Sustainable Construction Methods

Simple sustainable construction methods to drive construction sustainability on your project

Protecting your building materials

Plan before you buy

  • Plan the timing of your purchases so that delivery is just-in-time for the required building stage
  • Avoid keeping materials in storage for too long as this ties up your funds and may lead to damage, spoilage and pilfering.

Safe and correct storage of materials

  • Identify storage requirements for building materials that you have to store, and plan a place to store them.
  • Ensure building materials are stored correctly to avoid damage by damp, excess moisture, rain or daylight.
  • Store materials safely to prevent theft.

This could help you save money and reduce delays in your project caused by having to restock materials, also improving construction sustainability.

What you can do to reduce waste


What is waste?

Waste is anything that goes into a skip and ends up in landfill.  For example:

  • Unused materials and off-cuts
  • Damaged materials and products
  • Demolition waste

How to reduce waste

An important component of construction sustainability susta is waste reduction. Industry measures show that 13% of waste is new, unused material – take steps to reduce this waste by finding a supplier who accepts returns or exchanges.

A huge 60% of skipped material is packaging – work with your suppliers to take back and reuse packaging.

Exchange material – what might appear of no value to you may be of value to someone else.  There are many exchange schemes available.

Crush and reuse aggregates.  If you are not able to carry this out, find someone who does.

Poor site conditions increase accidents and can damage materials.

Duty of care

You are required to manage your waste under The Site Waste Management Plans Regulations (SWMP) which came into force in April 2008.  You will have to keep records of waste removed from site.  Transporting your own waste requires a waste carrier’s licence.

Stamping out fly-tipping is everyone’s responsibility – ensure that this type of waste does not originate from your site.

Less waste lying around means a safer site.




The Eastex Materials Exchange Programme

Materials exchange programmes are increasingly popular and are a good way of exchanging excess, unused building materials.  The Eastex Materials Exchange Programme is a free online service for those who have an excess of stock or a shortage of material. This reduces waste, to improve construction sustainability.  There are six county-specific exchanges available for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.


NetRegs provides advice on construction waste for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).  For further information on site waste management plans for the construction industry see and NHBC Foundation publication NF8: Site waste management – Guidance and templates for effective site waste management plans,

For advice on developing your SWMPs, information about the regulations and guidance on waste management, see

Sorting and Disposal of Waste


Why it is important to reduce waste

Waste reduction is a simple but effective sustainable construction method. Reducing waste can save your business money in three ways:

  1. Decreased removal and landfill taxes – every tonne of waste is taxed
  2. Reduced materials
  3. Reduced labour costs for sorting and transporting waste

Minimising waste going to landfill benefits the environment.

Efficient waste disposal and segregation helps keep your site tidy and organised and reduces the costs of mixed waste.

Transporting your own waste requires a waste carrier’s license.

Sorting your waste

Identify waste or demolition products which can be reused or recycled.

Find local waste collection and recycling services.

Construction and waste management companies

These companies can:

  • Offer help and advice on practical recycling schemes
  • Provide segregated waste containers, waste collection, and recycling services, e.g. the return of plasterboard off-cuts.
  • Dispose of waste at licensed waste recycling centres.





Look for construction and demolition waste service providers in your local area.  For advice on construction waste management and recycling in Norfolk see the NORWRAP (Norfolk Waste Recycling Assistance Project).

BRE SmartWaste

BRE has developed a suite of tools specifically for the construction industry, designed to support you with construction sustainability and sustainable construction methods.  Our tool can help you sort out your waste.  Learn more here.


Envirowise offers free information on reducing waste and making financial savings from resource efficiency.

The National House-Building Council (NHBC)

The NHBC advises house builders on how best to manage and minimise waste onsite.

Dry Lining Waste


Working with plasterboard

Try to design rooms with the same dimensions as standard sizes of plasterboard.  This will reduce cut-offs and wastage of materials, which can save your business money.

Work accurately to avoid wastage and minimise the production of dust when cutting frames to size.

Minimise air and water pollution; this will benefit the environment and the local community.

Do not leave plasterboard uncovered as it can spoil very quickly.

Disposal of plasterboard

Plasterboard has to be separated from other materials in a landfill site, and disposal of this waste costs more than disposing of other types of waste.

Landfill tax and disposal charges increase every year.

Find out if your supplier will take off-cuts back as it often works out cheaper.

Keep the amount of plasterboard waste to a minimum and recycle where possible.




WRAP Plasterboard Programme

The WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) Plasterboard Programme is aimed at supporting market development for increased recovery and recycling of plasterboard.  A number of initiatives have been developed to encourage the segregation, collection and reprocessing of plasterboard, and therefore reduce the amount going to landfill.  More information on all of WRAP’s initiatives can be found on or call the WRAP helpline on 0808 1002040.


For advice on sustainable construction methods and choosing material and technologies that minimise damage to the environment and local community, see  A directory of sustainable products and building materials is available on this website.  Information is given about different types of plasterboard with above average performance in terms of global warming (carbon footprint) and solid waste.  Manufacturers’ contact details are also provided.

Concrete and Mortar


Protect the environment and your local community

Minimise onsite concrete dust, air and water pollution.  Avoiding this type of pollution will help protect the environment and reduce the risk of prosecution.

Take measures to ensure the health and safety of workers on the site (welfare and dust reduction) and the local community.

Working with mortar

Lime mortars are preferable to Portland cement mortars in terms of recycling.

Bricks bonded with lime mortar can be reused if the building is demolished in later years, which will help reduce waste in the future.

Ash or brick dust can be added to lime mortar to enhance durability and shorten required setting times.

Purchase of concrete, mortar and plaster

To prevent over-ordering of materials, plan the quantities in advance.

Timely ordering is important, especially if buying ready-mixed mortar.

Take care to store these materials correctly to reduce waste and damage.




Minimising dust and emissions

For advice on best practice and ways of minimising dust and emissions from construction or demolition activities, see

BRE publications

The following BRE publications are available from

Hadi M, Rao S, Sargant H, Rathouse K (2004) Working with the community – A good practice guide for the construction industry. BR 472. Watford, BRE Press.

Kukadia V, Upton S, Hall D (2003) Control of dust from construction and demolition activities. BR 456. Watford, BRE Bookshop.

Impacts of concrete and bricks

To find out more about the environmental impacts of concrete and bricks see (url may no longer be in use).  Suppliers of recycled concrete are also listed on this website.


A directory of sustainable materials, including clay bricks and lime mortars, is available on  Information about lime mortar and render is given on this website.

Planning your Building Supplies


Smart specification

To maximize construction sustainability, think before you buy and plan your building supplies to keep wastage of materials to a minimum.

Calculate the quantities of materials you will need for the job and do not over-order more than you need for the sake of convenience.

Timely ordering of materials ensures that supplies arrive when required, and reduces storage where they could be damaged or stolen.

If you require a small amount of a materials which is only available in bulk, use a materials exchange scheme or plan to use the material for future jobs.

Think about specifying materials that have a good recyclate content as this will help to reduce your carbon footprint.

Contractors and suppliers of materials

Try to use local suppliers for reclaimed and recycled building products.

Find out if contractors and suppliers have an environmental policy.





Choosing construction products: Guide to the recycled content of mainstream construction products is available to download from the WRAP website and provides contact details of companies who can provide recycled products.  Detailed product datasheets are also available.

National Green Specification

The National Green Specification website provides a detailed database of environmentally friendly building materials, guides on specification and a checklist highlighting where sustainable best practice can be applied.

Recycled Products Guide

The Recycled Products Guide is a database of products and building supplies made from recycled materials.

Using the Best Materials for the Job


Smart specification

Ensure you use the correct materials for the job to avoid poor workmanship, which can lead to rework.

Avoid rework as it costs money and wastes time and materials.

Use local, natural and sustainable materials and sustainable construction techniques.

Look out for the Forest Stewardship Council’s trademark on timber and wood products indicating that wood comes from a sustainably managed forest.

Use renewable or recycled materials to benefit the environment.

Choose alternatives to PVCu window frames such as ethylene-based plastics or modern timber.

Avoid materials that have damaging effects on the environment.

Minimise the use of chemical treatments.




Recycled and reclaimed products

To find out how you can use more recycled and reclaimed products and building materials see (url may no longer be in use).  There is a searchable database of available products on this website with information about the manufacturing processes of the products and their compositions, as well as contact details of suppliers.  Information about the environmental impacts of some common construction materials and advice on choosing more environmentally friendly alternatives are also available.

Association for Environment Conscious Building

Construction Resources

The UK’s ecological building centre can provide specialist advice on environmentally friendly building materials and systems.

Forest Stewardship Council UK


WRAP’s Aggregain website

Do Builders Have a Carbon Footprint?

How to reduce your carbon footprint

When considering construction sustainability, it is important to consider the carbon footprint of builders.

Use products that cause minimal harm to the environment and are energy efficient in terms of their manufacture, distribution, use and disposal.

Consider using environmentally friendly alternatives.

Use low energy forms of construction and consider carbon dioxide (CO2) arising from site activities.

Reduce journeys to and from the site by planning work and delivery schedules in order to reduce CO2 arising from transport.

Get advice at the design stage on how the buildings can have a positive environmental impact by using:

  • Passive stack ventilation systems
  • High efficiency condensing boilers
  • Solar hot water exchangers
  • Whole house heat recovery systems
  • Photovoltaic panels




Lifestyle project

The Lifestyle project, in conjunction with Cambridgeshire County Council, is working to increase knowledge of low carbon solutions and capabilities of builders and other trades in designing and fitting renewable energy solutions.  It aims to find cost efficient and effective ways to reduce resource consumption.


For information about BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) see, contact the BREEAM helpdesk on 0333 321 8811, or email

Cambridge Horizons

Sustainable construction in Cambridgeshire – A good practice guide.

The Carbon Trust

The Civil Engineering Environmental Quality Assessment and Award Scheme (CEEQUAL)

Energy Saving Trust

Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has produced a construction carbon footprint calculator which calculates the CO2 generated by construction products (see Environment Agency on  The tool also allows waste management options and savings to be made.

Is Cheapest Best?


To cut corners or not to cut corners?

Using the cheapest materials for the job does not always save you money in the long term.

Using non-compliant, non-standard or inappropriate materials can increase costs, off-cuts and wastage.

Use the appropriate supplier for the product

Find out who can advise you on the most appropriate materials for the job; they may offer a more competitive price.

Find out who can suggest recyclable or reusable alternatives which benefit the environment.

Sourcing a local specialist supplier means the materials will blend in with the surrounding buildings (e.g. local bricks).  This may not always be the cheapest option but it will help to boost the local economy and may reduce your transport costs.

Improving relationships with the community will be beneficial for your reputation as a contractor.

Use the right person for the job

Hire specialist contractors to carry out work on your building project you are unable to do yourself.

Bear in mind that mistakes can often be costly to put right.

Locally based contractors may have experience of working with local or specialist building materials.

Local recruitment will help to engage with the community.


Reducing Transportation


How to reduce transportation to and from the site

Source building materials locally.

Ask suppliers how the building materials were transported.

Fewer trips mean less emissions – reduce the number and length of journeys by planning delivery schedules. This will help overall construction sustainability.

Benefits and drivers

Using building materials that are locally available reduces haulage costs.

Purchasing from local suppliers can improve the economy of the local community.

Reduce impacts from transportation by improving delivery scheduling.

Save money and benefit the environment by minimising transport requirements.



This information is based on the Sustainable Construction: Simple ways to make it happen guide [PDF] written by the BRE Environmental Consultancy on behalf of Sustainability East. To learn more about sustainable construction techniques and how to drive construction sustainability, download the manual now. First published 2008 by IHS BRE Press.  AP 271.


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