Choosing Sustainable Products
In 2018, the Government released the ‘Construction Sector Deal’
This policy paper, which relates to future public sector projects, aims to make buildings, and their construction, more sustainable. One sentence within the executive summary is particularly noteworthy:
“Whole life asset performance will shift focus from the costs of construction to the costs of a building across its life cycle, particularly its use of energy”.
This is a welcome announcement and, based on upcoming changes to the Building Regulations, this strategy will likely become mandatory across all sectors of the built environment in the United Kingdom.
THE CHALLENGE BEFORE US
So, as we move away from the traditional cradle-to-grave system of construction (whereby materials are often destroyed or sent to landfill at the end of a building’s life), and towards a circular economy of reuse and recycle, we will need to choose our building products materials with care and due diligence.
Though that statement might border on ‘stating the obvious’, a quick scroll through insulation products, for example, in www.greenspec.co.uk, and you will see that every product type available, sustainable or otherwise, has some negative aspects associated with it.
And then consider the ubiquity of plastics in the industry, and the undoubted proliferation of new, unfamiliar products entering the marketplace promising even greater performance credentials, and suddenly the prospect of specifying the best product becomes somewhat dismaying.
SO HOW DO WE CHOOSE WHAT IS RIGHT?
First and foremost, all building products made available for use in the construction industry in this country are required to be:
- fit for purpose
- reliable and resilient
- performance tested
If a sustainable product, regardless of any glowing testimonials which may accompany it, cannot show that is has met these criteria, it should not be considered for use.
Secondly, it is important to understand the meaning of the various definitions under which products are grouped:
A GREEN product is one which aims to reduce its impact on the environment from construction and use.
An ECO-FRIENDLY product is one which has been made in a way that does not harm the environment.
A SUSTAINABLE product is one that looks to reduce the impact it leaves on the environment through its total life cycle.
Ultimately, we should be looking to products which are sustainable. These products ensure that their raw materials are sustainably sourced, and consider their embodied energy, embodied carbon, and recyclability.
In summary, no single attribute of a sustainable product should be considered in isolation. A careful analysis of each aspect of a product’s attributes, coupled with its verified performance data, should be considered. The guiding principal for contractors and the design team alike, when selecting sustainable products, even certified ones, is to ‘trust but verify’.