As you can see by online resources such as the Guardian’s Sustainable Business section, a lot of focus goes into tackling the ecological and ethical issues facing industries today. This scrutiny and analysis is done by third parties and within internal teams alike – the end goal being to reduce the impact on the world and its resources, creating a better environment for future generations.
That is why Tata Steel – one of the world’s top ten steel producers – is making sustainability an important consideration when it comes to their business. In fact, they have set out to explain the key principles of sustainability for construction, helping both customers and other companies to understand what can be done and how.
It is worth noting that Tata Steel have a lot of experience to draw from, having a combined presence in nearly 50 countries. The group is made up of European operations, Tata Steel Thailand and NatSteel Asia, and overall has around 80,000 employees across five continents, and a crude steel production capacity of over 28 million tonnes.
Sustainable development: what is it?
The first thing that Tata Steel wanted to address was the phrase ‘sustainable development’, something this they believe has become a buzz phrase in recent times. The term is sometimes used without truly understanding the concept, so they have helped to explain it by extracting some key quotes from historic reports.
In ‘Our Common Future – The Brundtland Report – World Commission of Environment and Development – 1987’, the phrase was described as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
A later report, ‘A better quality of life: a strategy for sustainable development in the UK Department of the Environment, Transport of the Regions – 1999’ said it was about “a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come.”
What drives sustainable development?
Next it is key to look at why sustainable development is even needed. What evidence is there to show that what has been done in the past isn’t already efficient enough? Tata Steel have laid out a number of global drivers for sustainable development; these really help to clarify the issues surrounding related industries:
- Global population: doubling every 40 years
- Material consumption: doubling every 20 years
- Global warming: the 1990s were the warmest decade in the 20th century
- Inefficiencies: it takes 20 kg of raw materials to produce 1 kg of bought goods
- Dwindling resources: in 30 – 50 years, the demand of gas and oil will outstrip supply
- Sheer volume: construction is responsible for 40 percent of global energy use and raw materials
- Transport: 10 percent of national energy consumption is in the production and transport of construction materials.
Making sustainability considerations in practice
Once a business understands the concept of sustainability and the driving forces behind it, it then becomes time to put some well thought-out plans into practice. Tata Steel have outlined some key themes that can be used as a building block for further considerations, including those that are more specific to the exact industry sector. Here is what they suggest that businesses examine in closer detail:
- Choice of construction material
- Designing for low-energy and minimisation of environmental impact
- Social disruption
- Flexibility for future design adaptation
- Go above and beyond building regulations (i.e. some current building regulations require a maximum air leakage rate of 10 m3/m2/hr, whereas pre-finished steel clad buildings are regularly achieving a rate of 3-42-3 m3/m2/hr)
With the issues and solutions raised by Tata Steel, it becomes possible for smaller businesses within the region to consider their own practices. Whilst economic factors can be responsible for a slow filtering of ‘best practice’ to make its way from the larger corporations to the smaller ones, most businesses will recognise that the future environment of the planet is reason enough to make a change, no matter how small.