Sustainable Construction – is it all a balancing act?

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Sustainable Construction – is it all a balancing act?

Dan Gamson, Environmental ManagerDan Gamson, Environmental Manager at Speller Metcalfe explains (left).

The definition of sustainability is one that has been up for debate for many years, with people more often than not going back to the definition cemented by the Brundtland report in 1987 whereby,

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Brundtland sets out two key concepts; those with needs, and the limitations in place to achieve true sustainability.

A balancing act?

Put simply, the whole concept of sustainability can be compared to a stool with three legs, balancing on:

  • Social impacts
  • Environmental impacts
  • Economic impacts

If all three are given the same weighting and become integral components to our work, the metaphorical stool of sustainability will be balanced and stay strong. Change the balance, and true sustainability will not be achieved.

How do you achieve all three?

Within the world of construction, the economic component tends to be the driver for any work, with social and environmental limitations often an afterthought.

At Speller Metcalfe, our dedicated Ecobuild division are working to alter this approach and ensure social and environmental considerations are balanced alongside the economic.

(i) Environment

We have seen an upturn in environmental legislation in recent years, forcing environmental issues into the limelight. Coupled with more severe weather patterns and the media storm of global warming, this has meant individually we are more aware than ever before of issues such as wastage, fossil fuel consumption and recycling.

(ii) Socially

This task is somewhat harder.

Within industry, the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) make it their mission to ensure all construction companies of any size are considerate to those influenced by any kind of construction works.

As newly appointed Associate members of the scheme, we have proven over the last 20 years of Speller Metcalfe that we are consistently going above and beyond recognised industry practice, and are seen to be socially responsible and considerate to all those influenced by our work.

(ii) Economically

Economically our challenge is to deliver the best possible product, as efficiently as possible, while ensuring quality and positive profit margins of all involved. By analysing the whole lifecycle of a project and utilising an integrated supply chain, processes can be streamlined and the local economy can be stimulated.

The ideology of consistently implementing true sustainability across each project we deliver is still a large aspiration for Speller Metcalfe, but little by little each project we begin teaches us that there are different ways to approach these challenges.


Beginning on site in June 2014, Speller Metcalfe was contracted by Birmingham Metropolitan College to build a new £11 million, Sustainable Energy Centre at their James Watt Campus in Great Barr – generating a whole host of new environmentally-friendly focused courses for students in North Birmingham.

In addition to the works at James Watt, Speller Metcalfe has also been awarded another branch of the College campus to deliver a new extension to the Erdington Skills Centre. This project comprises the demolition of the existing building and replacement with a £3.5 million steel framed, new build skills centre.

So how does it balance?

(i) Environmental

The new energy centre has been specially designed to be zero carbon, which means it is entirely self-sufficient, reducing its carbon footprint by creating heat and power through solar technology, electricity and water and it will be one of the first campuses to house its own hydrogen fuel cell for teaching purposes.

New courses on offer at the Sustainable Energy Centre will include Biomass Boilers, Ground Source Heat Pumps, Solar PV & Thermal, Grey Water Harvesting as well as Hydro Generation and Rapid Prototyping.

In addition to the above, the new centre is also targeting a BREEAM rating of Excellent based on its credentials throughout its build process.

(ii) Social

Speller Metcalfe has been appointed as main contractor and we will be providing Master Class sessions for a range of students studying construction trades and built environment courses at other campuses. As a construction company we recruit and train numerous apprentices and provide work experience opportunities for students. Following the work at the James Watt Campus and Erdington Skills Centre on behalf of the Metropolitan College and other major works projects this year, Speller Metcalfe has been able to take on an additional five apprentices.

The Erdington Skills Centre, on Edwards Road, provides ideal premises for vocational training courses. The modern, well equipped Centre offers a wider range of opportunities for learners from the local community to develop their work skills to improve their prospects in the employment market, whether it be finding employment or improving career prospects. Courses are flexible and fit in with home commitments for learners.

(iii) Economic

Economically our challenge is to deliver the best possible product, as efficiently as possible, while ensuring quality and positive profit margins of all involved. As with all of our projects, the way we aim to do this by integrating our supply chain to prioritise sourcing sub-contractors within a 30 mile radius of site. This ensures we are actively stimulating the local economy of the areas in which we work.

To date we have used the localised approach and been able to place more than £2.3million worth of orders within 30 miles of the James Watt Campus and 88% of all orders within 50miles of the site. Given the widely accepted local pound multiplier effect, it is suggested that every £1 spent locally contributes to approximately £2.30 being generated within that same region – Birmingham in this instance.

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