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Collection action

Peter Guthrie is right ('Sustaining the challenge', 29 January) in stating that the challenge for engineers, and one presumes the construction industry, is to find solutions which contribute to sustainable development, but wrong to suggest that the environmental debate for engineers has been held. Certainly the environmental imperative has been established, and a real difference is now being made in various sectors of construction through innovative and sustainable solutions. However, as long as development is seen to damage the environment, the environmental debate will continue in various forms and at different levels. Indeed, it is this debate, with the involvement of an increasingly concerned and well-informed public, which continues to set new environmental goals and is therefore a key driver of sustainable solutions.

The engineers, scientists and politicians which the article states 'stand centre stage' in the search for sustainable solutions are now recognising the benefits of actively involving local communities and the public - as the users of buildings and infrastructure - in planning these solutions. Because the environment is shared, such collective action is central to achieving the long term solutions to sustainable development.

This need to take account of social equity, alongside environmental and economic considerations, will doubtless also be central to the government's consultation paper on sustainable development which is launched this month. This forthcoming debate on environmental policy will be significant in setting the context for 'sustainable construction' in the UK, and offers an important opportunity for the construction industry to put forward an innovative and long term position - working alongside others - in the future management of our built environment.

Mervyn Bramley (F), head of R&D, Environment Agency, Rio House, Aztec West, Bristol BS32 4UD.

Recycling example

I strongly agree with the position outlined in Peter Guthrie's article on sustainable development. Our construction industry does indeed have a responsibility to work with the environment in mind. Presently the majority of the problem lies with the industry-based, petroleum burning countries of the developed world. However unless tackled now, the expanding populations and accelerating economies of the undeveloped and developing worlds could make the present environmental problems pale into insignificance. Many undeveloped countries already re-use materials in construction, for example oil cans to build kiosks in Africa. But unless action is taken now, these environmentally sensitive habits may well die out as the countries develop.

What is needed is a global policy of education to encourage developing counties to learn from our mistakes. Of course we cannot force our opinions on countries in which the people may be more worried about where the next meal will come from. But if we do not get the message across, the problem will not simply disappear. We need to lead by example, which returns us to the original argument that we must view the future of our own construction industry with sustainable development in mind.

Louise Wright(S), Trinity College, Cambridge CB2 1TQ.

Waste tip

Aspinwall was pleased to be part of Peter Guthrie's team on the CIRIA Construction waste minimisation report (NCE 29 January), and I strongly support his statement that '. . . we should start from the premise that all . . . built infrastructure is material on its way to the tip'. Although we are now able to design energy from waste and landfill disposal systems which are sustainable, the ideal for sustainable development must be at the point of waste production. In all commercial and domestic walks of life we must appreciate that we have paid to acquire everything that we throw away, and consider whether that was our intention. Only when the financial and environmental costs of products are properly identified through life cycle assessment will we be in a position to start to make wise, informed decisions.

Jonathan Davies (F),

director, Waste Management, Aspinwall & Co, jonathan.davis@Aspinwall.co.uk

Tax incentive

Peter Guthrie's observations on sustainable development are timely and challenging.

However the role of the present tax system has been rather forgotten in the current debate.

At present, if someone wishes to repair an existing building, they must pay VAT at 17.5% on everything, yet if they decide instead to demolish and rebuild it, this is tax-free. Instead of acting to encourage sustainable development, the tax system decisively tilts the scales of every development decision against it.

A positive incentive in favour of conservation would be nice but, at the very least, should there not be a 'level playing field' between conservation and new construction? Not only would this encourage developers to save many attractive and interesting buildings but it would also reduce the use of resources and generation of waste.

AN Beal (M), 10 King George Avenue, Chapel Allerton, Leeds LS7 4LH.

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