The UK hosted the COP 26 gathering in 2021, where many nations made commitments to reduce their carbon footprints, to ensure that global warming is reduced and possibly even one day reversed.
The construction sector contributes up to 11% of global carbon emissions. The Built Environment currently accounts for some 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions during construction and operation, within which materials and building processes alone account for 97% of building and infrastructure emissions. Therefore, it is inevitable that the Construction Sector must consider how building projects can be greener and more sustainable and that future planning requirements will require more sustainable materials. Consequently, all stakeholders in the construction industry will need to understand how they can lower their CO2 footprint by utilising alternative materials and processes.
Employers/Developers and Contractors who grasp this philosophy early will be at the forefront of this emerging re-think of construction practices and materials. Early engagement in this area will appeal to end users/buyers, be they commercial entities or individuals, as ethical considerations are now as equally important as other considerations.
One of the key areas that Architects/Owners/Contractors may focus on is the choice of materials to be used. Traditionally the core materials for construction projects has been steel, concrete and/or timber, or a combination of these three. Steel and Concrete production typically leaves a significant carbon footprint.
So you may ask, what are the alternatives? And if used, what are the implications for Underwriters?
It is widely known that new technologies/materials can deliver products that can outperform existing materials in terms of efficiency, while data analytics and diagnostic tools and controls can verify processes and performance targets. This article will explore a selection of novel building materials which are now starting to be considered by Contractors/Project owners. We will then explore the implications for Underwriters and the questions these materials may pose from a risk perspective. Concrete is the second most used material in construction, with a significant carbon footprint. However, the Cement and Concrete industry has been at the forefront of reducing carbon emissions; an example is outlined below.
Syndecrete is a sustainable natural cement-based composite product with twice the compressive strength of concrete. It can be derived from various products such as glass or old vinyl records, recycled plastics and metal shavings. Its unique aesthetic properties lend themselves to a wide range of applications, given that the product can be finished in different colours. The product is also more resistant to cracking and chipping than concrete and provides stakeholders with a greener option.
This is made of between 30% to 70% of recycled industrial products. It can be used as an alternative to concrete and has up to 30% less cement. Apart from its green parameters, liquid granite also has superior heat resistant properties, thereby potentially reducing the impact of fire damage related scenarios. Potential applications include the substitution of engineered stone and structural concrete. Another application is for flooring in furnaces/factories where high thermal properties are required.
An alternative that Employers and Contractors can consider is bamboo for flooring applications. Bamboos are easy to grow and thrive in the most arid conditions; they can be grown in most regions, allowing locally sourced materials to be used.
In terms of functionality, bamboo floors are versatile. Strand-woven bamboos are exceptionally durable, making them inexpensive alternatives for commercial spaces. Typically hardwood floor panels are used as flooring options, but the reality is that they are not sustainable at the volumes required.
Insulation is an essential part of any building for comfort and minimising energy wastage. Asbestos, which used to be the most widely used insulating material, is now avoided due to well-known health hazards.
These days, sustainable insulating materials are as functional and more environmentally acceptable. They include Glasswool or fibreglass insulation, polyester insulation, cellulose insulation, sheep’s wool insulation, cork and wool insulation.
Another emerging technology is hemp insulation. As an example, a 92% natural hemp insulator can maintain all similar insulative properties of fibreglass or cellulose insulators, but it has the advantage of being compressed.
Composite Roofing Shingle
Corrugated Sheet metals are the traditional material for roofing applications. However, composite roofing shingles may provide a more environmentally friendly option in the future. These shingles are made from recycled paper products, fibreglass, and asphalt (from recycled materials), which are all more environmentally acceptable.
Unlike other roofing materials, composite roof shingles are known to be highly durable, fire-proof, wind-proof, impact and fade-resistant, and absorb less moisture. This type of roof can also have a longer life span than other roof types and potentially requires maintenance works.
There are also numerous new emerging materials on the horizon, such as Bulkfullerence, Aerogel and Lotusan, which will provide stakeholders with alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint. As their use becomes more widespread in general construction, Underwriters will need to understand the associated risks fully; these may differ from those associated with steel, concrete, and timber.
What will Underwriters need to consider for these new materials? Below we set out some suggested issues for consideration:
- The long term viability of these materials for structural/aesthetic applications, given that they are largely untested in the construction industry (Compliance with BS and other Standards)
- The response of these materials to fire and escape of water and other perils
- The response of these materials in extreme conditions, desert regions (Middle East) or when exposed to corrosive elements (marine) or tropical applications
- The additional costs for repair of these materials when they are damaged, and their ability to respond to remedial measures
- Who are Contractors with specialist knowledge of these materials
- The availability of these materials generally for new large scale developments (if only for Project programming)
- The likely lifespan of these materials
- Are these materials green enough to satisfy any future regulations?
- Health and safety implications from using recycled materials – (Recycled plutonium!!)
- Supply chain infrastructure for these materials
Other questions will arise, but the industry will need to continue to consider how it can contribute to the COP 26 aims and be at the forefront of reducing carbon emissions by using new and novel materials.
Reubin Iqbal – GRS – Head of Construction
Global Risk Solutions has offices in the US, UK and the Middle East, with Global Network Partners in more than 20 countries, including Latin America, Spain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. GRS also incorporates an “in house” Chartered Surveying Practice to support Adjusters.
For any further information, please contact:
Reubin Iqbal firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 7442 925503
Adam Humphrey email@example.com / +44 7545 166210.
 To be precise, it had four stated aims that can be found at www.ukcop.26.org.