Building can be such a Waste

  • Building Design Expert
  • 5 years ago

Many of the larger contractors today are switched on to control of supplies to their sites. There is intensive scrutiny on quantities, delivery methods, effective storage and overall quality control. Why? Because with the acute pressures of the current economy, and the need to remain competitive; contractors cannot afford to let slide any opportunity to save on costs. Largely it will be just a little saved here and there, but under multiple headings, over multiple contracts; small actions saving pennies can add up to cost savings in the £millions. We all know that money talks, and this is shouting.

So maybe with a bit of encouragement and monitoring the big boys are not so much the problem. Let’s reverse the view: The larger contractors work on the basis of ‘economy of scale’; they cannot make any huge savings in any one area, but as we have said, can make appreciable savings accumulating small amounts over many facets of a large contract. The smaller contractor works on ‘scale of economy’. Let’s be clear we are talking about the small jobbing builder who takes his van from house to house replacing windows, building extensions, repairing roofs and the like. If the large contractor is only realising small savings over £multi-million projects, the small contractor will be hard pushed to see a financial reward worth having.

Put aside any views of green nirvana for a moment, and put on the small contractors boots. Ok, you wouldn’t keep them on for long, but it probably boils down to the question: Is it easier to sort all the potential waste into different skips with different collections, and even different collectors, or, just put the ever increasing cost of taking waste to landfill onto the client’s bill? – I think you will find it is the latter.

When we remember that the majority of small contractors probably do not have the time, or inclination to nurse an environmental conscious. They are too busy trying to survive. Oh sure, there will be the briefest of wake up calls in an interaction on site with somebody like me reminding them that we must take far more care on quality of the build to increase air-tightness, minimise cold bridging and maximise insulation. However, all the surplus insulation, concrete blocks and mis-measured pvcU windows and doors will still migrate to the single skip, which will be taken away when full, the same as it has been for decades. The reality is that there is no room on site for multiple skips, and not enough hours in the ‘jobbing builders’ day for an administration process that will not yield a worthwhile financial return.

We cannot even quantify this activity. The ONS (Office for National Statistics) only monitors 5,500 contractors across the country. Bearing in mind that there are 20,000 registered builders from an estimated 175,000 building companies. Organisations such as the FMB (Federation of Master Builders) can only provide a snapshot of 13,000 members across the UK. Of course each statistic has an overlap with the next, but a realisation of true values is hard to come by.

There is good news though. The situation I have described above will change to something akin to the green, and environmentally aware approach demanded by today’s society. The bad news is that it will only experienced by tomorrow’s society. Like any change it will be by process of evolution. In order for the small builder to survive he will be required to demonstrate an empathy with green and environmental issues. It may sound far fetched today, but tomorrow’s contractors are growing into a world that is demanding a more sustainable approach to everything we do, and because of the huge impact, construction is very high on that list.

Think back to the time when smokers dominated our public buildings, drink-driving, whilst never acceptable, was quite normal and we were happy to specify Brazilian hard woods. We don’t do these things any more, and it is as a direct result of ‘social pressures’. All of these activities became unacceptable. This will ultimately extend to construction waste.

People’s finances will need to become less of the first consideration on their list when initiating building work. Once we climb out of our economic hole, and we all feel good about spending our money again; there will be an intense desire from the middle classes annexed to the green lobby, to employ a contractor who will demonstrate that their building work is not going to adversely affect the environment. A new breed of younger, better educated, entrepreneurial building contractor will take up these reigns, just as the current generation are shaking their heads in disbelief at the prospect as they amble into retirement “It’ll never catch on” – Someone said that about electricity I am sure. But it will catch on, because it has to if we are going to survive.

There are one or two larger construction companies that look to operate a ‘zero waste’ regime across their building sites. They have taken the time out to analyse what waste is generated, why it is generated and how it is most effectively dealt with; taking the word ‘pollution’ completely off the menu. This is clearly good for the environment, and also great PR for their business. Whilst they are in the minority, and offer a passion in this direction, you don’t have to be Max Clifford to work out that this can only work positively.

Take a look at the video below. It briefly describes the evolution of a more sustainable business ethos pioneered by Wates Construction. Building can be such a Waste, but they are desperate to prove otherwise, and may well be succeeding.

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