This was the message at a conference, Delivering Sustainable Construction on Site put on by think tank CIRIA in London this week.

Dr David Strong, board member of the Green Building Council, highlighted the scale of the problem.

“The impacts of the built environment are huge. Nearly 50% of CO2 emissions are derived from the energy we use to heat, light and cool our buildings with a further 10% derived from the production of construction materials,” he said.

“If we’re going to get to grips with sustainable development and move quickly towards a low carbon economy, construction holds the key,”

“The other key issue facing us is the one of waste – 35% of UK waste is derived from the construction sector and, staggeringly, nearly 20% of construction waste is new material. That’s a phenomenally important issue to get to grips with.

“You could build 80 pyramids the size of the great pyramid at Giza every year from construction waste [produced by the UK].”

He pointed out that, economically, construction was a huge sector, accounting for between 10-12% of GDP, or £90bn a year.

“You’d only need to spend 10% of that to reach very quickly this goal of moving towards a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions [proposed in Government’s Climate Change Bill],” he said.

“We’re not talking about outrageous amounts of money in terms of how we deliver this.”

He argued that progress was being hindered by confusion from Government and the sheer quantity of stakeholders with an interest in sustainable construction.

The multitude of initiatives, targets, policies, tools and conflicting definitions coming out of Whitehall is muddying the waters, he said, when clear leadership is needed.

And while the US might not be seen as a paragon of environmental progress, the American Green Building Council had been inspirational, said Dr Strong, with its LEED standard now well-established as the leading kitemark for green building.

The UK GBC had learned from its colleagues across the Atlantic, but had been faced with a different set of problems – while the US GBC had effectively been filling a vacuum, research from Cranfield University had identified over 500 organisations involved in this area in one way or another in Britain and the council was conscious of the danger of becoming just another voice in the crowd.

Despite the obstacles, Dr Strong said he was confident that rapid progress would be made in sustainable building saying that 2006 had been a pivotal year for the sector and things were looking increasingly positive.

“Green issues are rapidly becoming mainstream,” he said.

“Financial institutions are starting to wake up to the fact that this is serious and isn’t going away and is going to affect the asset value of buildings.”

“We’re going to see a huge raft of new instruments and policy measures coming in.”

The GBC wants to be in the vanguard of policy development, he said, and rather than simply commenting on Government proposals would be putting forward its own ideas for solutions at the highest level, saying: “We want to create a clear roadmap of how we can chart a course through the very difficult challenge that lies ahead.”

Sam Bond

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