Industry Insight – Sustainability and adaptability in new steel construction

‘Planned adaptability’ and ‘flexible steel’? These aren’t paradoxes; they’re the key to sustainability in any new steel construction.

Adaptability is proving to be a vital trait to navigate 2020. In the face of global uncertainty, the ability to be flexible to changing circumstances or competing demands is key.

Adaptability isn’t just confined to making snap decisions in fast-paced or foreign situations though, it also applies to long-term planning; ensuring flexibility is woven into work. Even when the future looks uncertain.

It is a trait we are constantly refining in order to offer sustainable construction solutions.

Because as well as the immediate problems we are facing, there are those ongoing issues we’ve yet to truly tackle – not least, in beginning to tackle the climate emergency.

For as long as constructing and operating buildings continues to be responsible for up to half of the UK’s carbon emissions, building sustainably will be a critical issue for the construction industry.

Happily, for any new steel construction, steel is sustainable on every level.

Primarily, it is 100% recyclable, able to go through repeated recycling without losing its integrity or properties, allowing it to be removed and recycled at the end of a building’s life.

Additionally, for the construction and life cycle of a building, it is highly adaptable – able to be reused, or repurposed; going one step higher up the recycling hierarchy of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’. This “reworking” allows us to adapt steel structures both during and after construction, to meet the needs of the client or end-user.

We have worked on many projects requiring significant layout alternations during the project, where steel’s ability to be reworked has benefitted the final building. For example, on the Kings Cross S1 project, numerous staircase openings were requested by the tenants during the construction of the framing, as well as a fourth-floor atrium.

So steel is a viable solution for senior engineers or architects, as well as their construction clients, to work sustainability into their planning.

Planning in this way happens alongside ensuring the design of a new steel construction allows for temporary stability, during erection, and considering safe dismantling at a structure’s end-of-life, of course.

Steel remains unmatched by any other construction material for its durability; in particular compared to its counterpart, or competitor, concrete. This is instead ‘downcycled’, often into hardcore, through the recovery or recycling process, rather than recycled as a like-for-like product as steel is.

Of course, for true sustainability, planning also needs to consider not only the environmental implications, but also the economic and social too. The knock-on effects of environmental create economic benefits primarily, reducing costs in the long-term. But additional social responsibility can be also enjoyed from the versatility afforded by using steel, creating buildings which grant good noise, light and air quality to bring wellbeing benefits to inhabitants.

Now we’re all even more acutely aware that our only constant is change, planning for change – thinking for the future, as well as current, use of our buildings – is vital. The use of steel allows us to reduce the long-term carbon footprint of a building; offering an ongoing environmental benefit.

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