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Reinforcing sustainability


Help is on hand for designers struggling to cope with demands for more sustainable construction.

Martin Southcott, project director of the Reinforced Concrete Council, explains why the RCC is developing a new e-learning module on sustainability.

While many people are now familiar with the term 'sustainable development' as a means of describing a way of living that best aligns three aspects (environmental protection, economic growth and social progress), the application of such principles to the muck-and-bullets construction industry may still seem a rather far-fetched idea.

This is not the case - progress towards this 'triple bottom line' approach is now being made on a construction site near you.

However, making sustainable construction a reality on every project, every time, is a much more challenging objective and requires a responsible approach from day one. Furthermore, global environmental agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol on emissions and reduction of greenhouse gases, are driving change directly via such an everyday document as the Building Regulations Part L (Energy Efficiency).

With sustainable development principles being written into local authority planning instruments, the onus is being placed squarely on the design community to ensure that sustainable construction gets off the drawing board. It is at the design stage that real differences can be made to the long-term sustainability performance of a building - in general, it is the in-use phase of a building, rather than its construction, which generates the greatest 'triple bottom line' impact.

For this reason, the professional design community needs support in decision making for sustainable construction - from planning advice to architectural guidance and practical onsite assistance. Sustainability consultants are providing a vital service in this regard, but more can be done to make sustainability evolve from a buzzword to everyday common sense.

As an aid to architects, engineers and others, the Reinforced Concrete Council (RCC) is putting the final touches to a computer-aided e-learning module. This will provide a basic grounding in environmental principles and illustrates how concrete, in terms of both its manufacture and use, can assist in the fulfillment of sustainable objectives. The module is part of the 'CALcrete' suite of e-learning topics on concrete materials, design and construction, which is used both by students and for CPD purposes (see box).

The new module provides a basic insight into sustainability, including a key overview of the hierarchy of sources of impacts, and examines a range of issues salient to sustainable construction. For example, concrete can incorporate recycled materials and can provide thermal mass in a building to avoid the use of energy-guzzling air conditioning.

It is also specified for its inertness, which facilitates better indoor air quality, while concrete construction's airtightness means ventilation can be better managed, so conserving energy. With a good overview of sustainability issues, and an embedded understanding of how concrete can best be used, designers should be in a better position to use concrete creatively and responsibly.

Sustainable construction is a good idea, of that there can be no question - the industry is a user of raw materials, a major employer and the sole provider of the built environment so vital for society to carry out its daily activities. Common sense alone tells us that the construction industry should therefore aim to;

use resources responsibly

provide a safe and supportive working environment for its employees

create buildings and infrastructure that support a sustainable lifestyle

avoid waste where possible

These aims are exactly what the government's Building a better quality of life (2000) sustainable construction strategy sets out to drive forward. The report identified key issues and proposed targets on quality and durability of construction, re-use of materials, reduction of waste and pollution, and improved energy efficiency. There has been significant progress since the release of this report.

The weekly construction industry press has borne witness to a number of major projects with some of the highest sustainability credentials in Europe. The BedZed development in south London and the newly completed Great Western Hospital in Swindon have both received awards for their contribution to the fast-developing UK sustainable construction agenda.

These buildings use a multitude of 'good practice' sustainability features - from local sourcing of construction labour, to natural ventilation and greywater recycling.

At first sight sustainability can seem like another burden on the overpressed designer.

This is where the new CALcrete module can provide reassurance. Above all, it demonstrates how sustainable construction need not intimidate.

Its basic concepts can be incorporated into the design and construction of a building, but the module also shows how sustainability can underpin the whole business philosophy of the client, contractor and those who use the building.

E-learning helps sustainable design CALcrete is an e-learning suite of 13 computer aided learning (CAL) modules on concrete - from materials to design and construction. It is suitable for both professional development and learning in higher education.

Current modules are wide ranging, including topics such as: materials; RC design; buildability; drawing and detailing; pavements; bridges, precast and prestressed; and site practice. Already in use in most university construction courses, it has also been adopted by some of the country's best consultancies as part of their graduate training and CPD schemes.

Work on new modules is in progress, part-funded by the DTI PII scheme, to extend coverage to key industry themes including sustainability, best practice, health and safety, and updates to the latest EC2. Further work to extend usefulness via An introduction to concrete for architects and nonengineers and a special user profile facility to steer users to content relevant to their knowledge, is also well under way.


For the latest information on progress on CALcrete and free trial downloads, visit the RCC's website on www. rcc-info. org. uk CAL is a form of e-learning, allowing flexible learning - learn where, when and how you want - through concise presentation with colour, graphics, photos and animation. Interactions, exercises, and examples bring the subject to life. Delivered at your computer, it offers the potential for low cost, high value training at home or at the work desk.

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