Using sustainable construction materials must be a priority

Sustainability as a concept is not new. It has been on the agenda for years, however, the fact that it’s still high on the priority list demonstrates that not enough is being done to make the significant changes needed to ‘move the needle’. This isn’t just a problem for our industry; indeed, all sectors must play their part, but construction seems more resistant to change than others.

An incredible amount has happened over the course of the last two years. The pandemic gave consumers more time than normal to reflect and reassess what is most important to them. The key takeaway from this is the increasing number of people wanting to make decisions that make a difference. This means prioritising their wellbeing and paying greater attention to the climate crisis.

The latest customer data from TGI reflects this feeling too. It reports that 5% of adults plan to make home improvements in the next year, which is a clear indicator of the desire for better living spaces. This, coupled with the latest data from Mastercard which reveals that over half of consumers think it’s more important now than pre-pandemic for companies to behave in a more sustainable and eco-friendly way, proves that homeowners want and expect better, in all areas of their lives.

‘THE FOUNDATION OF SUSTAINABILITY IS THE MATERIALS WE USE IN CONSTRUCTION’

This isn’t just a consumer feeling either. In a bid to be more sustainable themselves, commercial businesses are carefully considering where they base their operations too.

When it comes to construction, sustainability should therefore be a top priority. The industry must build with a conscience that aligns with not only consumer opinion, but other businesses priorities too.

But how do we make improvements?

Materials

The foundation of sustainability is the materials we use in construction. What things are made from is the most tangible part of what we do and the easiest point to understand. At Origin, all our products are made from high-grade aluminium. We made this choice not just because of its high-performance capabilities, but because it’s much better for the environment than its uPVC or timber counterparts.

More than 75% of all aluminium ever extruded from the Earth is still in circulation today. This is testament to its durability and recycling characteristics, and the reason why its one of the best construction materials out there. It’s also more energy efficient to recycle than to make new aluminium. In fact, the energy needed to reprocess is as low as five percent of the energy needed for primary aluminium production. So, by recycling our scrap aluminium, we are helping other industries reduce their carbon footprint. Another selling point is that it’s lightweight when compared to steel, so is easier to transport and emits less emissions.

We shouldn’t just be focusing on the end of life of product. After all, what we construct should be standing for many years to come. To effectively minimise our impact on the environment, businesses need to be diverting 100% of waste to landfill, and having 100% of scrap aluminium recycled. This is possible because we do it, but it does take commitment and incur a cost to be better.

It isn’t just aluminium either. For us, the polyamide we use across our products for increased thermal efficiency is also recycled, ground into a pulp, and used to make new road surfaces.

In addition to boosting a business’ ‘green credentials’, using sustainable materials and robust product design helps meet increasingly strict building regulations. With changes to Part L of Building Regulations and the new Future Homes Standard, which aim to radically improve the energy performance of new homes and make them zero carbon ready by 2025, we cannot see design and sustainability as two separate challenges when improving synergy can solve both problems at the same time. Part of this relies on thermal efficiency. With strict new targets for U-values throughout new homes coming into effect, many contractors are contemplating how they will reach these new low thresholds and what products and materials they need to use. If building regulations are changing, then the construction industry must prioritise sustainability or it will be left behind.

For windows and doors, aluminium with polyamide breaks is inherently positive for thermal efficiency because it prevents heat escaping in the winter and keeps it out in the summer. This saves on homeowners’ bills and energy use and helps contractors meet building regulations.

Thinking about the whole picture

However, to be truly sustainable, we cannot just think about products. To make the significant difference required, the industry’s attitudes must shift to include entire supply chains, operations, and processes, not just for now, but for the future.

As a business, we are fully committed to sustainability and have implemented strict processes to ensure the business is as environmentally friendly as possible, with a view to continually improve on our operations. This includes carefully considering our suppliers. This same philosophy can be employed by all contractors. Having rigorous tender processes in place to assess a new supplier’s sustainability and ethical credentials is only a good thing. Especially if your environmental standards could land you bigger and better contracts. Things to look for include evidence of the supplier reducing their energy consumption and emissions, reducing their resource intensity, preventing pollution, and reducing their consumption of resources through waste management strategies that promote waste minimisation, reuse, recovery, and recycling.

But it shouldn’t just be down to your suppliers to show willing, you should too. For example, we have worked hard as a business to achieve ISO14001. This demonstrates our commitment to doing things in the right way.

As an industry, our responsibility begins with where and how we source our components and extends right through to where they end up and our impact in the process of that. So, it is essential that we prioritise having waste management and energy strategies in place to reduce our overriding impact on the environment. This should include efforts to reduce energy and water consumption.

With this philosophy, we can ensure that our overall operations and product design consider recyclability, sustainability, and the environment from start to finish, to help future-proof our industry.

Finally, there is the subject of offsetting. It’s a popular buzzword getting a lot of attention, however, there is an argument that simply offsetting our carbon emissions isn’t solving the problem. Instead, it is masking it. At Origin, we have a long-term offsetting plan which goes beyond paying a set amount to a certification scheme. Instead, we have invested in working with a local conservation organisation. Through the partnership, we will support local areas by planting trees and hedgerows. This of course helps us reach our net zero targets, but also benefits the local farmers and communities.

The construction industry has a long way to go to be considered sustainable. But there is no time like the present to start making changes. As a supplier to the construction industry, we try our hardest to leave as little impact on the environment as possible.

What’s important to remember is that being sustainable isn’t a fashionable move. It’s the right thing to do. Sustainability has been a ‘consideration’ in the construction industry for years. However, it has never been high enough on the agenda to make the real difference necessary. With consumers and businesses becoming more acutely aware of the climate crisis and how important it is to reduce our overall impact on the environment, they are considering their own impact, including where they choose to call home, and the products being used within it.

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