Going Green – A Spotlight on Green and Sustainability in Construction

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April 20th, 2023

Sustainability, Green, What Is It All About?

Construction has a duty of care to the environment. We use copious amounts of natural resources with bespoke projects seeking niche products to satisfy clients’ requirements with minimal thought given to their impact. Equally, society consumes vast swathes of land to meet the needs of the ‘housing crisis’, but at what cost to the environment? Our industry is responsible for addressing this issue, but this begs the question of how. As soon as someone mentions sustainability or green technology in relation to construction, everyone has an opinion – especially as climate change has become more topical and the terms green and sustainable have become interchangeable. So, to understand this key differential, PECB (2021) described going green as using environmentally friendly products and services. Sustainability means using products or services in a way that does not damage future generations’ resources. Hence, while a final product may be green, its manufacturing or production process may not be sustainable at all. For example, producing products that require a lot of energy cannot be considered sustainable. If the same products are made from renewable resources, they can be regarded as green (PECB, 2021). Now then, applying this to construction, there is a need to differentiate between sustainable and green developments.  

The main difference between sustainable development and green development is that sustainable development focuses on society, environment, culture and economy, while green development strictly focuses on the environment. For example, sustainable buildings consider all three sustainability pillars (people, planet and profit) during construction, while green buildings concentrate solely on the environment (British Assessment Bureau, 2021, Pediaa.Com, 2021). Now that the key differences are highlighted, it still needs to address the many terms associated with both green and sustainable construction. This jargon can seem like a minefield to navigate; the Green Spec website (click on the link below) has created a glossary of terms used in this construction area to help you unpick the range of commonly used terms. The second link from the Designing Buildings website gives an overview of sustainable construction in the UK (United Kingdom). By understanding the language used in this ever-developing field, we stand a chance of sending our learners out conversant in this terminology, enabling them to have a head start and address the challenges met with an open and enquiring mind.  

Useful Links  

Welsh Building Regulations Updates

As we know, the Welsh Government has devolved autonomy over the Building Regulations 2010, following the devolution of powers to the Welsh Government in 2011. Before 2011, the Building Regulations applied across England and Wales. In Wales, we are still subject to the Building Act of 1984 and the Subsequent 2010 Building Regulations. The building regulations and approved documents, both English and Welsh versions are subject to constant revision. This has made the current building regulatory standards synonymous with Welsh building standards.  

This includes, in 2014, the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems that were made compulsory in Wales for all converted and newly built residential properties. This is just one example of where the building regulations approved documents being subject to constant evolution to meet our built environment’s ever-changing needs. Fast forward to November 2022, and we saw the latest incantation of a range of approved documents under the Building Regulations 2010. These new standards will ensure that building work moving forward will deliver a better standard of living in relation to energy efficiency, which is very timely the climate and energy crises. The Welsh Part L closely follows changes in England and describes that there will be a 37% reduction in carbon emissions in new homes under the new standards compared with Welsh Part L 2014 standards. This compares to a 31% reduction in carbon emissions set out in the England update, but other changes largely align with the English standards. There is also a new minimum energy efficiency standard introduced for new builds, set at a minimum energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of B. Alongside this, there is now a requirement for mandatory airtightness testing to be introduced for all new homes (Elmhurst Energy, 2022, Ideal Heating, 2022). Furthermore, there has been an addition to the Approved Documents, where overheating risk in buildings has been addressed in its own approved document (Part O) and is no longer featured in Part L.  

These measures will help Wales reach its aim of getting to net zero. Looking to the future, the Building Regulations Advisory Committee for Wales (BRACW) must ensure that they stay abreast of developments not only from our industry but also as technology evolves to ensure that the approved documents keep currency and keep leading the way towards our collective goal of net zero by 2050. We educators must remain aware of these changes as we are responsible for ensuring our learners are given the most up-to-date information.  

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Retrofitting Our Housing Stock for Net Zero 2050

The 30 million homes in the UK account for more than 21% of the country’s total carbon emissions, with three-quarters of this coming from heating systems. 85% of UK homes are on the gas network, using fossil fuels and producing copious quantities of carbon emissions (Lily. Glover-Wright, 2021). This does not address the issue of the current housing stock. Alas, a solution is being offered in the form of retrofit, but what is it? Retrofit is the process of making changes to existing buildings so that energy consumption and emissions are reduced. It involves a significant improvement in the thermal performance and comfort of your home and improves the fabric of the building. These changes should also provide the benefit of a more comfortable and healthier home with lower fuel bills (Trustmark.org.uk, 2019, Woodfield, 2021). As a nation, we will not succeed in fighting the Climate Emergency if we don’t effectively cut carbon emissions from every one of our homes. Retrofitting our homes to use low-carbon heating systems is a major challenge we must address to reach net zero emissions by 2050 (Lily. Glover-Wright, 2021, Sero, 2022). However, to achieve all of this, work needs to be carried out properly with a bespoke plan and design and installed by competent, skilled tradespeople who work to exacting standards of technical competence (Trustmark.org.uk). 

To ensure the UK is on track to reach net zero by 2050, all homes must achieve an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of ‘C’ or above. Most homes, however, currently fall within band ‘D’. As proposed, moving up a single banding will have a marked improvement for the inhabitants and the vicarious environmental impact of using less heating and energy. So, what are the options? There are many ways to retrofit a house, varying from single-room improvements to whole-house retrofits, but each process is ultimately designed to increase your energy efficiency. This focus on efficiency is why retrofitting differs from renovating a house or making home improvements designed to make a home more aesthetic. Retrofitting measures include installing loft insulation and double glazing or assessing and refurbishing the entire house with several insulation measures to reduce heat loss. Retrofitting may also include installing a heat pump or similar low-carbon technology to reduce reliance on gas boilers (Lily. Glover-Wright, 2021, Woodfield, 2021). Currently, the social housing sector, with government funding, is undertaking projects to retrofit homes across the UK with various low-carbon technologies and upgrading the building fabric to improve thermal resistance. This allows social landlords to retrofit large swathes of housing stock to be more thermally efficient and lower emissions. All these actions help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and are key to working our way to the net zero target for 2050.  

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City & Guilds CPD (Continual Professional Development) Opportunities  

Level 3 Qualifications  

City & Guilds are running several workshops and CPD sessions around the level 3 qualification during February and March – keep an eye on your inbox for further details. 

Industry Specific Opportunities 

Below is a list of shows that may interest you as a construction professional or an opportunity to take your learners to too: