How to ensure your projects are sustainable

How to ensure your projects are sustainable

Marshalls explains how builders can ensure their projects are sustainable.

With climate change firmly at the top of the agenda, it’s easy to see why a clear approach to building (and living) more sustainably is becoming a “needs-must” as opposed to “nice-to-have”. Spending time considering a sustainable approach to your building projects lies not only with winning the hearts and minds of your customers, but also with considering the environmental impact of what you’re creating.

Three steps to creating environmentally conscious projects
When considering an eco-friendly approach to your work, focus on these three things;

1. Re-train your brain – Look for opportunities for basic training on climate change or simply tap into information available online. Find out what your suppliers are doing to make their products and business more sustainable and ask the right questions; sometimes a product that is promoted as ‘eco-friendly’ is actually no better than its rivals so look at the detail behind the marketing.
2. Refine and improve – If you’re not already, start recycling all product and material packaging, or look for suppliers who have reduced their reliance on plastics and other materials. Consider the distance products will travel to get to site, could you source more locally or bulk order to reduce the number of deliveries? Small changes can have a big impact, you don’t need to reinvent your entire supplier’s list or product inventory, just ask more questions and choose wisely.
3. Listen to others – use your networks to listen to how others are doing things more sustainably to see what you can replicate, or even avoid pitfalls. And speak to your customers about sustainability too, find out what’s important to them and make changes based on their priorities. With so many different approaches to reducing your impact on the environment, there’s often a tried and tested way of doing something that saves you reinventing the wheel.

Building sustainable outdoor spaces
Look for opportunities to use alternative methods and materials which suit a more sustainable approach to project planning. Often, a more sustainable product brings other benefits too, it might save the customer money, reduce a risk to the property or help them to comply with local legislation.

Recommend permeable paving
Climate change is increasing the risk of flooding in the UK, and it’s becoming more of a concern to homeowners than ever before, particularly those who live near water. Dealing with a flood in the home or garden can be devastating, but there are ways to reduce the risk.

Permeable paving can be used for patios and driveways and is commonly found in commercial car parks and other public schemes. A quality permeable product will allow surface water to pass between the blocks into a specially calculated sub-base. As well as reducing the risk of flooding for your customers, it can sometimes remove the need for them to seek planning permission for a new driveway, depending on local legislation.

As mentioned, the sub-base for a permeable project is different to other materials, so make sure you do your research.

Converting to concrete bricks
Not only do concrete bricks allow for a breadth in choice of colours and finishes, but they have also significantly less embodied carbon than other alternatives products to the exothermic curing process. Because there is no need for kiln firing during concrete brick production – a saving on average, of up to 49 per cent less carbon compared to other options in the market.

Re-use materials
If you’re renovating an existing home, look for ways to repurpose old materials and save excess new ones to turn into garden features. Old concrete paving slabs can become the base of a new garden room or summer house, and leftover timber can be turned into built-in garden seating or raised beds. If it suits your customer’s style, salvage yards can be a great place to find old gates and chimney pots that can be repainted and brought back into use.

Not necessarily a material, but if you’re asked to create a sustainable outdoor space then rainwater harvesting is a must-have. If your client is looking for something a little different, suggest a rain-box planter which can be created using spare timber and covered with veneer walling for a modern finish. The planter can be designed to receive and filter rainwater from a diverted downpipe and include a tap and overflow, perhaps even going into a small pond.

Build in biodiversity
People are increasingly asking for more planting in their gardens, be it in raised beds or extra trees and shrubbery. As well as becoming an ever-changing finish to an outdoor space, it also creates biodiversity.

Although largely seen as an active path for the homeowner to venture down, there is ample opportunity for you to be involved with reinventing a customers’ space to enable a more “bio-diverse” environment. If you’re designing a garden, or enlisting a specialist to help, consider building multiple levels for a range of flower or plant beds to offer breadth in choice for your customer or suggest implementing a water feature to allow an even wider offering to nature and its residents. Relating back to the re-use of materials, old roof tiles and bricks with holes in can be used to build insect homes.

In summary, the best way to make a shift to becoming more sustainable is to take small steps. If you’re already doing great things, do more; and if you’re just starting out then use your contacts to find out how they do things. Be inquisitive with suppliers and talk to them about their products and processes, the ones who are doing good things will be happy to share their thoughts with you. And of course, once you’ve begun your journey then make sure you tell your customers about it! People are more environmentally conscious than ever before and your new methods might just get you the project over a competitor.

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