The Implement Sustainable Construction Construction Essay

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Abstract. The current zeitgeist indicates that sustainable development, including sustainable construction is a major concern, and in the near future it will be an even greater concern. For example over 1/3 of landfill waste originates from the construction industry, which demonstrates its importance. This demonstrates the importance of the issue. Thus it is important to explore how smaller contractors implement measures, 'on the ground' as the government often overlooks smaller businesses. This paper explores small and medium sized contractors, and the challenges they face in implementing sustainable construction, and their thoughts on government's policy.


The UK's construction industry is a key sector economically, socially, and environmentally. It employs between 1.5 and 2.1 million people, and contributes 9.2% of the countries gross value added (GVA). (

This powerhouse of an industry also comes with deleterious effects, as NBT states 'Building use in the UK contributes about 50% of the UK's CO2 emissions and construction contributes about another 7%'. ( . In addition 100 million tones of landfill waste are generated annually by the industry, 1/3 of total landfill waste ( and is over three times the amount of domestic waste (28 million). (DEFRA) In addition a significant amount of minerals and timber are used in the industry, this must be taken into account.

The origins of the move to sustainable development can be traced back to the

United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which took place in Rio de Janeiro 1992. This conference addressed the issue and introduced the drive toward sustainable development, emphasizing sustainable construction as an essential part of the future of the industry. The general consensus is that there are a myriad of advantages in adopting sustainable development. Among these being increased profitability through efficient use of resources, increased opportunities including innovation, and the PR offered from utilising corporate social responsibility. A follow-up conference is 'Rio+20' Earth Summit is scheduled for 2012. (

The rate at which sustainable construction in the UK is being implemented is behind the rest of continental Europe, although it is undeniable that progress is being made. Within the UK the vast majority of sustainable construction is being undertaken by large construction companies (LE), with small and medium contractors (SMEs) lagging behind. Revel (2004) states that "There appears to be limited environmental reform taking place amongst SMEs within the construction sector, with market dynamics actively discouraging proactive behaviour". There is comparatively little information and research about SMEs in this context and so further investigation in this regard is warranted.

This study relates to the broad topic of sustainable construction. As previously identified there narrowed to the context of whether enough is being done to aid small and medium sized (SMEs) contractors in the midlands to implement sustainable measures to their maximum potential. More specifically it focuses on the government's role, and whether more intervention is needed to allow SMEs to reach their full potential in regards to sustainability.

It is interesting to note that the construction industry consists mainly of smaller companies, The Department of Trade and Industry estimates over 170,000 private contractors in the U.K, with 93% of these employing less than 8 people. These companies are often overlooked and underappreciated, which explains their lack of implementation and understanding of sustainable development Sexton, M.G. & Barrett, P.S. (2003a).

Aims and objectives

Broad aims and objectives are the following

The broad aim of research was to find if SMEs (small contractors) were achieving their sustainability potential, and whether government measures are sufficient to drive expected targets. Suitable aims and objectives are thus necessary in order to structure the research and channel it into its required context, as there are many different areas it can cover.

These would be met by achieving the following objectives:-

1. Identifying the typical measures available in regards to sustainable construction.

2. Identifying current level of implementation and knowledge of the required measures.

3. Isolating any barriers to the implementation of sustainable construction.

4. Current government policies relevant to this topic.

5. Exploring ways for the government to bypass barriers that have been identified, in addition to other required measures.


A structured methodical approach is required to achieve the aims and objectives that have previously been identified. Methodology can be defined as a description of a process, or a number of integrated theories, in the context of a specific area of research. More simply put it can be a study of methods employed. Creswell, J. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks. There are many different ways in which the research can be undertaken, both through qualitative and quantitative research. Quantitative research is best used in the earlier stages of research to create a hypothesis, and qualitative research is often used to verify and test this hypothesis.

Quantitative research, at its most basic is a numerical method of measurement of information (quantities). (Miles & Huberman (1994, p. 40). Qualitative Data Analysis)

Huberman '94 states "The aim is to classify features, count them, and construct statistical models in an attempt to explain what is observed". Huberman '94 also describes the main characteristics of quantitative research. The researcher usually knows far in advance what they are looking for, and uses quantitative data to test hypothesis, the researcher then usually constructs statistical models to explain what is occurring, however contextual detail is often overlooked. The researcher remains objective relative to the subject.

Quantitative research was not particularly useful to this study, primarily due to the fact that a case study has not been undertaken. Quantitative research was used in a limited capacity for the second objective, which was to gauge the level of current implementation of sustainable construction.

Qualitative research contrasts to this in a number of ways. Qualitative research is more concerned with analyzing and understanding the 'how and why' of data. Qualitative data on the other hand is sometimes described as being concerned with identifying the 'what where and when'. (Denzin, Norman K. & Lincoln, Yvonna S. (Eds.). (2005). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks). Data gathered takes the form of words, pictures and objects. The researcher takes a subjective role in the research.

Qualitative research is further subdivided into exploratory research and

attitudinal research. Exploratory research is concerned with providing insights and comprehension of an issue, and is especially useful where the problem has not clearly been clearly defined, as the subject matter of this study was. (Babbie, Earl.1989. The Practice of Social Research. 5th edition. Belmont CA: Wadsworth). Data is collected through secondary resources such as through a data or literature review, which is how the research for this study was undertaken. Attitudinal research took a limited role in this study, as attitudes or beliefs of the people involved in the study were identified.

An important issue to consider was the use of primary and secondary sources. Primary resources are information which are collected and obtained first hand by the researcher. These include surveys, interviews, questionnaires and other forms of first hand data collection. There are a myriad of advantages to this approach. These include being able to obtain up to date information, which is directly related to the field of enquiry, the researcher has a great deal of control and is able to tailor the research to specific issues.


Despite these advantages there are many disadvantages, which is why it was not viable to use a case study during the course of this study. The first was the fact that it would be time consuming to undertake a suitable research as required by the scope of the research, into this field as more than one SME would have to be studied for optimum results. In addition primary research is not always an accurate representation of the field of study, as the scope is extremely small, and often unable to provide an accurate representation of information.

Secondary research on the other hand consists of previous works, which may include government publications, textbooks, journals, news media, websites and magazines. The advantages of secondary research are that they are easily obtainable and have immense breadth and depth of the subject matter. The problem that the researcher encountered however was that it was hard to find data that pertained

specifically to the subject area as this study focussed on small and medium sized contractors, also up to date information was hard to find. Despite this the author managed to sufficient relevant information.

In the end data was collated from numerous secondary sources in the literature review. A literature review from secondary resources is important as it links and builds upon a solid foundation of previous research.

Results and Discussion

1. Viable sustainable construction methods available.

Concerning sustainable construction methods, there are several practices that could be adopted. These include efficient use of energy on site, sustainable waste management, use of sustainable building materials, sustainable water use, and the protection of the environment.

1.1 Efficient use of energy on site

Site services consume a large amount of energy. These include lighting, electricity and heating for the office on site, machinery, computers, and other various forms of equipment.

It is well within the capabilities of SME contractors to utilise efficient lighting and heating/air conditioning services.

Effective management of plant machinery is also required. Energy efficient equipment should be used on the site. Good communication and cooperation should allow labours and subcontractors to share necessary equipment, and reduce redundant equipment, saving on costs.

1.2 Efficient transport of building materials

"In terms of end user emissions, transport within the UK (i.e., excluding international aviation and shipping refuelling in the UK) was responsible for 43.1MtC in 2004 (or around 28% of total UK domestic carbon emissions" Furthermore to this alarming statistic, "About 10% of national energy consumption is used in the production and transport of construction products and materials". ( Therefore any improvement in the transport of building materials would go a long way. Concerning SMEs this would also save on transport costs.

Measures that could be implemented include sourcing from local areas, and using efficient delivery services. By utilizing local resources, time and money is saved, in addition to transport/fuel costs. Efficient delivery services include using deliveries where there is no wasted capacity (full). The Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED) in Hackbridge, London, for example sourced all materials from within a 35 mile radius.

Nicole Lazarus (October 2003). Beddington Zero (Fossil) Energy Development: Toolkit for Carbon Neutral Developments - Part II. BioRegional.


1.3 Efficient Waste Management

As previously mentioned, over 100 million tones of landfill waste are generated annually by the industry, 1/3 of the total landfill waste of the U.K. (

Therefore it is apparent that much needs to be done to tackle this issue. The first measure that needs to be taken, would be to segregate waste, as it was being made. Waste should be segregated according to type, plasterboard, wood hardcore and so on. From here waste can be either recycled, or reused. Waste management centres can take care of the recycled materials. From here bricks, blocks etcetera can be reused, and wood can be turned into woodchip, for further use.

Through the use of these measures landfill waste would be reduced, and money would be saved from disposal costs, in addition money would be saved through the reuse of materials, offsetting the increased labour and management costs. For SMEs the saved costs are significant, especially considering the fact that landfill costs are at an all time high.

Another way to avoid waste is through proper utilisation of purchasing policy with suppliers. By partnering and collaborating with suppliers, unused materials could be returned to suppliers for resale. This in addition to 'just in time' delivery would also contribute to more efficiency. This is more relevant for SMEs because close ties with suppliers are important.

1.4 Use of sustainable construction materials

Construction materials compose over half of all resource use in terms of weight. One way in which to reduce this would be adopt the usage of more reclaimed and recycled materials. By utilising recycled materials, resource use would be reduced; in addition co2 emissions would be reduced as many constriction materials require a large amount of energy to be used in their production.

1.5 Sustainable use of water

Sustainable use of water takes many forms, both from reducing water use on site, and by using 'Dry' construction. On site, similar measures to those outlined in 1.1 could be used. Wasted water "could cost a company 1% of its turnover". ( Use of Reclaimed water onsite is one way this could be achieved.

Sustainable construction in this context could make use of dry construction methods in order to reduce usage of water. These would include use of ready mixed aggregates, and plastering.

1.6 Protection of the Environment/ Biodiversity

Sustainable construction also includes protection of the environment's biodiversity. This includes minimising pollution in its various forms, in addition to the protection of wildlife.

Pollution arising from construction includes air, visual and noise pollution, in addition to other contamination. Air pollution includes dust, odours, smoke, and other emissions. In construction sites, "high levels of dust (typically from concrete, cement, wood, stone, silica) and this can carry for large distances over a long period of time". Measures that could be used include the use of a combination of "fine water sprays" and using covers and screens on dusty areas.


Water pollution on site is caused by the hazardous substances used on site such as diesel and oils, paints, solvents, and other chemicals. These erode the soil and have the tendency to damage waterways, subsequently having a deleterious effect on wildlife. Both surface water and ground water have the potential to be affected in these circumstances. There are several preventative measures that can be implemented to mitigate these. These include foul drains being used to siphon away any contaminated water into settlement tanks, and safely dispose of the sludge. Other methods would be to use less toxic substances, including low sulphur diesel, covering all drains, and closely monitoring any potential contaminants. Additionally it would be beneficial to not burn any materials on site, since mostly wood is burned, reusing it as wood chip as mentioned in 1.3.

Noise pollution is also a valid concern, and may negatively affect the surrounding areas. Techniques to avoid noise pollution include liaising and co-operating with the locality, in addition to active and passive noise reduction. Noise reduction could take place using low noise equipment and machinery, and use of wall structures as sound shields.


Sustainable construction methods available have been outlined here and include efficient use of energy on site, efficient transport of building materials, efficient waste management, use of sustainable construction materials, and sustainable use of water and protection of the environment. These are by no means an exhaustive list of methods; however they are indicative into measures SME contractors have the potential to achieve. Now that the measures available have been identified, it is necessary to gauge the current level of implementation among SMEs.

2. Current level of implementation


3. Barriers in Implementing Sustainable Construction

3.1 Higher Costs

One reason most cited as a reason for the lack of implementation among SMEs of sustainable construction, is due to the higher incurred costs. These additional costs occur in a variety of forms. As identified in section 3? For example, to segregate and recycle on site additional labour costs would be incurred. (Cameron, R., 2003). Higher costs result from a variety of sources. In addition to labour costs, there is in 'opportunity cost' to use staff time in implementing sustainable construction. For example a contractor may spend additional time searching and arranging for sustainable solutions where they otherwise wouldn't.

Inherently within companies, their main agenda is profit. Especially within SMEs, whose profit margins are relatively low to begin with. As a result the culture among SMEs is to neglect research and innovation, especially in the current economic climate which is highly competitive. (Cameron, R., 2003).

In the tendering process for contractors, contractors who offer the lowest prices are preferred. In this culture, the lowest price is the main criteria when tendering, no consideration is given to other factors, such as the implementation of sustainable construction. (Lowest price or value? Investigation of UK construction clients' tender selection process

3.2Time Constraints

Unlike large contractors, SMEs are unlikely to have their own dedicated research and development (R&D) departments, therefore they find it difficult to train their staff in new innovative areas such as in sustainable construction. SMEs usually depend on informal partnering and contacts for much of their business, and concerning sustainability, only if they have good industry links are they likely to be able to practically provide training sufficiently in depth and to the time constraints of construction projects. Academic institutions carry the burden of training the next generation of industry professionals, however there is a gap between knowledge of current professionals and them (Schaper 2002).

Another time related issue is the culture of SMEs to rely on the short term goals. SMEs as mentioned previously use price as their key differentiating factor. When tendering price is the main factor, but later on once relationships and contacts have been developed, partnering agreements and repeat business occurs. Also time and short term performance is a characteristic of SMEs. Also project teams are temporary, and so it is difficult to transfer


Schaper (2002) states that larger firms on the environment tends to be more noticeable, as to the reason SMEs lag behind as their environmental impact is comparatively low

4. Discussion of constraints arising from current government policies

There are several issues with current government policies which are barriers to SMES implementing sustainable development.

The government has implemented large numbers of policies to facilitate sustainable construction, however there are many faults with their approach, especially concerning SMEs. Schaper (2002) states that initiatives designed to promote innovation and excellence in the field of sustainability primarily target larger construction firms. Specific concerns Schaper addresses relates to the motivation of SMEs to innovate in the field of sustainable development. For example measures such as taxation on landfill waste motivate larger contractors who have the capacity to recycle. However for SMEs the landfill tax is often cheaper and quicker than implementing recycling, as mentioned in 1.3 (Revell 2004).

The governments DTI strategy review has the target of 20% of all new (non domestic) builds being carbon neutral by 2010. However the government neglects its focus to larger 'site wide developments' and SMEs traditionally work on one off independent developments. Faber Maunsell (2007) argues the government's time table for this change was implemented too soon to allow for sufficient technologies and skills to be in place.

Current government industry standards and specifications do not give preference to sustainable technologies, which would offset the additional prices incurred from utilising them. Currently, companies who utilise sustainable construction methods have to compete on price with contractors who are able to undercut them, simply by meeting minimum standards (Cameron 2003). Also energy savings standards for example, The Code for Sustainable Homes (2006) has been criticized from many quarters for being lackluster.

One other barrier that current government policy has is their lack of knowledge and experience of sustainable technologies. They are often unable to advise on sustainable construction, indeed when approving planning applications for developments which utilise sustainable technologies, planning often takes longer than usual as a direct result of their lack of knowledge of the subject.

For example The Code for Sustainable Homes (2006) has been criticized from many quarters as its energy saving standards are surprisingly lackluster.

5. Recommendations to Remove Barriers

As identified throughout the research process, there are a number of ways in which constraints to SME sustainable development could be mitigated. Most of these would have to be implemented by the government, as sustainable development; in addition to sustainable construction is the government's responsibility.

Planning and finance incentives

As discussed in the previous section, when implanting sustainable construction, due to the lack of knowledge on the side of the government, planning applications in some instances take longer than normal. A way to mitigate this, and improve the uptake of sustainable construction for SMEs, would to give priority and fast track planning applications for sustainable developments. In addition ways in which finance for sustainable developments could be sped up should be explored. Additionally finance for such developments could possible be subsidised at least in part by the government. Home is where the carbon is (2006) recommends measures to fast-track "and pump priming sustainable products to the market to ensure availability at the time, place and price necessary".

As mentioned in chapter 2, cost is a large, if not the greatest constraint on the implementation of sustainable development. As the protection of the environment and 'greening' of the construction industry is a government concern, it is important that financial support is provided by the government. The government has undoubtedly addressed this issue, demonstrated by the many grants and incentive schemes that they offer. However there is still room for improvement of their approach. Help for training of industry professionals as chapter 3.2 states is important, and there is room for support there.

Sustainable Social Housing

Home is where the carbon is (2000), argues that by implementing sustainable construction into social housing, great strides concerning sustainability can be made as social housing contributes to over 20% of the U.Ks housing stock, with an additional 30,000 new homes being built annually.

This would also have the additional effect of publicising exemplar projects, and raise awareness, as currently the market is currently 'deeply embedded in the status quo'. Currently the barriers to sustainable housing are similar to those for the rest of the industry, even more so as price and speed are of even more importance. Home is where the carbon is goes further

Tax Breaks

An effective way to stimulate sustainable construction would be to offer tax incentives to developments that utilise sustainable technologies.

Facilitate knowledge and information on sustainably construction

Throughout the research process, a recurring theme that continues to appear is the lack of knowledge and innovation, in addition to a lack of motivation concerning sustainable construction among SMEs. The following section details methods that could be used to improve these.

Cameron (2003) argues in his work that through the advertising and demonstration of exemplar projects, motivation to employ sustainable construction would be stirred. There is no shortage of contemporary 'ecotown' exemplar projects, however these should be publicised to a greater extent, to change attitudes and culture to that sustainable development is the rule rather than the exception.

Home is where the carbon is (2006) lists several recommendations to improve training of sustainable construction methods. These include providing detailed labelling and instructions, up to date training, and free or subsidised training to SMEs to "encourage familiarity with materials and technologies".

Schaper (2002) argues the importance of higher education students, as the future of sustainability, as they would provide new knowledge and innovation into their work careers. Also it improves the 'legitimacy' of the topic. Indeed promoting 'eco literacy' is a large factor in the 'greening' of the industry.

Encouraging Ecopreneurship

One of the greatest ways in which construction sustainability could be achieved would be encouraging ecopreneurship (sustainable entrepreneurship) as a means for SMEs to use competitive advantage to differentiate themselves from competitors. van der Linde (1995) argues that "the adoption of greener business practices is usually a major stimulus for innovation within a firm, giving rise to improvements in processes, production, materials usage and marketing".

Conclusion 1000

Replace this text with your own conclusions. Remember that these must clearly come from your own information and analysis: they must not simply appear out of thin air!

If appropriate - and it is not compulsory - you can extend your conclusions with some recommendations for improving practice.

It is also common, especially for the best research publications, to finish with two short sections: one is a critical reflection on how this study went,

for example how it could have been improved; and finally what other things does it suggest for future investigation. Knowing what you have just shown us, what might come next?

Section 2 weak, case study, time scale restrictions, large scale representative study required.

Shouyld have done case study x2 midlands.

Section 3 showed too man barriers, is govt concern, govmt. is doing some measures needs to do more.