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Responsible sourcing embodied in steel

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Better news has been coming recently from industry forecasters about the prospects for workloads increasing in the vital commercial and infrastructure sectors, following the lead given by housebuilding. This will hopefully propel the rest of the construction industry clear of the dark days of recession.

There were predictions when workloads started falling over five years ago that an early casualty of recession would be the focus on sustainability, as cost became the dominating factor.  Those predictions have been clearly unfounded as far as the steel sector is concerned. Steel has the strongest sustainability case of any construction material and work has proceeded throughout harder times on research to produce guidance that allows designers to fully take advantage of steel’s superior sustainability potential.

All of NSC’s readers will be familiar with the distinction between operational carbon emissions of buildings and the embodied carbon that the materials used in their construction contain.  Most attention focuses on operational carbon as this is the largest single category of carbon emissions and reducing them has been a main part of the government’s drive to reduce emissions.

Calculating the embodied carbon content of a building, or other structure may have been shrouded in confusion for some. For designers in steel however the mystery is over with publication of the latest steel construction design guidance from the BCSA and Tata Steel which is now available for free download (See News). The guide – Steel Construction: Embodied Carbon – gives designers an overview of what to consider when looking at embodied carbon, particularly how to calculate it.

There are pitfalls aplenty for those trying to calculate embodied carbon content and the guide aims to steer designers safely past these. Practical guidance using case studies show how the calculations have been properly carried out on a range of real buildings.

What clearly emerged from the research that underpins the guide is that steel has an embodied carbon advantage over other framing materials when calculations use the latest independently produced data.

Also in this issue we have an article on Tata Steel’s great success in becoming one of the biggest and most complex companies to achieve a BES 6001 responsible sourcing accreditation, providing independent third party verification that a wide range of activities with sustainability related implications are being carried out to the highest sustainability and ethical standards. This was a huge cross company effort that involved taking a hard look at existing activities to make sure that responsible sourcing claims could stand up in the face of probing external inquiry.

Tata Steel already had in place a wide range of responsible sourcing ways of operating, including having regard to human rights issues in the third world where much of the raw materials used in steel production originate. The company came through with flying colours, as you can read in our feature article in this issue.

Nick Barrett

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