Sustainability in construction

In 2019 the UK became the first major economy to legislate to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. Since then, transparency has become more prevalent, and the expectations on commercial responsibility have increased.

Businesses now recognise the need to act and become more sustainable by creating long-term value when considering how they operate in ecological, social, and economic environments.

Over recent decades, the construction industry has been a substantial contributor to UK emissions. In 2013, the government published a long-term strategy called Construction 2025 which outlined a framework for the construction industry to improve its sustainability.

Construction 2025 was revised in 2018 to produce the Construction Sector Deal, which outlines how the government and construction sector will work in partnership to drive the industry to cleaner economic growth.

Steps to support sustainability

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for becoming more sustainable, especially in the construction industry. However, we’ve outlined a few things you can do to increase your business’ sustainability and some innovations that could be implemented in the short to medium term.

Energy efficient sites

Many emissions come from the actual building process, which is typically beyond the control of developers. However, you could opt to use on-site offices that hold an energy performance certificate (ECP) rating of A, B, or C, which would reduce the amount of energy you use during the construction process. You could also use a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system, which will aid the transition from traditional site power to more energy efficient or renewable alternatives as they become more readily available.

Responsible waste management

The Construction Sector Deal stated that waste produced by the construction sector accounted for nearly 60% of all UK waste in 2018.

Therefore, implementing an effective waste management policy is a resourceful approach to improving the sustainability of your projects. Recycle and reuse any materials you can, including masonry, metal, plywood, lumber and glass.

Using sustainable building material

Concrete is one of the most widely used construction materials, but the production alone is responsible for around 5% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Alternative materials that are more environmentally friendly than concrete are currently being research and developed. However, there are some alternatives currently in use. These include wood, straw bales, recycled metals and plastic, bamboo, timbercrete, and ferrock. Using sustainable alternatives will be a huge step toward reducing emissions across the sector.

Digital Technology

Investing in construction management software allows you to schedule the complete construction project, calculate and control various costs, manage documents, analyse risks, and much more. You can use digital software to consider the cost of a building throughout its entire life cycle, enabling you to improve its lifetime performance and increase long-term value.

Additionally, opting to use software for blueprints and documents will save time, reduce material waste, and save a lot of trees.


Transportation accounts for a large portion of the UK’s CO2 emissions. Sourcing materials from local suppliers and switching to more efficient vehicles, either hybrid or fully electric, can reduce the impact of journeys to and from project sites.


Renewable energy technology, such as solar power, makes buildings more environmentally friendly. So, if your projects allow, it may be worth contemplating how beneficial it would be to install solar panels.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that are regularly maintained and updated are more efficient and don’t waste excess energy. You can also install low-energy humidifiers and sensors to measure air quality and determine how much ventilation is needed, resulting in lower electricity usage and a reduced carbon footprint.

Lighting accounts for a significant portion of energy consumption in a commercial building, so it’s a great place to start when designing a project. Increasing the amount of natural light that comes into a building will reduce the need for indoor lighting usage and electric consumption. What’s more, installing LED lighting can reduce energy consumption by up to 70% compared to conventional lighting.

Water conservation is often a low priority in sustainability strategies in the UK because low-cost, high-quality water is readily available. However, you should still consider water supply, treatment, and usage as you work towards becoming more sustainable.

Ensuring that plumbing systems are regularly maintained prevents leaks and water wastage. In addition, installing water conservation fittings, such as spray taps, low-flow shower heads, and sensor-controlled taps can reduce water consumption.  

Greywater recycling and rainwater harvesting can also reduce water wastage and consumption; however, both systems will need special considerations regarding treatment methods, storage, and the collection and distribution pipework. Greywater recycling involves capturing, treating, storing, and reusing wastewater, which can reduce your overall water waste. Currently, greywater recycling systems are typically used solely for flushing toilets in the UK as they can only use lightly contaminated water.

You could also consider rainwater harvesting. This involves catching and storing rainwater for reuse, such as supplying water to toilets, washing machines and dishwashers. Filtering is a crucial element of rainwater harvesting to achieve acceptable water quality and protect systems from excessive wear.