Sustainability in Construction

There is an increasing demand, in both the private and public sectors, to understand sustainable construction practices. This demand is driven by a realisation that sustainable practices make sense to both owners and operators. The practices not only help the environment but can also improve economic profitability and improve relationships with stakeholder groups.

The diagram below explains how sustainable development is implemented within the construction industry's private and public sectors.

The drivers for sustainable construction

Sustainable Development

The term Sustainable Development was coined in 1987 in 'The Brundtland Report' as:

"development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

This report was significant because it helped trigger a wide range of actions, including:

  • UN Earth Summits (in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and Johannesburg in 2002)
  • The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
  • Worldwide "Agenda 21" programmes
  • Creation of member state sustainable development strategies such as the UK´s Sustainable Development Strategy .

Sustainable Construction

Sustainable Construction is the application of sustainable development to the construction industry.

On 11th June 2008 the UK Government launched the Strategy for Sustainable Construction

The Strategy aims to take a longer-term view on how the UK construction industry can become more sustainable and work towards the overall sustainability targets of the UK.

The Strategy has spawned a number of initiatives including:

Prior to the launch of the Sustainable Construction Strategy, the CSU’s  Review of Sustainable Construction 2006  was published in October 2006 and this in turn had superseded the original strategy  'Building a Better Quality of Life - A Strategy for More Sustainable Construction'  which was published six years ago.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a key driver for private sector companies seeking to embrace sustainability in their business.

CSR is the recognition by companies that there are benefits to integrating socially responsible behaviour into their core values. Its key principles relate to:

  • integrity 
  • transparency
  • responsiveness
  • fairness and diversity
  • "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business".

    (Henry Ford)

    The Chartered Institute Of Building (CIOB) produced the report 'Corporate Social Responsibility And Construction'. This describes how:

    "'recent demand from shareholders, the government, consumer groups and the public for products and services to be 'socially responsible' extends and develops these issues to an extent that can no longer be assumed to be covered by standard construction procedures'.

    Further information on Corporate Social Responsibility is available from here 

    Triple Bottom Line

    The concept of Triple-Bottom Line relates to the reporting of environmental and social performance (the environmental and social bottom line) alongside profits (the economic bottom line) as measures of success. The triple-bottom line encompasses environmental responsibility, social awareness/responsibility and economic profitability.

    Sustainable Communities Plan

    In February 2003, the UK Government launched  the Sustainable Communities Plan which sets out a long-term programme of action for delivering sustainable communities in both urban and rural areas.

    The Plan includes major reforms of housing and planning and a new approach to how we build, and what we build, in order to bring about development that meets the economic, social and environmental needs of future generations, as well as succeeding now.

    The public sector will be imposing sustainability conditions from the Plan in their forthcoming procurement schemes, and thus sustainability is expected to gain importance in governmental procurement.

    Sustainable Procurement National Action Plan

    On the 12th June 2006, the Government published the National Action Plan: Procuring the Future. The action plan aims to deliver sustainable procurement to stimulate innovation through public procurement, and deliver sustainable procurement by complementing and building on existing activity.

    The National Action Plan identified 174 Government spend areas, 18 emerged as priorities. Public sector construction (i.e. building and refit, highways and local roads, operations and maintenance) was the number one priority on this list. Within the National Action Plan, the Government’s Sustainable Procurement Task Force (SPTF) have identified that attention should be focused on areas where it is anticipated that there will be a significant increase in future spend e.g. Buildings Schools for the Future Programme, London 2012 Olympic Park Construction.

    A specific recommendation has been identified in the National Action Plan related to the implementation of sustainable construction practices, specifically in relation to the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ building programme.