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Environmental Sustainability in the Construction Sector Essay


At the turn of 2015-2016, Northern England has experienced repeated flooding and flood threats, many of which the authorities deemed severe (Finnigan 2015). Thousands of York citizens were evacuated from their places of residence: the city was left with no electricity, as were Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Leeds, and other neighboring cities a month before. The floods were the consequence of the Storm Desmond, which, as the scientists conclude, could have been partially caused by manmade climate change (Vidal 2015). As the storm was mainly centered on Cumbria, the local Environment agency conducted a thorough analysis of it and emphasized the importance of reducing the human impact on climate change for the sake of public security (Tran 2015).

The storm and the floods are not known to have resulted in casualties, but the commodity destruction and the subsequent rescue operations have proved to be an economic disaster for the area. Therefore, the issue of manmade climate change is specifically relevant for the construction sector: apart from presenting a threat to public safety, the weather-related consequences of the climate change can (and do) cause harm to the infrastructure. The Cumbrian disaster required approximately £40 million in emergency funding, which is a particularly disturbing figure if one considers that the catastrophe could have been prevented (Finnigan 2015). This paper aims at exploring the evidence of climate change in the UK, the contributing factors, and the potential consequences of it, including the floods. It provides a number of informed suggestions of the actions that the developers can take to reduce the risk of floods and, importantly, lighten the human influence on climate change and thus alleviate its harmful effects.

Climate change in the UK

The direct relation of carbon dioxide emissions and climate change is unarguable. Still less arguable is the fact that the volume of carbon dioxide emissions has greatly increased over time. Historically, the UK has been leading the industrial revolution since the late 18th century, which means it has long been responsible for the greatest volume of CO2 emissions in the world. In the 1850s, the average amount of total CO2 emissions with the exception of forestry and land-use activities was 122 metric tons per year, which was the global record:

Climate change in the UK
(Friedrich & Damassa 2015).

By 2011, other countries have acquired the status of top emitters (e.g., Mongolia, the U.S., Canada, etc.), but the UK emissions volumes were still about four times greater than in the mid-19th century:

Climate change in the UK
(Friedrich & Damassa 2015).

The excess carbon dioxide and other emissions are known to create the greenhouse effect that traps heat on the surface of the planet. The change of climate on the global level is evidenced by increasing annual temperature rates. In the UK, the situation appears especially alarming since, during the last decade, Central England has seen 4 out of 5 hottest years registered within the 3-century period (Review of UK Climate Change Indicators 2004). The 1993-2002 period’s mean annual temperature in Central England was 0.7 °C over the mid-to-late 20th century’s mean, and the yearly indicators continue to display a tendency towards higher temperatures (Review of UK Climate Change Indicators 2004). In 2014, the government issued an updated report stating that the mean yearly temperature in the UK is 1°C higher than a century ago (Climate change explained 2014).

Climate change presents a significant challenge on a global scale and for the UK in particular. Apart from causing potentially threatening shifts in the distribution of some fauna species, it puts the natural renewable resources such as water and timber under jeopardy. In addition to these long-term concerns and in view of the unfortunate events of the year 2015, the rises in temperature are likely to result in more rainfalls and storms affecting the territory of the UK. The skewed rainfall patterns will likely cause droughts in some regions and floods in the other – an instance particularly relevant to the construction sector as the infrastructural damage is quite hard to predict despite the advanced risk assessment practiced deployed by the Environment Agency (Learning Lessons from the 2007 Floods 2008).

There are some other factors that may lead to flooding apart from climate change and related events. The Pitt Review states that one such factor is the capacity of the soil to absorb the fluid, and the corresponding speed of the rivers, which act as water transport systems. Typically, the soil is dry enough to absorb the excess moisture and prevent the floods. Under the storm conditions, however, much of the absorption is lost, which increases the risk. This factor is illustrated by the July 2007 event in the southeast of the country: still saturated from the previous month’s rainfall, the soil was unable to withstand the rain volumes, which resulted in severe floods (Learning Lessons from the 2007 Floods 2008). Another factor is the urban rainfalls which do not generally drain as fast as in the country. In spite of the drainage system advantages, such conditions are not always predictable.

Pitt Review and Lessons Learned

Conducted on the aftermath of the 2007 floods, Pitt Review provides a solid body of evidence on the factors contributing to the floods, to which we have referred above. The review is aimed at the coinage of some recommendations to follow in case the disasters strike again. Among these recommendations, for instance, is the directive to both mitigate and adapt to the extremities of the weather. This recommendation accounts for the fact that the weather conditions are forecasted to worsen in the near future. Another recommendation concerns the necessity to track under-surface water flooding – a factor rarely accounted for when assessing the risk of the floods. The Review puts an emphasis on the importance of forecasting, which is quite understandable, considering the devastation caused by the floods in 2007.

This is why other recommendations concern the improvement of the Met and Environment Agency’s prediction capacity by means of modeling, with a special stress on the measures of the waters’ depths and speed. These organizations are deemed to work more efficiently in collaboration – which is also an advice given by the Review – and join together to tackle the problems of construction in the areas prone to floods, banning the impervious surfaces in the citizens’ yards, disconnecting the sewerage from the surface water drainages, and revising the Building regulations and anti-flood loaning statements. Additionally, the Review explores the issues related to the local authorities’ responsibilities and their compliance with these duties (Learning Lessons from the 2007 Floods 2008).

One of the main lessons learned from the 2007 floods concerns the risk management, which, as the reviewers believe, should be entirely under the authorities’ control. The management includes, primarily, mapping the potential risk zones, shareholder engagement, establishing cooperation between them, coordination of the local Surface Water Management plans and aligning them with the PPS25 policy, technology assessment and enhancement, drainage system management, and ensuring the public sewerage systems comply with the standards (Learning Lessons from the 2007 Floods 2008).

The government showed their commitment to the implementation of these recommendations, enhance the country’s flood defense, and curb the constructions in the vicinities under the flooding risk. The government’s response to the Pitt Review was the Flood and Water Management Act (Flood and Water Management Act 2010). The Act caters for more efficient flood risk management, community group safeguarding, and water supplies protection. It accounts for the necessity to manage flooding risks with the inclusion of groundwater floods, which is an unprecedented improvement.

It also provides a fuller and more comprehensive map of areas under the risk of flooding, which the construction sector can rely on, and outlines the standards for the flood defense systems which are known to have been later implemented in Cumbria (Halliday 2015). Although every region seems to rely on its own standards when constructing the flood defense systems, which can explain the flood gates failure when Storm Desmond struck, the best practices and strategic roles of the defense are outlined in the Act. It also tasks the local authorities with handling the groundwater and surface floods in their vicinity, mirroring the practices put forward by the EA.

On the whole, many of the recommendations put forward by the Review have been accounted for by the Act, especially the mapping and assessment. The issues of the infrastructure, adaptation, and temperature management have been later outlined in the Green Infrastructure programs and the Blue-Green Cities Project directives.

Green Infrastructure and Blue-Green Cities

Green Infrastructure and the Blue-Green Cities can be viewed as cases to follow for the sake of climate change mitigation, adaptation to these changes, and flood risk reduction. Green Infrastructure first appeared in 2010 as a draft of the action plan suggested for Cumbria and several other counties (Green Infrastructure to Combat Climate Change 2010). By 2013, it was formed into a comprehensive position statement mainly accounting for water management, waste management, and carbon storage (Green Infrastructure 2013). Within the water management directive, it sought to implement Pitt Review’s recommendation concerning the impervious surfaces and pipe drainage by replacing them with an organic equivalent surface. The program also took landfills under control, with a view to reducing the landfill-produced CO2 emissions (Green Infrastructure 2013). The criticality of climate change adaptation and local responsibility are also emphasized within the GI statement, as are the benefits to the local businesses and, importantly, the community’s health and well-being.

The Blue-Green Cities is a water management project that aimed at natural water cycle recreation (BlueGreenCities 2016). The idea was to increase the number of green zones in an urban setting so that the rainwater could be absorbed by the soil and growth. The project consolidated a number of UK institutions and collaborated with similarly concerned parties abroad. The results of the project were as numerous as its objectives. Importantly, the researchers managed to determine the main barriers to new flood management strategies implementation (which were mainly the constituents of either scientific or financial uncertainty), assessed the impact of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) on flood-related hazards, and efficacy-tested a new flood resilience model (Delivering and Evaluating Multiple Flood Risk Benefits in Blue-Green Cities 2016). SuDS was found to have multiple beneficial effects on natural flood management, namely, reducing the risk of floods by trapping suspended sediment, improving the ecosystem by reducing the levels of heavy metals in water and assisting the macroinvertebrate fauna breeding, and reducing the air pollution (Delivering and Evaluating Multiple Flood Risk Benefits in Blue-Green Cities 2016).

Proposed Practices

Based on the lessons learned from 2007 and Storm Desmond, as well as other guidelines issued at varying times, several suggestions can be made in terms of climate change impact mitigation and flood risk reduction and management.

Risk assessment

Unless the supposed flooding area is located in flood zone 1 and is less than 1 ha, risk assessment is the primary obligation for the developers before any subsequent actions can be taken. There are consistent guidelines on how to assess the risk of floods at the development site before starting the construction. The developers are supposed to be ready with their construction planning by the time they make the risk assessment, which means that the documents should be submitted for the city council’s consideration simultaneously. The tools and products to conduct a risk assessment are comprehensively outlined in the governmental requirements; they can include flood maps, input and output data software, GIS, etc. (Flood risk assessment for planning applications 2015).

Climate change mitigation

Waste management

Much of the carbon and methane emissions causing the greenhouse effect comes from unmanaged and unauthorized landfills. Based on the rules and guidelines published by the government, the local departments could assess and safeguard the location and management of landfills (2010 to 2015 government policy: greenhouse gas emissions 2016). This could include electronic stewardship to reduce the number of landfills close to cities, promote recycling, provide the consumers with comparative reviews of greener products, and engage the community in locating and eliminating unauthorized landfills.

Afforestation and reforestation

Because forestry activities are involved in the problem, they must become part of the resolution (Schlamadinger n.d.). At that, the country can turn to the example of China: the efforts to reforest the lands degraded by centuries-long deforestation have been proved successful by NASA satellite images (Murillo 2016). The Grain to Green program implemented by Chinese agriculturists was sufficient in reforesting about 61.000 square miles of woods in the central regions (Shockman 2016). The program consists of reconverting some of the agricultural lands and mountain slopes into woods, and it has proved effective on both the local and national scale.

Carbon sequestration

After the CCS competition cancelation in 2015, the industry was left devastated and ashamed since the event occurred shortly before the UN climate change summit (Carrington 2015). The future of storing carbon in soils and vegetation in the UK is, therefore, quite uncertain. On the local level, however, the developers can contribute to the carbon capture and eventual reduction of the emissions into the atmosphere. For instance, one of the cheapest and natural ways of decarbonization is planting diverse crops where homogeneous cultures used to grow. The levels of encaptured carbon are known to be higher in such areas, as well as in soils taken up by forests (Lal n.d.). Forest restoration, therefore, can serve as a natural decarbonization that is comparatively cheaper than capture plant development.

Reducing car travel

GI areas and local green recreation zones require connections such as waling and cycling paths. it is recommended that local authorities and specifically transport developers focus on the connections. The areas between which people circulate on a daily basis are connected with streets that can be lined with trees.

Water supply management

Local authorities and highway developers can use SuDS to replace the potentially emissive surfaces to enhance the quality of water in containment tanks where it is stored. This will ensure the rainfall water is captured and stored safely for later usage.

Flood management

There are several well-known cases of successful flood management in various countries going through the disaster. Based on these, some practices can be singled out for the most optimal construction and infrastructure development.

Preventative building

The guidelines and standards for flood defense systems are outlined in the Act of 2010 and apply to the UK. However, as said, the regions and even individual counties tend to rely on their own standards in constructing and planning. In the areas specifically prone to flooding, construction without cellars can be considered, as illustrated by a German proposal on the aftermath of the 2002 flood in the Elbe region (Flood Risk Reduction in Germany 2004). Alternately, projects of elevated constructions can be considered to manage the safety and well-being of the citizens. Such constructions subsume the elevation of all openings in the buildings to stop the floodwater from penetrating the houses. If the water penetration is not preventable entirely, the electrical connections and other energy installations can be planned for upper-store build-in.

Water retention

The reduction of water runoff and simultaneously alleviating the risk of floods subsumes water detainment in either natural or man-made storage facilities. Green Infrastructure can be integrated into the practice of water retention to create non-pollutant storage basins, dams, etc. In less extreme cases when it is possible for the water to be stored in natural catchment areas, it is important that the developers account for the enhancement of flood plains to contain and absorb the water. Another way of retaining the water naturally is forestation with mixed tree species, which is known to enhance the retention capacities of the land (Flood Risk Reduction in Germany 2004). Retention can also be used to prevent coastal flooding by curbing some of the tidal surges.

Financial risk reduction

The developers can take care of their properties and the local community’s well-being by combining insurance with other measures and preventive building.


The issue of manmade climate change is especially significant for the construction sector as the consequences of it are multiple and can seriously exacerbate the infrastructure conditions. Historically, the UK has been the leading greenhouse emitter, which is why the responsibility it has to bear is so critical. The UK is also evidenced to experience climate change, which is to a great extent related to the greenhouse emissions the country and the rest of the world are producing. On the local level, the measures that can be taken include practices related to risk assessment, climate change mitigation, and flood management, which present multiple opportunities to prevent another 2007 or Storm Desmond in the near future.


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