Supply Chain Engagement Key to Specifying Sustainable Steel

In recent years, sustainability has become an increasingly integral topic at the centre of the construction industry conversation. Ensuring best practise presents challenges and obstacles, not only in light of changes to regulations and requirements but as part of the focus on the global environmental impact of the climate emergency. With most countries pledging to meet targets for net zero by 2050, the subject of sustainability is not only one of how we can immediately begin to mitigate energy and carbon output but how construction practises and material usage might improve over the long-term. Reports from 2019 showed that steel is responsible for between 7% and 9% of all direct fossil fuel emissions globally, with steel and iron collectively accounting for 24 % of industry CO2 emissions.

With further revisions to the National Structural Steelwork Specification for Building Construction (NSSS) in the form of a new annex document coming into effect on 01 June, the time for professionals in the steel construction sector to assess and reinforce environmental best practise is now. To make navigating these changes as smooth and straight forward as possible, the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA) has published the Sustainability Specification for structural steelwork in building construction.

Supporting Sustainability from Concept to Construction

The purpose of the specification is to offer guidance on the principles of sustainable steelwork. Offering the combined expertise of a steering group comprised those involved in the supply, design, contracting and environmental ramifications of material use, the guide is supported by sustainability experts from both the BCSA and the Steel Construction Institute and Institute of Structural Engineers. From concept to construct, adhering to the principles the guide provides will ensure that structures meet all requirements for sustainability while maintaining intended function and performance.

While using light steel as a primary material offers an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and meet green targets, focusing on tracking the sustainability journey must translate across the full scope of the construction process. The application of practical steps to reduce emissions throughout the supply chain is particularly important. Designs and specifications for projects should be calculated and delivered to minimise the amount of material needed. Furthermore, considerations should take into account material storage, transport and delivery from supplier as well as safety during fabrication, transportation, handling and erection onto site. As part of the principles laid out, it is also vital to ensure efficient use is made of scrap material available, with decisions reflecting the nature of steel as a limited resource.

Tracking Through the Supply Chain

The key to retaining control over sustainability practises is to ensure early engagement with supply chain members. The specification recommends the appointment of the key subcontractors during the initial planning phases from the earliest point to mitigate any site operations or material supply risks. Resource use and material efficiency can be improved through the optimisation of spans and grids, minimisation of complex load paths and vigilance about over-specification of loads. Further enhancing the growth of new circular economy business models, many companies are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of tracking reused steel through the supply chain.

Groups such as the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products are leading the way in exploring innovative uses for reused steel in construction. The DISRUPT project (Delivering Innovative Steel ReUse Project), initiated by Cleveland Steel and Tube, ISG, and the National Federation of Demolition Contractors has already secured funding for further feasibility studies, aiming to provide valuable data across a number of different sizes and types of project. The group will be focusing on real life case studies which track the material journey from start to finish. Despite its reputation as one of the most recyclable components on earth, the reuse of steel is less common. The DISRUPT project aims to widen the interest in reused steel as a sustainable option and provide business models for use by other companies. Funding for the venture was provided by Innovate UK's Circular Economy for SMEs competition, in collaboration with the NICER programme.

Shifting Focus to Reuse

This prioritisation of reuse over scrap for recycling features prominently in the new specification. With the focus being on reducing material waste. In addition to this, all structural components should contain pertinent information regarding their origins and properties to enable further reuse in the future. The specification accounts for common concerns regarding cost, design flexibility, and practicality to help businesses mitigate any obstacles or risks. In terms of fabrication, the specification encourages the use of steel producers who have stated a public commitment to meeting decarbonisation targets and who present a well-defined strategy for sustainable practise.

The Sustainability Specification for structural steelwork in building construction is now available freely on and will stand as a new annex J to the National Structural Steelwork Specification for Building Construction (NSSS) eight edition revision. Users can also incorporate the specification into contract documentation by adding the following: Fabrication in accordance with (i) National Structural Steelwork Specification for Building Construction (NSSS), 7th edition and (ii) NSSS, Annex J – Sustainability Specification.

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