The merchant's role in sustainable building

Published:  15 June, 2017

Bill Price, national commercial technical manager at Tarmac Cement, looks at how manufacturers and merchants can work together when it comes to creating an environmentally sound future for the building sector.

While green buildings are no longer a new thing, they can still present a host of challenges to builders and the merchants who supply them. With environmental targets to meet, as well as the rising expectations of those actually living and working in the buildings being built today, these challenges continue to increase.

While those on-site are ultimately responsible for ensuring all building standards are met, merchants can support the process by adopting a holistic view to ensure both they and their customers are working in the most sustainable way possible.

Supporting end-users

As the industry continues to adapt to difficult economic and environmental conditions, merchants need to pay close attention to their role in the supply chain, and to support their customers in the most efficient and sustainable use of resources. Inefficiencies can lead to large quantities of unused product, such as cement being left over after a project. This product is often then disposed of in a landfill site, which is costly to the environment and to the builder.

For larger sites, a certain amount of waste is inevitable, but for most builders the best scenario is not to be left with that surplus material in the first place. That’s where merchants can play their part by advising on the right products and the quantities required.

As external concreting jobs begin again in the summer months, the need to avoid wasted cement, in particular, is paramount. In recent years, many builders have relied less on portable silos and more on bagged products for greater efficiency and flexibility. Even then, however, old habits like splitting a 25kg bag of cement with a spade, could lead to the unused half being left exposed to the elements and therefore ruined.

To get around this problem, Tarmac has introduced a 12.5kg cement bag, which enables builders tackling smaller jobs to avoid needless waste. Similarly, plastic-packed products and products in plastic tubs allow for the use of just enough cement for a given task while the rest can be safely stored – outside if necessary – without becoming damp.

Insisting on quality

As well as helping builders run a more efficient site, merchants can also play their part by stocking and recommending sustainable products. Is a product responsibly sourced? Can it be re-used or recycled? What’s its carbon footprint? These are all questions customers are frequently asking and that merchants need to consider.

Builders are now much more aware of the origins of the materials they’re using, and more likely to favour accredited products such as those supplied under the BES 6001 framework.

These products’ supply chains have been thoroughly and independently assessed to meet set criteria, offering those who use them extra credits to meet their sustainability targets. One example is the rising popularity of CEMII cement, which has a relatively low carbon footprint, enabling builders to create greener projects right from the start.

Working together

Tarmac has long been a champion of sustainable supply chains and was the first UK cement manufacturer to be awarded the Responsible Sourcing Certificate, securing the highest classification across its bulk and packed cement range. To meet the scheme’s criteria, the company demonstrated compliance and commitment across three categories: organisational management, supply chain management and environmental and social issues.

Demand for green products is only going to keep growing. For the industry to move towards a truly sustainable future, all elements need to work together to address these shared issues. This includes merchants offering advice, not just on individual tasks, but on the whole lifecycle of a project, and helping builders select the most sustainable and robust products for each stage.

It also means keeping up-to-date with newer products. Merchants can tend to go with what they know, but the sector is moving with the times and manufacturers like Tarmac are continually working to develop new products that offer durability, while meeting all the growing demands of the modern building site. In this area, too, customers are becoming more knowledgeable and demanding, so it’s up to merchants to keep up.

Manufacturers need to keep raising awareness of the latest products and what they offer. As a result, we can help both builders and merchants stay at the forefront of sustainable building practices.

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