The importance of environmental sustainability in construction

The need to build more homes and improve transport infrastructure will inevitably put pressure on our environment. Environmental design standards, environmental impact studies and other measures will all help minimise the effects, but are they enough?
Arguably we need a planning, design and construction ecosystem driven by environmental sustainability as a common core value.

Public debate on environmental and construction issues is often simplistic. For example, building on previously industrialised brownfield sites seems more appealing than developing the countryside or agricultural land.

Yet brownfield sites often have significant ecological benefit in densely populated areas. Open mosaic habitats on brownfield sites can help remove air pollution and are often rich in invertebrates, birds and unusual plant species.  Protecting, improving, and providing access to some of these areas could be more beneficial than preserving low quality agricultural land.

A way of life, not just a project

Environmental protection measures in construction contracts will become more stringent. But what if the contractor carrying out the work runs the rest of their business in ways that waste resources and does the bare minimum to protect the environment?

The sort of partnership working we need can’t be clicked on like a switch when a particular project demands it. The construction industry needs to hold sustainability as a core value throughout the supply chain. Ultimately it’s about commitment and integrity.

“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” ― C.S. Lewis

A recent embankment stabilisation project for Network Rail affected habitats for great crested newts, bats and bird species. The protective measures we took in collaboration with expert partners weren’t driven by the contract; we genuinely cared what happened to those creatures.

In addition to relocating the bats and newts our aim was to increase the numbers of invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians in the long term. We hydro-seeded wildflower mixes onto the embankments, created log piles to form hibernacula for amphibians and reptiles, and installed new bat boxes and hibernation roosts.

It isn’t just about protecting what’s already there. It’s also about seeking opportunities to improve biodiversity and the environment wherever possible as more wild spaces become developed.