Greater awareness needed around sustainability of steel

Although the sustainability benefits of steel such as low production waste, design flexibility, speed of erection, safety, reusability and full recyclability are well recognised overseas, there is a general lack of awareness in New Zealand, says Gary Hook, chief executive of Metals New Zealand, which runs the Sustainable Steel Council.

“The global steel industry is committed to developing steel as a sustainable form of construction and a great deal of international data has been amassed. One of our main objectives is to increase awareness and promote the use of steel as a sustainable building material in New Zealand.”

To enable fair comparisons with other materials, one of SSC’s priorities continues to be the development of a whole-of-life model that covers the entire lifecycle of steel – from raw material extraction, steel production, coating, fabrication and in-service use, to deconstruction, re-use and recycling.

Triple bottom line objectives of economic viability, social progress and environmental responsibility are also main considerations, he says.

“New Zealand’s construction industry has an impact on all three. When it comes to the environment it must be considered that 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from building construction and operation, with construction and demolition activities responsible for around 40 percent of total waste generated worldwide.”

Gary says there is a unique opportunity for the construction industry to become a leader in New Zealand’s drive towards sustainability, and the steel construction sector needs to be fully committed to playing its part.

“Steel has a unique combination of features that make it the ultimate construction material. It is lightweight and strong and has thousands of variations, along with all the environmental benefits.”

The ability for steel to be reused is one of its major advantages, says Gary.

“Entire steel structures can be fully disassembled and removed from one building and altered and installed in another, endlessly, without compromising its properties.”

He says considering deconstruction right back at the design phase can assist this process.

“A well thought out design enables structural components such as beams and columns, or non-structural elements such as cladding and staircases to be easily removed from one project and reused in another. This can include the reuse and adaptation of whole steel frames in situ.”

“Reusing buildings increase resource efficiency and limits the amount of demolition waste. Recycling also leads to more sustainable development by diverting materials from the waste stream. These unique characteristics make steel invaluable at all stages of the lifecycle.”

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