Sustainability has never been more critical than at this very moment.
With climate change tipped to reach a stage of irreversible damage within the next decade and the continued economic impact spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, now’s the time for all Australians to invest in shaping a more sustainable future.
The Australian construction industry generates a massive $360 billion in revenue, and produces around 9% of our total GDP. In other words, the actions that contractors, project managers, architects and designers take have a significant impact on the fight against climate change.
Done well, sustainable initiatives can generate profit for businesses, improve environmental outcomes, and support the local economy. We explore four actions that the construction industry can, and should, take to minimise waste, support local, and build a better tomorrow.
Support local manufacturers
There is a real economic and environmental benefit for project managers and construction companies to source products from within the country. Working with Australian suppliers and manufacturers means lower emissions from shipping, not to mention faster turnaround times, lower shipping costs and delivery timeframes.
Beyond this, when you source your products from local manufacturers, you’re directly helping to create more jobs for Aussies, many of whom are doing it tough in the wake of the pandemic — so the benefits are truly endless.
Limit the waste produced by shipping and transport
Did you know that one large container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 million cars? What’s more, the International Maritime Organisation estimates that carbon dioxide emissions from shipping is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Tackling the issue of emissions from shipping and transportation is a must if we as an industry want to reduce our carbon footprint today and in the future.
So how can project managers and companies reduce the waste produced by the transportation of goods?
The most straightforward solution is to shop locally. This minimises the need to ship products from overseas, which in turn minimises the environmental risks posed by the shipping sector.
If this is not possible, seek to work with eco-friendly providers that offer sustainable shipping solutions, or providers that invest in technological and operational upgrades to improve their transportation utilisation rates.
Eliminate “dirty waste” from construction projects
There is such a thing as dirty waste, particularly when the construction industry is concerned. The simple act of minimising this dirty waste — that is, materials that cannot be recycled from construction projects — can save a company tonnes in landfill every year, as well as improve production costs. Construction materials such as wood and timber, plasterboard, steel, copper pipes and wire, bricks and glass all can, and should be recycled.
This is far more straightforward than it seems, particularly if your organisation is careful and aware. For example, the slip resistant silicon carbide abrasive infill that goes into our stair treads can not be recycled and becomes a waste by-product of the recycling process of aluminium or brass. As the vast majority of our nosings go out cut to our clients required lengths we started cutting most lengths prior to filling the abrasive insert. By doing so, we can minimise offcuts that aren’t made from recyclable materials. Simple actions like this have reduced our waste by around 60% over the past 15 years and 25% in the last 3 years alone.
Actions like the above can only be taken because Lathams manufacture all of their products in their Gladesville, Sydney manufacturing plant. Can you name another stair tread provider who manufactures right here in Australia – we bet you can’t!
Manufacture to order
Rather than purchase mass produced products, a key step that all of us in the construction industry can take is to work with companies that manufacture custom products and materials. Manufacturing to order reduces wastage from the very beginning of the process — allowing suppliers to create products that are made to fit a customer’s unique project and specifications.
This isn’t just better for the environment — it’s better for the customer as well. Not only do you reduce the amount of waste generated for projects, but you can also ensure that the end result is tailored for easy installation and will stand the test of time.
The future is in our hands
At the end of the day, it’s not just about output and profit. It’s up to every one of us in the construction industry to step up and take responsibility for the future of our planet. These four actions are simple to implement, and can make a lasting impact on the environment. What’s more, sustainable construction practices lead to real economic benefits, both for individual businesses and the Australian economy — so there’s no reason not to invest today in a better tomorrow.