Building a green Games

All eyes are on London to put environmental responsibility into practice with the 2012 Olympics. Matt Nichols presents a plan to support the green agenda

Hosting the 2012 Games will provide an unprecedented programme for urban and environmental regeneration. London’s blueprint for the development contains a number of initiatives to restore the Lower Lea Valley’s ecosystem and revitalise its community.

Plans for riverside housing, shops and restaurants will sit alongside a network of footpaths, cycle ways and canal towpaths. New playing fields will also complement the world-class sporting facilities and ecologists will be able to enjoy three hectares of new wetland habitat. This all paints a pretty picture but are we in danger of running before we can walk?

London cannot just win the 2012 Olympic Games; the UK construction industry has to deliver them. With ambitions to bring about lasting environmental and social improvement, the onus is on the country’s building sector to minimise waste, tackle pollution and deliver the projects – on time and on budget.

Greatest creator of waste

Construction is the greatest creator of waste in the UK. Generating three times more landfill every year than all the UK households put together, the sector has created more than 10M tonnes of waste since the turn of the century. Add to this the construction lorries clogging up the roads, and we’re presented with a major environmental challenge. Recent research estimates that a typical 28,000m2 office development can have 100 trucks delivering materials each day towards the end of the construction programme.

An additional 30 to 40 vans are also expected to deliver last-minute items. The sheer size of the Olympics regeneration scheme means that, on top of major environmental considerations, this will present an enormous logistical challenge.

Hemmed by the M25, the Lea Valley will be transformed into the country’s biggest building site with the streets of London bearing the brunt of the congestion and carbon emissions. Today, 20% of transport movements in the UK relate to construction with lorries potentially travelling around part-loaded or even empty. To overcome these challenges and minimise the effect on the global environment, a radical approach to logistics must be considered for the 2012 Olympics.

The aspiration of the Games is to be carbon neutral but nobody has defined what it means or how it will be measured. The bodies delivering the Olympics need to provide guidance on how this is going to be achieved. In addition to minimising construction-related journeys, low-carbon products should be used with incentives given to contractors and architects to encourage take-up. Wolseley UK is investing in increasing its range of sustainable building materials to support the construction industry in delivering energy-efficient, low-carbon developments. It is also training staff in this field to provide expert advice to specifiers, developers, contractors and tradesmen.

By working together, the construction industry can play a leading role in helping to ensure that the event minimises environmental impacts and delivers a low-carbon Games.

Consolidation centres

Concepts like consolidation centres can cut the number of freight vehicles on the roads, while getting products to the right place and on time. For development in London, the idea is that material suppliers can deliver to a centralised consolidation centre, near the M25, rather than struggling into central London.

Materials are then logged, stored for brief periods of time and repackaged for delivery to the point of use. The main advantages of this approach are that only full delivery trucks travel to site, packed with the materials immediately needed to keep the construction process moving.

Too often, a site only needs a limited amount of one product but the cycle of over-ordering materials results in valuable products getting damaged or even thrown away. In an era where skilled labour is increasingly rare and expensive, it makes depressing reading that 10% of a site worker’s time is spent either waiting for materials to turn up or moving them round site to clear space. Smart storage and delivery techniques can therefore reduce waste, minimise carbon dioxide emissions and leave builders to get on with what they are good at doing – building.

The success of an Olympic consolidation centre is tied to its location and convenience to construction sites. However, the shift towards adopting modern methods of construction and, in particular, off-site fabrication is also a key factor to consider in determining the location of consolidation centres.

Off-site manufacturing techniques are being hailed for their capacity to reduce on-site labour requirements and produce quality results in a short time frame. The ideal scenario is therefore to locate a consolidation centre that is close to the major Olympic projects as well as key off-site fabrication facilities.

Smart logistics are enabling the UK supermarket chains, such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco, to achieve huge productivity gains and reduce the environmental impact of excessive freight movements.

Learn from big retailers

Construction can learn a thing or two from the big retailers. Sainsbury’s employs route planning and are also replacing its 21 distribution centres with eight state-of-the-art consolidation centres. The centres will be capable of handling 100 million cases of goods a year, serving at least 70 supermarkets and up to 150 local stores with its Just-in-Time delivery system. As a result, the supermarket giant will be able to reduce logistics costs by 10%, add around 25% to its net margin and keep its shelves stocked with fresh food every day of the year.

Wolseley UK is currently pursuing a number of initiatives to reduce lorry movements and provide a better service for the Olympics. With seven brands and more than 1,600 branches in the UK, we will be developing a major consolidation

centre to support the regeneration of the Lea Valley. As such, at least seven separate brand deliveries could be merged into one.

Discussions are also under way to partner with a waste management recycling specialist to enable waste materials to be removed from site using our empty delivery vehicle and reverse logistics.

In addition, Wolseley UK is looking to work with both main contractors and sub-contractors to ensure that multiple suppliers use the centre and optimise the environmental benefits.

As a business, we are developing central branch replenishment to provide extensive product range at the branch, with the balance available on a next day delivery via our distribution centre network. This improvement will help to raise contractor confidence in the availability of materials and tackle both environmental and sustainability issues.

Wolseley trucks only leave a distribution centre once they are full. Ensuring that there is never an empty lorry on the roads, we pick up goods from a manufacturer’s warehouse with our own vehicles. In this way, we can act as the hub of the supply chain and eliminate waste at every opportunity.

When it comes to attracting international interest, there is little to compare with hosting the world-class sporting event. As well as being the showcase for the finest athletes, the London Games will give us a chance to achieve a lasting legacy for the environment and surrounding communities.

The last time the Olympics came to London was in 1948 but you would struggle to

find any surviving remnants of the occasion now.

It is not enough to leave something that is physical, such as a state-of-the-art stadium. Sustainable principles sit at the heart of the London bid and should remain at the top of the agenda throughout the planning, construction and maintenance phases.

Britain has a chequered history for letting flagship public buildings, such as the Millennium Dome and Wembley stadium, tumble over budget and over deadline. As a nation, we cannot afford for this to happen to the 2012 Games and the construction industry has an obligation to deliver genuinely sustainable amenities that have an active afterlife, either as sporting venues or community assets.

The message is clear – with the construction industry currently carrying the Olympics baton, best practice must be applied and smart logistic techniques must be adopted to make the low-carbon Games a reality.

Matt Nichols is business development director and head of the Olympic Taskforce at Wolseley UK

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