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25th June, 2024

Five Strategies for Greening the Construction Supply Chain

Discover essential strategies for greening the construction supply chain and mitigating the environmental impact of the construction industry.

In the escalating climate crisis, the construction industry—long a cornerstone of economic development and urbanisation—rapidly shifts toward sustainability. With the construction supply chain accounting for significant environmental impact, the imperative for green practices has never been more urgent. 

We will explore and delineate the key strategies you can apply to keep your construction supply chain management strategies responsible and up-to-date.

1. Source Sustainably

The Imperative of Eco-Friendly Materials

Sustainable sourcing begins with the conscientious selection of materials. Concrete, steel, and similar standard construction materials are notorious for their high carbon footprints. Concrete production alone accounts for approximately 8% of global CO2 emissions. This is mainly due to the energy-intensive process of calcination, where limestone is heated to produce clinker—a key component of cement. 

According to Statista, the manufacture of cement in the UK alone produced roughly 7.03 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2021. And that’s after the emissions from cement manufacturing have fallen by nearly 50 per cent since the 1990s. 

Similarly, steel production emits significant quantities of CO2, particularly when produced from virgin iron ore. In the UK, carbon emissions from iron and steel manufacturing amounted to roughly 10.9 million metric tons in 2021, slightly down from the previous year. Since 1990, emissions from this industry segment have seen an overall downward trend, but not without fluctuation. The decrease is also attributed to the production of recycled steel and aluminium, which require significantly less energy to process than their virgin counterparts.

Another solution is natural, eco-friendly alternatives, such as bamboo or reclaimed wood.  Bamboo is comparable to traditional hardwoods in its performances—it’s even stronger than many (oak and maple included) with a tensile strength of up to 28,000 pounds per square inch (psi). What makes it far more advantageous is that, at the same time, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants, capable of reaching maturity in just three to five years. 

Due to its high density and fast growth rate, bamboo has a higher carbon storage capacity than other tree species. This material sequesters some serious amounts of CO2: 17 to 60 tonnes per year, depending on the species. 

Certifications and Standards

The BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) certification is one of the world’s leading sustainability assessment methods for master planning projects, infrastructure, and buildings. BREEAM standards are a norm in the UK for various criteria, including energy use, pollution, transportation, materials, waste, water, and landfill use

The Green Guide to Specification, published by the BRE, provides guidance on the environmental impact of building materials. Another important certification in this field is the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), which confirms that wood products come from responsibly managed forests. 

The UK also adheres to the PAS 2080 standard for carbon management in infrastructure. PAS 2080 provides a consistent framework for managing whole-life carbon emissions and encourages the use of low-carbon solutions throughout the supply chain.

ISO 14001 certification is an international standard that specifies the requirements for an effective environmental management system (EMS). It helps organisations improve environmental performance through more efficient resource use and waste reduction.

2. Utilise a Hyper-Local Supply Chain

Reducing Transportation Emissions

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the transportation sector accounts for approximately 16.2% of carbon emissions worldwide. Worse, their report shows that in 2022, CO2 emissions from transport kept growing and almost returned to 2019’s peak. 

Source: IEA

The construction sector relies heavily on transportation to move hired machinery from depot to site and vice versa. On average, each product travels a staggering 60 miles to reach the desired construction site. 

However, using a hyper-local supply chain can alleviate your projects’ environmental impact. These digital supply chains can match your booking to the closest available supplier, consolidate transportation, and reduce wasted miles.

3. Implement Circular Economy Principles

What Is Circular Economy

It’s a concept opposite to the traditional linear economy of “take, make, dispose.” In a circular economy, materials are used for as long as possible, while products are designed for longevity, reparability, and recyclability.

Design for Deconstruction, Reuse & Recycling 

Minimising carbon emissions requires wholesome strategies and thinking ahead. The “Design for Deconstruction” supports creating easily disassembled buildings with materials that can be reclaimed for reuse. Behind it is the idea of preserving natural resources as much as possible by reducing the demand for virgin materials.

Modular Construction Techniques

In modular construction, buildings are assembled from prefabricated sections and can be dismantled and reused. In addition to reducing waste and improving efficiency, the modular approach allows for greater control over the construction environment.

Modern modular structures differ from traditional prefabricated ones because of cutting-edge manufacturing techniques. Traditional prefabrication means assembling components in a factory before transporting them to the site. Modular construction, on the other hand, employs eco-friendly materials, advanced robotics, automation, and precision engineering to achieve higher quality control, uniformity, and precision in production to meet new standards.

The Brighton Waste House Example

The Brighton Waste House is a pioneering example of how circular economy principles can be applied in construction. Designed by architect Duncan Baker-Brown and constructed from approximately 90% waste, surplus material, and discarded plastic gathered from the construction and other industries, it’s the first permanent “carbon negative” public building in Europe, with full Planning & Building Regulations Approvals. 

The house was built using waste materials from local construction sites, schools, and households. It includes 20,000 toothbrushes, 4,000 DVD cases, and two tons of denim jeans.

4. Encourage Energy Efficiency

Renewable Energy Adoption

Energy consumption in construction supply chains spans the operations of suppliers and manufacturers, not just the construction sites. Encouraging suppliers to adopt renewable energy sources is one of the critical steps towards a carbon-neutral industry. For example, if a steel manufacturer installs solar panels, it could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50%

Energy-Efficient Manufacturing Processes

Advanced heat recovery systems and optimised machinery cut energy use in manufacturing. To illustrate, by applying innovations, a cement plant could reduce its energy consumption by over 45%, plus a 96% cut in greenhouse gas emissions through closed-loop processes and renewable energy.

On-Site Energy Efficiency

Building Information Modeling (BIM) plays a crucial role here. It lets companies visualise and optimise energy consumption, reducing wastage by up to 20%. Additionally, optimising site layout and utilising energy-efficient equipment can yield a 30% reduction in energy costs during construction.

5. Foster a Culture of Sustainability

Comprehensive Training Programs

Technical strategies have limits; their success also requires raising awareness and equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to implement sustainable practices. 

Workshops, seminars, and e-learning modules help with understanding sustainability issues and solutions, covering a broad range of topics, such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, and sustainable procurement.

Leadership and Green Practices

You must lead by example, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability through actions and decisions. Set sustainability goals and regularly communicate progress, encouraging employees to integrate green practices into their daily work.

Energy Efficiency in Construction Supply Chains: A Path Forward

Addressing energy consumption across the entire construction supply chain, including suppliers’ and manufacturers’ operations, brings substantial environmental benefits. Platforms like YardLink streamline procurement and logistics, allowing you to reduce emissions to hit your sustainability mandates.


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