In the UK, air pollution is responsible for a staggering 40,000 deaths yearly. As pressure mounts for the country to clean up it’s act, focus has shifted to attitudes within the construction industry – with a recent survey providing a motivation for change.
The UK has a longstanding problem with air pollution, with roots stretching all the way back to the industrial revolution. In the two or so centuries since, we’ve witnessed the problem inflate as more vehicles take to the road and our reliance on fossil fuels deepens.
In recent years, we’ve seen the capital’s Congestion Charge – and newer T-Charge – go some way towards curbing London’s pollution problems and across the country alternative energy solutions are being tested in order to find cleaner options to power the country. Now, attention is turning away from the road and instead towards the construction industry, where change is in high demand.
Why the Construction Industry?
Research by the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory has found that construction sites are responsible for a significant portion of the UK’s emissions. Approximate figures show that 7.5% of nitrogen oxide emissions, 8% of large particle emissions, and 14.5% of dangerous fine particles originate on construction sites, with about 1% of emissions including dust from digging and demolition.
The numbers are clearly not to be scoffed at, but where are these emissions coming from? The most common cause are the diggers, heavy machinery and vehicles transporting materials to and from site that are required as standard for a large construction project. Aside from vehicles, there are also stationary machines releasing fumes, whilst diesel generators have become a universally recognised source of air pollution.
Attitudes Are Changing
The revelation of the construction industry’s impact on air pollution has not been without its strong reactions from concerned parties – both within and outside the industry. To find out more about attitudes towards air pollution in the construction industry, the Considerate Constructer’s Scheme recently ran a survey of over 600 firms.
A considerable 84% of respondents thought of air pollution as a significant problem within construction, with 91% agreeing it was a nationwide issue. But whereas 88% said the topic was being communicated on site, only 62% admitted to having measures in place to minimise air pollution. What’s more, only 39% had an average understanding of the regulations in place, and only 56% said they had a good or detailed understanding of air pollution.
In response to the survey, the Considerate Constructers Scheme has partnered with the likes of the Civil Engineers Air Quality Task Force to launch the ‘Spotlight on…Air Pollution’ campaign – an opportunity to raise awareness around how the industry as a whole can reduce emissions on and off site. The campaign is also an opportunity to educate firms on best practices around emissions and pollution, with visits to over 18,000 sites and offices a year showing the scheme’s support to the industry.
Clearing the Air
Raising awareness and educating construction firms, however, is only the first step towards inspiring real change. For real results, the industry needs to embrace the technological innovations on offer.
We’ve already seen technology elevate certain areas of the UK construction industry, with VR and BIM providing new opportunities at every stage of a project, backend bespoke software improving workflow issues and encouraging productivity, and modular buildings reducing waste on-site.
For this new challenge, firms need to direct their gaze towards disruptive technology with a green focus. In the space of a few short years, this particular breed of tech innovators have already sprouted up in multiple places, with two companies in particular making significant strides towards solving construction’s air pollution problem: Off Grid Energy and Taylor Construction Plant.
Off Grid Energy provides construction firms with hybrid generators, cutting fuel consumption down by a massive 60%. Considering that generators are responsible for 25% of site emissions, that’s an exciting prospect in the challenge to reduce air pollution. The secret to Off Grid’s solution is its ability to store excess energy in a battery, turning off the generator when fully charged. This allows for smaller generators to be used, without the strain of having them run all day and all night.
Off Grid’s fellow disruptor, Taylor Construction Plant, have identified a different opportunity to reduce energy expenditure and emissions by creating energy efficient lighting rigs. On site, lighting rigs are a common inclusion, and are often left on overnight for security reasons. By providing construction firms with lighting rigs that use a hydrogen fuel cell at a much cheaper rate than traditional rigs, Taylor are making it possible to reduce both emissions and costs – making for an attractive option for bosses.
Smell the Daisies
Despite the rise of these green construction innovators, there’s still a way to go until the industry has reduced its significant contribution to the UK’s air pollution. There’s hope, however: after an initially slow uptake, Taylor’s lighting rigs have grown in popularity, whilst the CCS’ ‘Spotlight on…Air Pollution’ campaign is a real opportunity to spread awareness across the industry.
As with all things, there also needs to be support from the government in order to help construction firms abide by regulations and reduce their emissions to reach new targets; without help from all sides, it could be a slow journey forward.
At least for now, though, we’re moving in the right direction towards a cleaner future.
Kaleida is a bespoke software developer with experience building solutions for the construction industry and beyond. To find out more about our work with the likes of Renaker, feel free to visit our case studies page – or you can get in touch directly.