The Concept Of Sustainability Construction Essay

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The word Sustainability means endure, support. Sustainability is the capacity to endure (Wikipedia, 2010). According to M. Gatto (1995), Sustainability has different meanings depending on the context.

1. From a biologist perspective, it is the sustained yield of resources derived from the exploitation of people and ecosystems.

2. From an ecologist perspective, Sustainability is the sustained abundance and genotypic diversity of individual species in the ecosystems subject to human intervention.

3. From an economist perspective, it is the sustained economic development without compromising the existing resources for future generations.

2.2 Sustainable Development

Sustainable development was defined as ''development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' by the World Commission on Environment and Development (Bruntland Commission) and it remains to be a most quoted definition.

The first and most important recognition for the concept of sustainable development was received during the UN Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in 1972. Again in 1987, it has gained a popular attention in 'Our Common future' made by the Bruntland Commission.

Source: Creative Commons, 2007

One third of World's wood harvest, two fifths of the material and energy usage and one sixth of the fresh water withdrawals are associated to development and construction related activities (Addis B and Talbot R, 2001).

About half the total UK emissions of CO2, 90% of all surface mineral extraction and over a quarter of all waste sent to landfill are either directly or indirectly related to construction industry (Sustainable Construction Forum, 2010).

Construction industry being one of the largest industries globally, it has quite a considerable impact on the environment especially in areas of energy use, air and water pollution, depletion of non renewable energy resources ( Spence , 1995). The Construction industry has already started taking up the principles and policies of sustainable development and is trying to meet its environmental responsibility (Thomas E Uher, 1999).

2.2.1 Sustainable Construction:

Sustainable Construction is the concept that aims to apply the principles of sustainability and sustainable development in the construction process. The main aim of Sustainable Construction is to provide ways of building with less material, less pollution, less energy and less waste yet deliver all the benefits that construction projects have delivered till date (Sustainable Construction Forum, 2010).

The Construction industry, in the global economy, accounts for 40% of the total flow of raw materials every year (Roodman. D and Lenssen. N, 1995). The market for construction materials and products globally is worth USD$305 billion (Mak S. L, 1999). Thus, procurement plays a vital role in the construction industry.

Fig 3: Construction

2.2.2 Sustainable Procurement:


"Sustainable procurement is a process whereby organizations meet their needs for goods, services, works and utilities in a way that achieves value for money on a whole life basis in terms of generating benefits not only to the organization, but also to society and the economy, whilst minimizing damage to the environment". (DEFRA)

Put in simple words,

Sustainable procurement is about bearing in mind what the materials are made of, where they have come from, who has made them, how they are transported and how they are eventually disposed of. It might even worth thinking of whether the purchase is to be made at all (Ecus Consulting, 2008).

This topic is discussed in depth in the below sections.

2.3 UK Governments initiatives

In the UK, the Government has realized the importance of sustainable development and had developed a strategic policy for it to be implemented amongst its councils and departments with a set of five shared principles (Sustainable Task Force, 2002) which are

Living within the environmental limits.

Ensuring a strong, healthy and just society.

Achieving a sustainable economy.

Using sound science responsibly.

Promoting good governance.

Apparently, for achieving sustainability, the principle of sustainable development should be integrated into national and corporate policies (Ofori et al., 2000).

This policy aims to put UK in the forefront of sustainable development within the country as well as in the World. The Government has prioritized four main areas for this to be taken care of (DEFRA, 2005). These are:

Sustainable consumption and production: - If every person in the World lived the lifestyle of people living in the UK, We would need more than three planets' worth of resources (London 2012, 2009). Hence, the Government has given a call to everyone to notice the need for everyone to achieve the motto of working towards more with less. And also that every Government, business and individual should turn towards World Wildlife Fund's [WWF] 'One planet living' which stresses the need for leadership and action in the industrialized nations to tackle major issues like Climate change.

Natural resource protection and environmental enhancement: Natural resources on the planet are the direct means of sources for our very existence. Our health and wellbeing are directly proportional to the quality and quantity of our natural resources like air, water, soil and biological resources. The functioning ecosystems of our Earth are the livelihood for every individual and every economy in a direct or an indirect way.

Sustainable communities (Global to Local): The Government's aim is to create sustainable communities where people can live and work in a harmonious fashion in the present and in the future. It tries to make this difference locally as well as globally as no community in any part of the world wants to be suffering with poverty, high crime levels, multiple inequalities and poor health and safety conditions for themselves.

Climate change and energy: By now, the damaging and harmful effects of climate change are seen. Increasing water levels & temperatures, waning levels of ice cover & snow and consequences can mean to the natural world and societies that catastrophic and pernicious changes to the planet and eventually mankind. Hence, the government has set out clear objectives and targets to reduce the carbon emissions of the country through its actions and it wants others too set an example to follow.

The Government has set out the agendas for sustainable development in routes it can bring about a change. It has realized 'procurement' can prove to be a good way of achieving sustainable development motives as every Government and business spends a huge amount of money to source its materials and services. As in a process to do this, it has set up the initiative called the "Sustainable Procurement Action Plan" - the program which describes the changes to be brought in the way the Government buys its resources. This plan would help the Government to use its purchasing power of 150 billion pounds per year to drive progress in sustainable development through its policies, performance frameworks and procurement practice. (Gardiner.B, 2007). To give advice about this plan and to monitor the policies and public bodies, a task force called the Sustainable procurement task force was set up.

Fig 3: UK Public Sector Procurement Spend, (Source: Sustainable Task Force, 2006)

The task force in the publication ' Procuring the Future' has given recommendations to the Government about the way in which it should act towards achieving its sustainable development motives through sustainable procurement and for it to influence other private sectors(DEFRA, 2006) . There are:

Lead by example: This recommendation addresses the Government to lead by example. The lack of reliable leadership on sustainable procurement has become visible proved by many previous reports. The obscurity of the policies and the right direction amongst public sector procurers and government bodies which neither reward the good practice nor punish the failure to comply with the policies in the area, has lead to a state of confusion for suppliers. The task force advices a clear commitment from the very top levels of the Government to the bottom level through chief executives, permanent secretaries and local authority members in all public bodies.

Set clear priorities: Procurers have complained of too much guidance which was presented in an inconsistent fashion without a cross governmental ownership. The task force proposes that the single integrated framework of policies needs to be justified.

Raise the bar: The task force recommends that the enforcement of the existing minimum standards for central government should be done appropriately and to be extended to the rest of the public sector and also, good standards needs to be developed within important areas like construction, energy, food, furniture, health and social work, office machinery, pulp and paper, textiles, transport and waste.

Build capacity: Public sector procurers should be given training in order to increase their knowledge of the procurement practices, frameworks and regulations. A flexible framework has been developed by the Task force to permit the public sector bodies to cross check and benchmark their own capabilities.

Remove barriers: Budgetary mechanisms that would support sustainable procurement should be enabled and the barriers should be removed. Evidence from the reports also suggests that whole life approaches were not considered and more importance was given to lower upfront costs and that there was a divide between the management of operation and budget costs. The task force wants such barriers to be removed and therefore asks the HM Treasury to improve the clarity on guidance of whole life costing and to enforce it in public spending.

Capturing Opportunities: To manage the risks associated with the market better, the task force suggests the Government to capture the opportunities for innovation and social benefits through resourceful engagement with the market.

The Government in collaboration with other corporate organizations has taken up the notion of bringing a radical change in promoting sustainability in the UK construction sector thereby wants to lead the world in this agenda (Mc Gregor. A, 2006). In the list of targets which were mentioned in the strategy for sustainable construction, procurement stands in the first position amongst the other factors like Design, Innovation, People , Better regulations would act as the means of delivering the motives of addressing the issues of Climate change mitigation, water, waste, bio diversity and materials. (Strategic forum for construction, 2008)

[Source: Strategy for sustainable construction,2009]

The sustainable construction brief 2004 prepared by the DTI, UK government mentions a few important themes which should be given major concern towards improving the green image of the construction industry. They are -

Effective design and lean construction to reduce the wastages.

Safeguarding and promoting Biodiversity.

Efficient usage of water and other natural resources.

Helping the local communities and environment.

Monitoring and benchmarking the progress.

2.4 Sustainable Procurement in UK

Ethical Sourcing:

The drivers that can bring a change in the way materials are sourced include the Government, key stakeholders and NGO's. The Government is in a good position through its role to start a change in the way construction projects are operated. Some important steps like BREEAM ratings to government construction projects and market transformation programme (a programme established by UK Government that supports development and implementation of its policy on sustainable products) helped the companies to start thinking sustainably (Stephen. E, 2006).

NGO's like FSC and PEFC which certify ethically sourced timber products cover wide range of timber and forest products. CSA (Canadian Standards Authority), SFI (American Sustainable Forest Initiative) [which now come under PEFC] and MTCC (Malaysian National Timber Certification Council) are some of the other schemes that have gained recognition recently. All the schemes and NGO's mentioned above deliver forest and timber products on the UK government's sustainability requirements (Mc Gregor. A, 2006).

ETI (Ethical Trading Initiative) is formed by a group of NGO's, companies, unions and businesses in 1998 for which the UK Government has provided support (DFID, 1998). The ETI's code of conduct which reflects the relevant international standards with respect to labor practices includes the rights to union organizations, regulations about child labor, rights to minimum wages which has to be followed by all its member companies and businesses (ETI, 2010).

Environmental Aspects:

Environmental Procurement is defined as involving in purchasing activities that include reduction, reuse and recycling of materials (Carter, et al, 1998). Purchasing recyclable materials or already recycled materials will have an impact on the green supply chain (Sarkis, 2003).

The growing consciousness and commitment towards environment among the Government, companies and individuals has inspired the incorporation of environmental requirements into the policies and procedures of Procurement and Purchasing (Ofori. G, 2000). According to Anderson. J and Sheirs. D (2002), Environmental Procurement is the main area of sustainability that has seen some progress. The use of Environmental Management systems and Building Research Establishment's (BRE's) etc helped for the progress (Anderson. J, 2002).

In addition to the three main objectives of the clients which are time, quality and cost, 'the environment' should be incorporated as the fourth one. This develops a culture of environmental protection in the construction industry (Ofori, 1992).

According to Sato. H (2006), the companies should follow the four principles listed below to achieve progress towards green procurement.

1. Understand the necessity before purchasing.

2. Consider the impact of the product throughout its life cycle on the environment.

3. Examine the management policies and activities of the suppliers.

4. Gather Environmental information on product and suppliers.

Economic Aspects:

The implications for the companies in the supply chain have increased as sustainable purchasing practices have become more common in large organizations. Greater Emphasis to whole life approach needs to be given from the economic perspective of sustainability (Paul Flaming, 2008). It is indeed very important to adapt whole life approach while purchasing. For this, the clients and the suppliers must be able to determine whether it is cost effective to invest on the expensive product at the outset, in order to reduce costs in the long run (Addis. B and Talbot. R, 2001).

Whole Life Approach is important because:

1. Enables better understanding of the issues

2. Enables better visibility of down stream impacts from design and procurement options

3. Can influence upstream requirements for design and specification

This leads to

1. Better requirements definition

2. Better specifications

3. Better financial planning and provision

4. More sustainability gains

And better values for money (Steve Rintoul, Sustainable Procurement an introduction, Enviros )