As published on Construction News - July 2023.
There are various inflection points in history that have changed the path of society, science and humanity. Be it the fabled apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, the accidental discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming or the coming together of the Founding Fathers to develop a new way of governing the USA, all have led to major change. Change in thought and change in behaviour.
Accepting the comparison may be a little stretched, perhaps the European Demolition Association’s (EDA) annual conference in Amsterdam could be another major turning point. Maybe not to the same scale of the examples above – but who knows.
The reason I draw this comparison relates to one particularly lively and informative session held on the first afternoon of the conference, which ran from 15-17 June 2023. The session was focused on the environmental concerns for the demolition industry. The room, full of 70 to 80 delegates from across Europe, began by receiving two talks; one from Jon van Herk of Veras in the Netherlands about the issue of Nitrogen compounds on demolition and construction sites and one from me, sharing Rye’s experience of running carbon audits and how other demolition firms can embark upon their own carbon reduction journey.
Both sessions were well received and met with interesting and challenging questions from the audience. But what came next was a real seed of hope for the future.
Jose Blanco, Secretary General of the EDA, moved the session on to an interactive workshop, challenging the room of demolition professionals to explore further environmental concerns and potential solutions.
As the room came together in groups from across the continent, it was encouraging to see and hear a united energy to address the issues at hand. The priorities discussed included:
• The availability and cost of alternative fuels for use in plant and machinery
• The development of electric and alternatively fuelled machinery
• The efficient use of water on site for dust suppression
• The measurement of NOx gasses on site
• Helping demolition firms conduct carbon audits
…and much more.
The greatest insight however, was a real drive to do one thing:
• Increase collaboration to move these matters forward
Companies like Rye have been proactive in bringing on alternative fuels in machinery, conducting carbon audits and innovating with digital waste management tools to reduce truck movements, but it was universally agreed that real progress at scale can only be made if collaboration improves.
I had a fruitful discussion with the new CEO of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors, Duncan Rudall, on the matter and it was exciting to hear of his desire to work with, not only UK contractors, but also government, other international federations, developers, and industry service providers to find a way forward.
It’s imperative that organisations like the NFDC and the EDA continue to work to unite the industry and influence change. The desire appears to be there.
The industry doesn’t need or want new regulation that adds cost and administrative duties to the workload, but it does require upward and outward pressure and creativity to speed up the pace of environmental innovation and create a positive and economically viable journey towards a greener future for demolition.
The industry is already doing a lot, recycling and reuse rates are superb in many countries and improving in others, technology has come a long way to improve efficiencies and institutions like the NFDC and the EDA are already exploring many interesting and innovative solutions to address the challenges the industry and, more importantly, wider society faces.
More needs to be done, and the prizes are not small. In Rye’s presentation about carbon audits and footprint reduction, we looked at how our 2,829t reduction of CO2E equates to the annual carbon consumption of 549 UK people, the avoidance of melting 8,487m2 of Arctic sea ice and the saving of c$523,365 according to nature.com, related to the management of economic, health and environmental issues.
The built environment sector accounts for about 40% of the UK’s emissions in total, so now imagine the power of the industry truly coming together to find solutions to the challenges discussed.
Billions could be saved and ice caps kept in tact with every small step taken – even if emissions are reduced by just a few small percentage points.
So perhaps the afternoon of 15 June 2023 could go down as a seminal point in history – the day the demolition industry took its next big step to collaboration and innovation for the good of the planet.
Step aside Isaac Newton, here comes demolition!