Sustainability in construction endeavours in the existing times holds fundamental importance. The UK government is paying increased attention to ensuring sustainable practices in modern construction. Since the UK economy primarily benefits from the output from the construction sector, the government is investing in this domain to encourage construction firms to use best practices in modern development methods. Technological advancements and sustainable practices have provided a platform to minimise the environmental threats projected by conventional construction methods. Today, green construction and lean manufacturing make it possible to design and build modern structures that are capable of providing benefits to current and future generations (Hughes et al., 2004)
According to the Department for Communities and Local Government, sustainable practices in modern construction are of prime significance to the UK economy. It has been forecasted that construction firms that are adopting current sustainable development best practices will be able to achieve revenues worth £14 billion by 2022, including input to the employment sector by supporting 65000 construction job opportunities and employing thousands of workers (DCLG, 2015). Since sustainable development considers social, economic, environmental and industrial impact, including management of resources in construction, implementing best practices helps ensure a safer and profitable environment capable of supporting communities from a futuristic perspective. The application of sustainable development techniques provides various benefits for all the project stakeholders, including the client, construction firm, investors, suppliers, communities and the government. Some of these advantages are mentioned below.
The benefits of these best practices can be gauged from the benefits of adopting sustainable and efficient practices for construction work and built environment endeavours. The lean construction approach, for example, brings many benefits to the construction project in terms of timely and quick delivery by reducing cycle time and minimising delays. The approach also enables effective project management, optimised use of materials and efficiency in labour use, thus adding value to the delivery experience. Sustainable development practices such as implementing quality management systems and assessing the sustainability feasibility of the building or structure through evaluation tools help to ensure that the structure is built to improve the standards of life for existing and new communities while generating a positive environmental impact or influence (Vallance et al., 2009)
But the question that arises here is how the implications of sustainable practices are reflected practically in construction practices.
From the literature reviewed, it was observed that implementing best practices in construction initiatives allows for the optimum and most efficient use of natural resources while generating cost savings through effective usage of labour and other materials. A more important advantage that is effective for the future growth of the construction industry is the ability to design and create cleaner and well-built structures that allow optimised space usage and reflect sustainable features.
Moreover, waste production and emission of harmful substances are greatly minimised through sustainable development practices when constructing buildings and structures (Lincoln et al., 2010). Using efficient construction procedures and best practices in the built environment projects also ensures efficiency in energy performance and the use of energy resources. Some of the benefits include:
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Sustainability in modern construction techniques is the need of the hour, with construction and design firms looking for ways to implement best practices in their development initiatives. There are greater opportunities for improvements in the construction industry and great potential in implementing efficient and productive methods to help develop structures that facilitate sustainability. As per recent studies conducted to evaluate the impact and significance of the best practices in the construction industry, researchers found that labour productivity increased to almost 59% due to the implementation of sustainable development practices (UNECE/Eurostat/OECD, 2013).
Such results were achieved by improving the factory workplace and increasing construction site supervision and management efficiency. Through proper schedule planning and activity definition, the construction lead time was reduced from 90 days to almost 72 days as per studies conducted for industrial engineering practice. This reflects a decrease in multiple development cycle time, which was made possible through proper scheduling, thus resulting in reduced operational costs and cost savings for the investors. Practices such as these tend to give rise to well-built and well-designed structures that promote sustainability providing benefits to the community and the environment (UNECE/Eurostat/OECD, 2013; Khan, Adil, 2015; Rebecca, Johansson, 2011).
In order to further review and develop an understanding of how the techniques in modern construction tend to improve sustainable development, various literature sources were revised, and key parameters associated with the construction as well as management techniques were outlined, which have been detailed below.
The sustainable building or structure design is engineered to be flexible enough to allow for the efficient and expansive use of space. A building design that is well laid out also helps in enhancing productivity and profitability during the development and construction process by facilitating proper use of materials, labour or employees and the building space hence allowing for proper management of the construction process minimising schedule delays, providing backtracking facility and ensuring optimal use of the construction site. Generally, it is recommended that the site layout should be well designed to enhance lean site management or construction, adding value to the profitability and feasibility of the structure (Lincoln, 2010)
As discussed previously, sustainable development has become an important consideration in the construction industry, with civil engineers, designers and other stakeholders related to the industry, such as real estate firms, policymakers and sustainable development policy firms, paying particular attention to the implementation of best practices through a significant change in the skill-set and perspectives of those associated with the industry. One major area to improve is the harmful environmental impact generated as a result of construction activities and the waste production affecting the global environmental aura and posing serious concerns for mankind.
In various countries, for instance, only a limited percentage of the waste material produced through the construction industry is recycled or taken care of, which is insufficient to control its harmful effects on the environment. Further, carbon dioxide and other pollutants emissions are also giving rise to issues like global warming. Hence, there is a dire need to implement practices that can mitigate the risks associated with emissions and waste production. Therefore, the twenty-first century's construction industry employs construction practices that help reduce waste and pollutants emissions through lean manufacturing and efficient structural design or layouts (Vallance et al., 2009).
Organisations today, realising the significance of the need to implement efficient development practices, have started to train their staff and employees to generate awareness amongst them regarding work practices to facilitate sustainability. This includes teaching them regarding lean construction and its various aspects, measuring work performance and implementing improvement through lessons learnt and coaching them regarding developing particular skillsets and attitudes that promote sustainability and help achieve global sustainable development objectives (Griffith and Bhutto, 2008).
The need to plan for proper construction project delivery is essential and timely delivery of the built environment endeavour is a practice that facilitates sustainability by reducing costs and generating savings. Construction firms plan activities accordingly in consultation with project stakeholders with responsibilities and task details appropriately designed to ensure no cost and schedule overruns. Project Lead or cycle times are particularly measured and analysed through sophisticated software and practices implemented to reduce unnecessary delays for future construction work or when planning for new development endeavours (Lincoln, 2010).
Project teams on Construction projects these days tend to make use of simulation techniques and specialised software that enables them to analyse project variables such as operational costs, lead time and material used for various scenarios so that they can select the most optimised design and project specification for the building or structure to be constructed. Discrete event simulation techniques are used by construction managers to forecast labour usage, material quantities and schedule scenarios to predict the best outcome for the construction project. This helps to facilitate sustainability through effective project specifications and optimised design layouts (Guy, 2005).
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The tools and equipment used by construction staff and engineers are comprehensive and tend to induce stress and other health implications for the staff; hence, the project teams these days use ergonomic equipment and a safe set of tools that help boost employee performance and productivity during the building construction. The organisations are also implementing safety procedures and mechanisms for the construction activities carried out by the engineers to minimise the risk of accidents that often occur at the development site providing a safer work environment and facilitating safe construction procedures (Hughes et al., 2004).
The implementation of best practices in the construction industry to facilitate sustainability in development efforts involves the implementation of quality management systems to ensure efficiency in manufacturing or development projects. Organisations are now using quality management systems such as Kaizen, Total quality management and ISO 9001, including other construction quality systems, to ensure that the structure meets the particular building design and quality standards. This leads to sustainable development as the implementation of such quality systems tends to minimise risks associated with environmental impact and structure layout.
Moreover, various tools such as CEEQUAL, BREEAM and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) are used to measure and analyse the feasibility of the building with regard to sustainable development (Marita et al., 2008). These tools are being widely utilised by a large proportion of civil engineering practitioners, and their utilisation has further enhanced the sustainability of structures around the globe. It is also important to emphasise at this point of discussion that state of the art engineering management systems and tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) has also played an influential role in ensuring that facilities and engineering support are integrated into the management of construction projects, which can prove to be highly successful in implications of sustainable practices.
Similarly, various other standards have evolved in the last many years, such as the Built for Life or BfL Standard, which is a government-endorsed standard widely being adopted by organisations in the UK that tends to reflect and define design requirements that correspond to well-designed and well-built structures that support the objectives of sustainable development. The real estate developers and architects create layouts and designs that conform to the design parameters of the particular standard. These design parameters such as spacious streets and lanes, visually appealing designs, garbage disposal and recycling facilities, parking area feasibility and connectivity to allow easy access to the visitors and residents of the building and its surrounding structures enhance the asset value of the system and its marketing feasibility allowing for sustainability in parallel. Such a standard is hugely popular for constructing and designing housing schemes and resident societies (Khan, A., 2015).
According to the literature reviewed in this research, such construction quality measures and standards tend to create designs and structures that provide benefits to the community and its surrounding environment providing a safer place for existing and future generations, which is one of the prime objectives of the sustainable development as projected and emphasised by various organisations that are working towards the attainment of sustainable development. The idea of sustainable development is to facilitate the development of green sites and environment-friendly structures and practices in construction that tend to eliminate the harmful effects and impacts of the current resource-intensive construction activities.
These management and assessment tools tend to ensure that green construction for sustainable development is focused primarily on providing that the construction work is professional and the proper installation of the material. Another key factor is the assurance of minimal waste production, including proper disposal and recycling of any waste that could otherwise harm the community and its surrounding environment.
According to Cabinco (2016), WRAP researchers conducted studies to evaluate the impact of best practices for green construction and found out that construction activities carried away from the development site are more effective as it results in 80% less waste as compared to on-site manufacturing. This is a trending practice in modern construction that entails off-site manufacturing hence resulting in less waste production and also less traffic due to lesser deliveries to the development or construction site. The factory workplace employs efficient working procedures that allow optimal use of materials and resources for construction, including effective processes for recycling and disposal of waste. A sustainable practice as approved by using such tools and systems would also ensure minimal landfill waste, as per Cabinco (2016). Therefore the factory environment is more suited to achieve this objective. Procedures for managing and disposing of waste should comply with the standard guidelines for a sustainable environment, and organisations should ensure that their waste disposal plan meets the defined principles.
One of the core concepts of sustainable assessment and implementation systems/tools in construction work is the efficient use of energy resources and optimum energy performance. Cabinco (2016) explains that as compared to the conventional methods of construction, modern development practices/tools tend to ensure (through the implementation of limitations, engineering values, ratings etc.) that parameters such as 'U' tolerance and air tightness with regards to the development of the product in the industry with factory tolerances are precise and optimal. For example, experts' various standards/tools suggest a value of 0.42W/m²K for an insulated wall with brick blocks and a U value of 0.32W/m²K for off-site produced materials. Manufacturers and industrial processes can hence deliver energy-efficient resources that cater to defined optimised values that help build sustainable structures and ensure high energy performance, and to achieve the required rating in accordance with the adopted sustainable standards (BREEM, CEEQUAL etc.)
Another example is the air pressure checks, which can help regulate/optimise energy efficiency and as per the defined/standard values; for example, the figure of 10m3/hr at 50Pa for commercial buildings is considered the lowest acceptable value. Zero carbon buildings have values below 33/hr at 50Pa, and a solar array or panel is included for the most optimised use of energy for sustainable development. Existing buildings can also be improved using the same principles and objectives that ensure green construction. Other energy efficiency systems include the use of a sedum roofing mechanism and other sustainable energy systems (Cabinco, 2016)
Green Construction provides greater control over the use of materials and the optimal balance of resources. Organisations that adopt the modern methods of construction use energy-efficient materials such as sedum roofs such as volumetric MMC, and other fabrics. An example is the use of timber frame, which also provides timber cladding that greatly facilitates sustainability in materials. There is another option of plastic boarding that is also available apart from timber cladding. Organisations today use entirely recyclable solutions for construction activities that provide the most efficient use of materials.
An essential consideration of the sustainability practice is the utility of the building after it has served its purpose. The question here is how much material from the building can be reused or recycled. This includes materials such as glass, timber and steel etc. Then some parts will shift to the landfill, such as panels, plastering and insulating material. A building should be designed and built to provide the most benefit to the community at the end of its life cycle so that material from it can be reused to benefit future communities and generations. The Modern Methods of Construction should be useful enough to satisfy all project stakeholders, including the ability to help achieve global sustainable development objectives. Generally, the best practice for green construction involves the optimised combination of off-site production, energy efficiency procedures, optimum material utility and low U figures. These practices/standards can help facilitate green construction and sustainability in the built environment.
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