Construction and the environment

What do businesses stand to gain from the use of latest generation electrical cables? How can this reduce their carbon footprint?

Historically, the construction sector has not been known for its green credentials. By nature, building activity impacts on the natural environment, whether this is in terms the development of greenfield sites, consumption of resources or waste generation/pollution. According to the UK Green Building Council, construction and demolition businesses are responsible for approximately 120 million tonnes of waste every year - around one-third of the UK total. Inevitably, there will always be redundant and leftover materials which have no practical use, which pose challenges as businesses aim to reduce their carbon footprint.

That said, the construction industry is making significant strides to improve its green performance - by using resources more efficiently and minimising its impact on the environment. Conscious of international regulatory requirements, and demand from society for improved performance, building firms actively trying to raise standards within the sector. This involves the development and deployment of cleaner technologies, building techniques and practices, with a view to ensuring greater sustainability.


Construction is going green

Construction firms recognise that green practice is good for their public image - and can potentially help attract trade - but they are also conscious of the direct costs of waste generation. According to Wrap, waste management and disposal cost the industry the equivalent of 30 per cent of pre­tax profits, and with landfill tax set to rise to £80 per tonne, there is a clear financial incentive to use resources more efficiently. Even without political and public pressure, it makes sense for businesses to adopt a more proactive approach to waste management - one that considers all aspects of building activity, right through from the planning stage to project delivery and beyond.

The global green and sustainable building industry is forecast to grow at an annual rate of 22.8 per cent between 2013 and 2017, according to ibisWorld. And McGraw­Hill Construction research indicates that around half the architects, engineers, contractors, building owners and building consultants around the world think at least 60 per cent of their work will be green by 2015. When questioned in 2012, just 28 per cent thought this would be the case, and five years ago in 2009 and it was only 13 per cent. This emphasises how quickly the industry is moving towards greener practices - and the growing importance of the green agenda to the sector as a whole in 2014.


Cables impact the environment

Cabling is a major aspect of any new building development, with business premises, new homes and other constructions needing wires to deliver an electricity supply, and form the backbone of the communications infrastructure. For this reason, it should come as little surprise that electrical wires were the top imported construction material in the UK in 2012, at a total value of £1.381 billion. They were also the second-most exported material after paints and varnishes, generating £512 million for the UK economy that year.

Network cables are required for new construction projects - where premises are built from the ground up - and also retrofits, for instance older buildings not designed with the needs of 21st century inhabitants in mind. Where there are light bulbs or any other electrical device - such as televisions, fridge-freezers, washing machines, computers, servers or printers - there needs to be a power source. Also, in the digital world of today, it is vital for businesses and residents to have high-grade connectivity, facilitating the transfer of data at faster and faster speeds. Despite the emergence of Wi-Fi and mobile broadband technologies, physical networks still form the backbone the internet, so it is essential they extend into every room.

The fact that cables are produced, transported, deployed and ultimately disposed of in such volumes means they can potentially have a significant impact on the environment. This is before you even consider the effects of electricity consumption - which cables facilitate - on end-users' carbon footprints. As such, construction firms are targeting increased efficiency in the design, delivery and deployment of cables, eager to improve their own environmental standing. They want to use longer-lasting solutions, those which need replacing less frequently - something that not only reduces costs but also the number of redundant electrical wires which need disposing of following use.


The importance of cable innovation

Research and development within the cabling sector is playing its part here, with new and innovative solutions arriving on the market all the time. Manufacturers are developing tougher, more resilient durable cables which have a longer life expectancy, and are capable of operating at extreme temperatures. The improved performance of latest-generation solutions means end-users are less likely to make regular replacements, helping to reduce waste.

The fact that the latest cables are smaller and lighter also helps. Due to their size, they fit seamlessly into the space vacated by the old cables - and this is a major positive. Were this not the case, it may be necessary to carry out significant renovation work within buildings, such as removing plastering or even taking down walls. Aside from the time and money required to do this work, it would result in the generation of additional waste restoring the room to its previous condition.

The lightweight nature of cables means they are easier to support, but also simpler to transport and deliver - which can help minimise costs throughout the supply chain. Remember, these wires are one of the most frequently imported and exported construction materials. So when considered in bulk, across the entire sector, the efficiency savings soon stack up.

Another way cable manufacturers are helping the environment is through their choice of materials. Since the latest generation of solutions contain no heavy metals, halogens or phthalates, they pose less of a threat during and beyond their useful life. The fact that cables can now be recycled is a major advance- it means redundant wires are no longer destined for landfill.


Making construction cleaner

It will never be possible to completely alleviate the impacts of construction activity on the environment, but operators have plenty of scope to minimise the effects of building activity. Providing they are willing to embrace industry best practice, and challenge inefficiency at every level, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint. The use of innovative new cabling technology is just one way they can improve performance and reduce environmental impact - something which can benefit their public image, cost base and ultimately the bottom line.