Small changes in temporary works philosophy can offer big benefits to project sustainability
A decade ago, I co-authored a report titled ‘Sustainable Geosystems in Civil Engineering Applications’; having been commissioned by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Highlighting alternative ‘Geosystems’ usable instead of traditional engineered solutions such as reinforced concrete, steel or quarried aggregates on temporary works. The report contained case studies detailing the alternative Geosystem solutions successfully used, each broken down in detail illustrating the reduction in carbon footprint and financial savings attributable to the adoption of alternative geosystems.
Then, and for many years after, the key message that being ‘Green’ didn’t have to come at a price seemed to fall on deaf ears and it struck me that this WRAP report was ahead of its time, perhaps deserving a profile higher than it achieved.
The terms ‘Sustainable Construction’ and ‘Carbon Footprint’ were often used as aspirational buzz words and with few real political or moral incentives to make sure words actually amounted to tangible environmental benefits on live projects.
Since joining Geobind and having had the opportunity to travel the UK visiting Contractors, Clients and Consultants I am happy to report how pleasantly surprised I am by the complete change in attitude and approach there is to the whole subject of sustainability in the industry. The rise of Environmental Engineers and Sustainability Managers has been key, and I am struck by how the discussions at design meetings now have the environmental topics on par with program, cost, health and safety considerations.
I am not naive enough to believe such change has come without powerful drivers from local or central government and private clients, with Corporate and Social Responsibility charters to fulfil. I also sense profound change of conscience in those involved and their genuine desire to pursue every opportunity to see sustainable methods of construction such as Geobind adopted on every project.
Just as our personal environmental consciences may prick at the idea of depleting peat bogs for the sake of supermarket mushrooms – the same principle applies to the removal to landfill of in situ sub-soils. Recent published estimates indicate 50% of the carbon locked within the UKs near surface soils is within sub-soil so the removal of this carbon repository from our ecosystem raises serious questions about the regularity with which these actions are currently taken, particularly in the name of temporary works.
The default import of quarried aggregates to form temporary haul roads, site compounds and working platforms is classic example of an environmental blind spot we’ve targeted, the practice often compounded by removal of sub-soil deposits to landfill.
Countering this approach, we at Geobind have worked with AECOM, demonstrating the substantial reductions available in the carbon footprint of projects by making small changes to how elements of temporary works are approached. By enhancing the strength of in situ sub-soils instead of importing aggregates, associated carbon reductions up to 30% can be realised, along with similar program and cost savings in the process.
In prior years this had been a technical impossibility, so whether the shift in attitude has been spurred by the advent of new technologies such as the reversible nature of Geobind allowing these revolutionary improvements or by the drive of government bodies and main contractors to change attitudes is somewhat “chicken and the egg”. However, it certainly seems we are finally on the cusp of making significant change to our impact upon the planet through the macro effect of these collaborative efforts.
Our fundamental message remains the same as that of ten years ago; being ‘green’ doesn’t have to cost the earth – quite literally when considering Geobind for temporary works.