Lifting the lid on… …sustainability

Sustainability has become far more than a buzzword in recent years, with sustainable construction extending well beyond energy-saving design and basic regulatory compliance. An effective sustainability strategy, using environmentally-aware manufacturers, is now key for housebuilders to help mitigate the impact of sustainability throughout the building lifecycle. Here, Sophie Weston at Geberit, explores some of the measures to help ensure a
sustainable supply chain in the sector.

A sustainable approach

No longer simply a ‘tick-box’ exercise, sustainability is now top of everyone’s agenda. And in the construction industry, in particular, the need to take action has never been greater – the European Commission, for instance, reported in 2011 that the building sector contributed 11% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. 1 But, it seems, times are finally changing. A 2018 survey reported that almost two-thirds of firms operating in the construction industry were more committed to taking action on sustainability than they were 12 months ago 2 . Some of the big hitters are already leading the way, with the likes of Berkeley Group pledging to become carbon-positive and Landsec even opting for its carbon-reduction targets to be approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative.

Key drivers of sustainable construction
Much of this shift towards sustainability in recent years has, of course, been driven by legislative and regulatory change. The UK has a target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, making it the first major economy to set such an 1                                           2 ambitious target. As such, environmental assessment and certification has now become an integral part of building design.
With 2.3m registered buildings worldwide, BREEAM also sets the standard for sustainable design and construction; more recently, the WELL Building Standard set out to be the first evidence-based standard that measured a building’s health and wellbeing, and was the first to grant certification only after assessing a building in operation. Meanwhile, under the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for Landlords, all privately rented commercial property must have a minimum EPC rating of ‘E’ before it can be let, with the Government last year announcing that it would raise this to ‘B’ by 2030 – a move that it estimates could cost approximately £5bn.

Whole life cycle approach

Yet, legislation is not the only driver in this sustainability shift. Sustainability is increasingly viewed through a prism of a ‘life cycle’ approach, with products celebrated that are created according to a stringent technical cycle; this cycle considers products through a building’s entire journey – from design and occupancy right through to wastage.

At Geberit, we have considered this whole life cycle for many years, having first implemented our Ecodesign approach back in 2007. For us, this has meant striking the balance between economic, environmental and social aspects in every decision-making processes. For example, product development starts with selecting raw materials that are environmentally-friendly, resource efficient, recyclable and durable. We also offer reparable and retrofittable products, as well as a spare parts guarantee for up to 25 years.

Not only does our approach mean creating the smallest possible environmental footprint along the entire chain, but also ensuring that our production plants across the globe have prospects for employees and that we work with suppliers who share our vision.

In recent years, other manufacturers have started to invest heavily in product development and design to ensure that this ‘Lifecycle’ concept is considered from the outset.

Thinking beyond the products
It’s fair to say that sustainability in 2020 goes beyond simply specifying energy saving products. Housebuilders must consider sustainability throughout the entire supply chain, particularly when selecting a manufacturer. After all, there’s little benefit in specifying water-efficient products if these have not been manufactured sustainably.

Leading manufacturers should view product development process through the entire life- cycle. We don’t have to look too far to find industry trailblazers who helping the supply chain meet sustainability goals. Danish carpet supplier, Egetaepper, for example, runs a “green thread” through everything it does, challenging standards and rethinking how
aesthetics, quality and sustainability can be one. It’s a bold approach, but one which really sets them apart.

At Geberit, meanwhile, we strive to ensure that each product is more sustainable than its predecessor. We are proud to have reduced our relative environmental impact by 27.5% since 2015 and our share of electricity from renewable sources totalled 42% at the end of 2019.

With the building and construction sector in Europe consuming around 10m tonnes of plastics each year (20% of Europe’s total plastics consumption), the industry is the second largest user of plastics – only behind the packaging industry itself. Therefore, we do all we can to ensure that our products use as little material as possible, opting for cardboard for the majority of our packaging and dispensing with expanded polystyrene and other plastics
wherever we can.

Assessing the landscape in a post-lockdown world
Perhaps now is the time to reflect and appreciate the impact that Covid-19 has left on sustainability. The UK’s carbon emissions fell by 36% in the first four weeks of the lockdown compared to the most recent official carbon emissions data collected in 2018 and the UK is now one of a growing number of nations looking to reset the green agenda, addressing what now seems to be a growing consensus to tackle the climate emergency head-on. In a speech in July 2020, Lord Goldsmith (Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) told Parliament that “…as countries respond to COVID- 19, the coming months are crucial for climate and the 2030 agenda. Decisions that we take
now are going to have impacts for decades to come.”

As we’ve seen, there is far more to sustainability than we might think. Let’s look beyond the obvious and consider the value of sustainable performance at every stage of the supply chain – and not just because it’s efficient or cost-effective. Time is running out and the action we take (or fail to take) now will affect future generations.