It may not be a well-known fact in the debate surrounding green and sustainable construction that steel is one of the most environmentally friendly materials for use in the building and fabrication process. National and international legislation (such as the new Paris climate change accord) have increased the pressure for low carbon construction. Luckily, steel has a number of in-built cost and environmental advantages which make it a huge asset in the construction industry’s move towards a more sustainable future.
As our graphic shows, steel’s capacity for reuse and recycling means that it is the most viable means of ensuring that the construction sector meets the UK government’s target of making all homes zero carbon from 2016 onwards.
From its supply chain, to its fabrication, steel’s sustainability means it has the unique benefit of being one of the world’s most historical raw materials, whilst also future-proofing UK construction for decades to come.
The UK is already one of the world’s leading economies when it comes to high quality steel, both in terms of revenue and the quality of the finished product. In 2015, the UK produced 11 million tonnes of steel, making it the fifth largest producer in the EU. All the while, the steel industry has continued to make improvements in efficiency, technology and productivity. The supply chain of the UK steel industry has the advantage of being both efficient and integrated, as well as competitive.
Speed of construction
One of steel’s key benefits for the construction industry is the speed at which it can erected, and is often the reason for its use as a raw material in the construction process. The shorter construction periods afforded by steel means that it is easier to find savings and generate earlier return on investment.
There are two basic methods by which steel is manufactured – basic oxygen steelmaking, where up to 350 tonnes of steel can be produced within 15 minutes, or an electric arc furnace, which is a cold scrap metal process used for high quality steel. As you can see from our graphic, the carbon dioxide emissions from European steel manufacture have been reduced by as much as 60% in the last forty years.
The fabrication of steel is becoming increasingly efficient, both in terms of overall process and environmental output. The increase in computer aided design and detailing means that the standard of steel fabrication has rapidly increased. The high quality of steel fabrication is often replicated on-site, lowering the overall cost in the supply chain.
Health and Safety
Steel is a safe construction material and components are often fabricated in a safe environment off-site, meaning that the likelihood of on-site complications is lessened. The health and safety guidance surrounding steel fabrication is also well-established.
Recycling and reuse
Steel can be reused and recycled repeatedly and, as you can see from our graphic above, one of the key benefits of steel is its ability to be re-fashioned into a architectural components of equal quality. Current recovery rates of steel from demolition sites is close to 99%, and steel structures can easily be disassembled and re-used at another site with relative ease, with a minimum carbon footprint.
Architectural steel is long-term
Long span architectural steel has obvious long-term benefits, as it increases the life-span of a building. The benefits of long-span steel include:
- Reduced foundation costs
- Reduced steel erection times.
- Facilitating more integrated buildings.
Steel as a structural component can easily be modernised, updated and readily adapted, which improves its overall economic and business viability.