In 2018, Sam Stacey was appointed challenging director of the UK Research and Innovation’s Transforming Construction Challenge.
The project funds like projects which prove that using modern methods of construction can build schools, homes and office blocks more quickly and safely while also using significantly less energy.
Before joining Innovate UK, Sam was director of innovation, industrialisation and business improvement at construction company Skanska UK.
Environment Journal got in touch with Sam to learn more about the project and to discuss how we can effectively reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry.
Over the past two years what have been the biggest successes of the project?
With regards to the housing sector, we have worked with 120 organisations to bring a manufacturing approach to housing, we have shown speed increase in terms of delivery and lower carbon emissions in terms of embodied carbon and carbon in use.
We are taking a standardised approach to building. That comes down to making the rules around interfaces and performance really clear and then giving the market as much freedom as possible to innovate within the constraints that we set.
Is modular housing the way forward?
Modular housing tends to bring to mind pods, and we don’t want to think just in these terms.
We are focusing more on smaller assemblies such as a wall panel or a roofing unit.
We want to be as flexible as possible, we don’t want solutions that give people a lot of logistical problems in terms of moving massive great modular houses down motorways etc.
Concrete is responsible for around 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, what are some more environmentally friendly building materials?
We are quite agnostic towards building materials.
We want to use less concrete and instead use cement replacements such as GGBS where the carbon emissions in production are much lower.
I do think there will be an increase in the use of timber, but I don’t want everyone to rush towards it, you have to use it in the right way and address the durability of it.
In terms of materials, I think there will be a shift towards lighter buildings and we might also see a shift towards more sophisticated composite materials.
We want to set the guidelines between the interfaces, building components and building function and then depending on all sorts of factors, local or architectural, people can design and deliver buildings from a range of materials.
What can be done to ensure that new housing projects are in line with the Biodiversity Net Gain policy?
Our main focus is on the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but we do take into account all kinds of factors in terms of the environment.
We always consider the Building Research Establishment (BRE) environmental assessment method, this is a way of rating the overall environmental performance of a building project and that involves biodiversity.
We certainly encourage the full spectrum of environmental issues with regards to buildings
What can be done to mitigate air pollution from the construction industry?
What we are doing will involve less vehicle movement, we will have less people on site and fewer deliveries. We are also helping from the point of view of less cutting of materials on-site, so less dust etc.
We will also be developing buildings that are very synergistic with electric vehicles (EVs).
We are moving towards a concept where EVs become part of the energy system for the house. If you have solar panels on the building you can store some of the energy from the solar panels in the car battery and use that battery to drive your car or feed the energy back into the building.
We are addressing air pollution from a number of angles, and if you think of doing this at scale the impact of that is huge.
Environmental campaigners have criticised the governments ‘Build Back Better’ approach for missing a trick by focusing on building roads, what would your response be?
I would respond by saying value-based procurement is one of our three fundamental principles in terms of transforming construction.
This means value for everybody.
It is up to the clients to decide what weighting to put on that, we are not going out there saying ‘build more roads’ we are saying build better.
We want to build more valuably for society and for the environment and there’s absolutely no doubt that the potential to do a lot of building is huge, whether it is improving the existing building stock, adding a certain amount of the transport infrastructure or building more schools and hospitals.
What do you think constitutes success for the construction industry over the next few years?
From my point of view, I want to see a really effective construction industry deployed in the most effective way to benefit society and the environment.
I want to see a massively more sustainable built environment, a significant reduction in whole life cost of buildings, much faster delivery of buildings and I’d like to see an improvement in the balance of trade position for the UK.
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