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Taking a lifecycle approach to resource management

Posted: 28th April 2017

Diane Crowe

Sustainability Manager


With the effects of global warming being felt across the globe, it is critical for businesses operating in the built environment to look at new and innovative ways to reduce waste, cut carbon emissions and support cleaner, more efficient operations. Together, we must address the challenges of supporting sustainable communities and demonstrate a positive contribution to a common international agenda – which is where the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals come into play.

At Carillion, we are ensuring that the UN goals are embedded where possible into our wider 2020 sustainability strategy – for example, goal 12 in particular resonates with the construction landscape, with its focus on ensuring sustainable consumption and resource efficiency. A key area for a business like ours is waste, and we divert some 95% from landfill (3% is hazardous waste and other non-recyclable materials). It should be noted that while this is an important part of our overall sustainability strategy, our focus on waste reduction goes significantly beyond diversion from landfill – it is part of our culture. Through our ‘Don’t Walk By’ campaign we are continuing to challenge internal thinking about resource use by raising awareness and giving all employees accountability for reporting waste, such as fuel spillages. Adopting this self-monitoring approach is an important way for businesses to engage, inform and motivate employees, helping to create a strong working culture around resource-efficiency.

As well as building this internal culture, it is also important for businesses to work with organisations across the supply chain and collaborate with other industry bodies to combat waste. Our joint venture with Kier on the M6 Smart Motorways project harnessed this collaborative approach by utilising the insights from industry body BRE (Building Research Establishment Group) through its SmartWaste system. The monitoring and reporting tool identifies trends around a project’s waste output and resource use, as well as sharing potential areas for improvement across the supply chain, all of which helped to divert a significant 99.95% of waste from landfill on the project. The activity was marked with a BRE SmartWaste Award, highlighting the project as an example of industry best practice in terms of resource and waste management. Carillion is also part of The Innovation Gateway, a group of organisations working together to support innovators and SMEs working in the resource efficiency space, helping to accelerate new innovations in energy, waste and water to market. Encouraging this type of forward-thinking is key for the construction industry’s sustainability journey and must be embraced by all businesses to reduce the environmental impact of buildings and infrastructure.

Focusing on waste reduction during the early design and planning stages of a project is also critical for carbon reduction strategies. A way that businesses can do this effectively is by embracing digital construction processes such as Business Information Modelling (BIM) to give more transparency around the whole project lifecycle. As laid out in the Industrial Strategy, BIM presents a fantastic opportunity for Government and industry bodies to work collaboratively to unlock more efficient methods of designing, creating and maintaining assets. We harnessed the benefits of these digital technologies with our A1 L2B civils contract, enabling us to accurately control the amount of tarmac laid during the construction process, thus ensuring both a high-quality finish and reduction in waste. Assessing the environmental impact of projects in this way helps to inform critical decisions about construction methodology, while facilitating greater efficiency across supply chains.

During the physical construction process, we continually strive to find inventive ways to reduce, reuse and recycle materials – from water and concrete, to timber and steel – through initiatives such as the Community Wood Scheme, where we work with this organisation to distribute surplus timber from our London projects for use in the wider community. In a resource-intensive building environment, we have a commercial and ethical responsibility to find alternatives to virgin materials where possible. Therefore, where we have demolition and construction projects happening within close proximity of each other, we look to manage materials in a way that creates a localised circular economy. This was the case for the demolition of Paradise Circus and construction of the new Midlands Metropolitan Hospital in Birmingham, where we were able to maximise efficiency and reduce resource waste by transferring materials for reuse from one to another. The project also made use of recycled materials, such as ground glass that was no longer suitable to make glass products, as a Damp Proof Membrane further reducing the need for virgin materials and reducing waste across the supply chain. We also continually reflect on ways to reduce water use, having reduced our water consumption by 37% across our operations last year with initiatives from reusing swimming pool water on a construction site in Oman to creating rainwater lagoons on construction sites here in the UK.

By thinking of waste only while buildings and infrastructure are in use, you risk missing major opportunities to address sustainable operations within the construction industry. Looking at the entire lifecycle of resources is key to this, and businesses must look at aspects such as material use, waste and carbon impact from the initial concept phase right through to planning, designing and construction in order to effectively manage the environmental impact of their projects.

Contributor: Diane Crowe is Carillion’s Group Head of Sustainability, with a specific lead on the Environment. She is responsible for developing and implementing the Group’s Environmental Policy and Strategy across the UK, Middle East and Canada. Diane will be speaking at FT Future of Construction Summit in London – 18 May 2017.