What does the upcoming UK environmental bill mean for product manufacturers?

The Environment Bill of the United Kingdom is due to become law this autumn and it presents product manufacturers and others in the construction industry with an opportunity to develop for longevity and with sustainability at the heart of projects. James Scully, Managing Director at Quadrant, discusses how the new law impacts product manufacturers and what the wider construction industry must do to meet its requirements.

The bill aims to improve air and water quality, protect wildlife, increase recycling and reduce plastic waste. It is part of a new legal framework for environmental protection as the UK no longer comes under EU law post-Brexit. Provisions on waste including producer responsibility, resource efficiency, and exporting waste will apply to the whole of the UK.

From a construction standpoint it means building structures that last, that can be sustained for longer and crucially, at a lower cost. This includes materials and technologies that reduce a building’s running costs from an energy and maintenance perspective. These buildings and the products within must also be recyclable or reusable at the point of decommission or upgrade.

The advent of modern methods of construction (MMC) including digital working, modular and off-site construction has led to improved sustainability in public sector construction, but it is not as prevalent in the private and commercial sector. Incorporating more sustainable measures in designs, plans and processes from the outset is perhaps the main consideration for the industry as only 40% of construction waste is currently recycled or reused and most of this is downcycled for second-grade construction like roads, rather than new buildings.

One of the ways constructions firms are building sustainably is by recycling and building with renewable and waste materials. Some of the most sustainable and green building materials that are in use in construction today include pre-cast concrete slabs, reclaimed wood & steel, recycled steel and cork.

Sustainable construction requires all the stakeholders involved taking care to reduce waste and energy consumption where possible and protect the natural environment around the site during and after construction. If done correctly, it ensures the delivery of an environmentally friendly building and environment. Additionally, it can help organisations enhance their reputation by demonstrating a sense of corporate social responsibility (CSR) i.e., how a business conducts themselves to have a positive impact on society. Ethical considerations and green alternatives to materials are both ways the construction industry can demonstrate CSR.

To ensure exacting sustainability standards are adhered to, it is important to work with product manufacturers that can map the entire supply chain from the sourcing of raw materials right through to production and distribution. In the case of flooring, the best manufacturers are always innovating and willingly invest in research and development to deliver sustainable solutions for better-designed buildings. These companies follow clear standards from the sourcing of raw materials right through to production and distribution, with the aim being helping designers and developers, create better-designed buildings that are easy to run and maintain, consider occupant wellbeing, and have a lower environmental impact.

Cork, for example, is an ideal material for sustainable flooring as it is made up of different layers that meet all the qualities prescribed. The top layer has a decorative cork veneer or a wood visual which is then protected by an PV-free, UV cured protective wear layer. It reduces walking sound by up to 53 percent and impact sound by 16dB-18dB. Its thermal insulation qualities help to maintain an optimal temperature all year round and makes it more comfortable to walk on. Cork is also the perfect balance between hard and soft floors and plays an important role in reducing body fatigue and promoting movement. It is hypoallergenic, making it easy to maintain and enables it to meet the strictest international standards for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Cork flooring achieves an air quality credit in the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), and for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) via Greenguard Gold, which is the highest certification possible in the US, indicating suitability for healthcare facilities. French certification A+ indicates the lowest possible levels of VOC’s and TÜV-PROFICERT is a transnational certificate indicating air quality and VOC emissions.

Flooring products must also be assessed for their chemical impact. Utilising products free from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is vital to ensuring new and innovative concepts are brought to life as well as meeting current UK and EU indoor air quality standards. To be truly effective, these products should also maximise natural light. Using the Light Reflectance Value, specifiers can choose flooring materials that maximise natural light, to create an environment with a positive impact on occupant mood, mental health and at the same time improve a building’s energy efficiency.

To meet the requirements of the Environmental Bill, the whole construction industry needs to seriously consider and implement a circular approach to increase the amount of recycling and reusing of resources, while reducing the amount of waste that it leaves. Having a robust, well-designed build process which uses technological and innovative solutions can aid the transition to a more sustainable and cost-effective future for the entire industry and benefit our environment for future generations.