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When less really is more

Sustainability

Sustainability right along the supply chain is a key objective for the precast concrete industry. British Precast Concrete Federation chief executive Martin Clarke reports.

The £1.8bn annual turnover precast concrete industry has always been a supporter and promoter of sustainable construction even before the phrase achieved its present status. Now our time has come. British Precast member companies are making a real contribution to UK sustainability by improving production and construction processes - we really can do 'more for less' - more durable products, more quality, more recyclability - less use of virgin materials per unit, less waste and less energy consumed.

We are seeing a step change in culture, attitude and practice that is supporting our customers and their clients as they themselves embrace sustainable development. At the same time new products are emerging for new environmental markets - and new streamlined systems and solutions are being offered including some that can be dismantled and re-used.

Our programme is founded on practical action. All our members are signed up to an environmental charter (see box) - simple words that hide a host of practical actions.

Our members constantly ask each other 'Are you doing your bit?' This element of competition to be the best is good for the precast industry and good for the client. It is illustrated by our busy and well supported environment committee that exchanges best practice, discusses common problems and is developing key performance indicator tools for environmental performance mirroring those of the Construction Products Association.

Last year we inaugurated a very successful awards scheme on the principle of waste minimisation - so successful was it that the same theme will feature in the 2003 scheme just launched - just one further reason for precast companies to join the federation. We run two other annual awards schemes - one for the best overall precast construction project and one on a health and safety theme. Both of these play their part in encouraging a more sustainable sector.

We anticipate continuing work in developing rigorous life-cycle models for individual products at both generic and company level. The Concrete Pipeline Systems Association has led the way with its study comparing the environmental impact of plastic and concrete drainage systems - a report acclaimed by the DTI.

One of our members has used the BRE ecopoints system to develop life cycle inventory (LCI) profiles for its entire product range. At generic level the Precast Flooring Federation is about to start on its own LCI profiling exercise. It has been encouraged by the judgment of the prize winning BedZed project managers that prestressed concrete floors, by optimising materials usage, are the best environ- mental flooring option, saving in embodied energy, minerals extraction and waste disposal: 'The use of prestressed concrete in any application will always result in significant environmental savings.'

'Accelerating change' has once again identified that site construction operations are generally inefficient - a mantra that bears continued repetition.

BPCF masonry producers are intent on defending their ground by making their part of on-site construction more efficient. For many other members off-site fabrication of components is seen as the way to radically improve site efficiency and the precast industry has promoted this concept for many years.

The BPCF view is that both concrete masonry and factoryengineered precast can be made more efficient - the resultant enhanced choice of concrete solutions is to the benefit of both the client and our overall market share against non-precast materials. Erection of structural components and cladding direct from just-in-time deliveries is increasingly achieved and even paving is now frequently mechanically laid. Design for deconstruction is also beginning to be considered - a concept eminently suited to precast systems and masonry panels.

In due course we will be publishing our own sector sustainability strategy that meshes together all of our improvement programmes - watch this space.

INFOPLUS

BIBM Environmental manifesto: www. bibm. org/manifesto Ecoconcrete: www. rcb. org. uk/ rcbftp/pdf/ecoconcrete. pdf

Concrete sleepers

Recent work undertaken by the Concrete Sleeper Manufacturers Association - a member of the BPC - has included two significant projects in the area of sustainability.

The first was a survey undertaken by Birmingham University of old sleepers uplifted from the track on the WCML modernisation contract.

This survey demonstrated that the attrition of the sleepers was so small that almost 90% were still within the manufacturing tolerance range.

The other was the development of a cost model by Booz-Allen & Hamilton. This demonstrates that concrete sleepers provide the most economical form for all the main track categories.

Further details from cjb@britishprecast. org

Life cycle winner

The Concrete Pipeline Systems Association has published an exhaustive study comparing the lifecycle environmental impact of concrete drainage and sewerage systems with a range of different plastic materials.

The research was carried out by Dutch environmental consultants Intron and was peer reviewed by the BRE. The results clearly show an overall advantage for concrete in 11 out of 13 criteria.

The full report and a summary are available from the CPSA and can be downloaded from its website www. concretepipes.co.uk/ environment

Since the report the industry has been developing a high strength pipe that can eliminate the need for pipe bedding - usually increasingly expensive virgin aggregate. Trials are expected shortly. This will further enhance the comparison with plastic pipes which depend on a full surround of aggregate bedding for their strength.

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