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February 2007 – A sustainable hance for steel to star

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Hardly a day seems to go by now without some major company or organisation throwing its weight behind a drive towards a target variously described as carbon neutrality, or zero carbon footprints. Major clients of the construction industry such as retailing groups have been among the most prominent recently.

A lot of government initiatives are underway as well. For example, the Stern Report, published in December, signals government’s intention to drive sustainability culture throughout our lives.

Only some of the private sector major users of steel have been taking any sort of a lead in asking their suppliers for sustainability evidence. That is clearly now about to change as any consumer focused company, any who have public sector clients, or any company with shareholders, will have to follow the lead of the more environmentally enlightened. This means hard questions will increasingly be asked of designers and suppliers.

Many initiatives are underway that will push sustainability even further up the agenda during 2007. For example, a review of the UK Sustainable construction strategy was carried out in 2006. The DTI is now working on developing an update of the Strategy which should be completed in 2007.

Later this year the UK Green Building Council will be launched, whose principal role is to stimulate the market demand for sustainable buildings and ensure that service providers and product manufacturers recognise and respond to rapidly changing market requirements.

Recycling pressure group WRAP continues to promote the specification of construction materials and products with recycled content. Steel is the most recycled construction material in the world and the industry is already working on increasing the already high percentage of recycling.

A lot is happening to improve sustainability of our homes. Zero carbon new homes are a target the government wants achieved within a decade. A code for sustainable homes was launched in December to drive a step-change in sustainable home building practice which will rank sustainability performance by a ‘star’ system.

An update of the BRE Green Guide to Specification, which is used to assess the environmental performance of construction materials under BREEAM, EcoHomes and the Code are nearing completion. Major client side initiatives are expected to be announced shortly.

Clearly 2007 is going to be a year that we look back on as one when sustainability ceased to be merely the subject of a debate, and hard questions will be asked demanding answers that stand up to scrutiny.

Fortunately a lot of work is underway by Corus, the BCSA, SCI and others which will mean the steel sector has the sustainability answers to hand. The BCSA’s Sustainability Charter is going from strength to strength with more companies signing up monthly. A main attraction is the Charter’s independent sustainability audit procedures that mean steelwork contractors can prove that they are operating in sustainable ways.

In news this month we have a story about a sustainability sophisticated client – Oxford University – who demanded some answers for its own satisfaction. This is a good example of an appraisal on a real world project which showed that steel performs significantly better on environmental grounds than the alternative framing material considered, concrete.

The study found that the superstructure of a steel building would generate 22% less CO2 emisssions than the concrete alternative. This was an independent study carried out by a consulting engineer on behalf of its client, and it is encouraging that these are the sorts of results coming from unbiased research.

Much remains to be done and NSC aims to keep readers up to date with news of the steel sector’s success towards the sustainability goals that are set. In the meantime, if you have any sustainability success stories to pass on we would be delighted to hear them.

Nick Barrett
Editor 

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