopping heat from leaving the building, with fully insulated window frames further contributing. In most double-glazed windows, the gas argon is injected between each layer of glass to aid insulation, but in these super-efficient windows, krypton – a better, but more expensive insulator – is used. In addition to this, low-emissivity coatings are applied to the glass, further preventing heat from escaping.

A building that combined all five of these methods would be an admirably sustainable option for housing. Whilst the construction industry tends to progress at a slow pace, the importance of sustainability is a high profile issue, and one which is only likely to increase. With sustainable building materials already fully developed, it is now up to consumers to actively demand their use and building developers to respond promptly.

Five Sustainable Building Materials that Could Transform Construction | This Big City


Unknown said...

This post was eye opening. I had not idea that concrete was responsible for such a significant percentage of CO2 emmissions, or any for that matter. I completely agree with what you said about construction needing a circular economy. Recycling is fairly new in the construction industry but reuse needs a larger emphasis as well if they want this to be able to continue ethically and economically.

Melba Collins @ Vermeulens

Jeremy Woodward said...

Thanks, Melba, for your comment. Much appreciated.

Interesting point you make about recycling in the construction industry. It's quite fashionable to have 'green products' as part of the portfolio these days. For example, the company which wants to open a new quarry near Ottery St Mary in East Devon sports an impressive suite of such products on its website:

I don't wish to pick on that particular company, but it is probably typical, in that the industry in general will want to showcase these recycled products - and at the same time, they will be keen to prove that they are not just in the business of 'extracting'.

This is an international business, however, and to what extent these industries can be held to account when it comes to reducing emissions is not clear. Again, to focus on this particular company, only because it is impacting on this area:

These companies are to some extent fighting a rear-guard battle because of such questions - and are pulling out the stops in presenting their case. But there are many more questions than answers:

However, we can get rather smug and must not forget that we rely on our 'stuff' being supplied by the extraction industries, as this latest post perhaps reminds us of:

Thanks again: this is an important debate.


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