Sustainability Beyond Regulation
The one constant in life is change.
Look at any profession now and compare it to twenty years ago. Or even five years ago.
At the top level most things may look the same but dig a little deeper and you’ll see just how far things have come.
The automotive industry is a perfect example. Whilst the fundamentals have stayed the same, beneath the body work cars have more computing power than most households.
The engine has evolved too, becoming increasingly more efficient and within the next couple of years nations in Western Europe will start to phase out the combustion engine altogether.
It’s a huge, landmark policy shift that forces manufacturers to put sustainability first and will go a long way to tackling climate change.
The construction industry is finding itself in a similar situation. As one of the most regulated industries in the country, developers are under constant scrutiny and growing pressure to build sustainable homes with minimal impact to the environment.
In the UK we have regulations that are designed to produce the most environmentally sound project possible as safely as possible.
Getting through the planning phase for this reason is no small task because any building, big or small, will be around for a very long time. It has to be as sustainable in 80 years as the guidelines say it should be today.
The downside with that is that buildings actually become less sustainable because what can be achieved is constantly changing. The goal posts, it turns out, aren’t being moved because they were never stationary to begin with.
So if regulations are constantly changing to meet the demands of a beleaguered environment and dwindling resources, is the answer to build with sustainability regulations of the future in mind?
For example, brick production has a hugely damaging impact on the environment. China’s brick industry alone burns 100 million tonnes of coal a year and contributes hundreds of kilotonnes of pollutants to the environment.
Whichever way you cut it, using bricks becomes an ethical grey area.
But alternatives do exist including concreate made from algae. Whilst it may seem absurd, indications are it’s stronger than standard concrete and doesn’t have any of the environmental fallout to make it.
Companies like ModCell are producing carbon negative large scale building materials including bricks and prefabricated panels of straw. As unlikely as it sounds, a brick made from super-compressed straw is stronger than brick, offers better insulation and (because all the air as been squeezed out) it is all but fire and weather resistant.
The Three Little Pigs have nothing on these guys.
There is no escaping the fact that these solutions offer a viable and sustainable alternative to traditional building materials.
Photovoltaic glazing, for example effectively turns a building into a giant solar collector but the really impressive part is that the glass can be manufactured both as windows and structural material.
Considering the increasing number of glass buildings that dominate skylines around the world, photovoltaic glass could solve the world’s energy problems, or at least go a long way to easing them. The really good news for developers is that it costs marginally more than standard glass.
This isn’t just sustainability from a construction stand point but enhances the country’s sustainable energy mix.
Another way that developers can make cost efficiencies while still exceeding sustainability guidelines is modular construction. Chinese developer Broad Sustainable Buildings completed a 57-storey skyscraper in 19 working days.
Modular design limits environmental disruption, there’s also significantly less waste, less vehicle movement and less downtime because the components arrive, micron perfect, exactly when they are needed then slot into place like the ultimate Lego kit.
If modular construction was adopted overnight it would revolutionise the industry as so many of the pain points would disappear.
The big benefit with modular design is that all parties can collaborate on the same drawing and make adjustments before anything gets made. It prevents the unexpected and eliminates delays – especially those involving raw materials.
Aside from the moral and long term environmental benefits of developing properties to reflect the regulations of the future there is an obvious commercial benefit too.
The general public, particularly Millennials and Generation Z, want a sustainable, ethically built home and are willing to pay for it. Sustainability matters to them more than it has any generation before them because it’s a way of life.
The reasoning is simple: a home is an investment of wealth; a sustainable home is an investment in well being.
Build Energy delivers sustainability strategies, energy assessments, BREEAM certification, thermal modelling and a range of other quality assured services and testing to the construction industry.