Over-exploitation

Overusing natural resources in construction is a threat to nature and biodiversity.

What's going on

The construction industry relies heavily on the use of natural resources.

Over-exploitation is a risk associated with aggregates – for example limestone, cement, timber, and sand. Also, raw materials such as iron ore (for steel), copper, rare earth elements (for electronics).

Sourcing sustainably, to protect future material sourcing, is critical. Some aggregates, such as sand, are getting harder to the source. But there is also a need to go beyond this and be additive, by developing approaches that aren’t just not negative but nature positive.

With DEFRA currently reviewing the Code of Practice for Soils in Construction, attention is now turning to find ways to reduce the amount of soil from construction sites that end up in landfills – through reuse and recycling.

Extracting and processing natural resources often has a negative impact on nature and biodiversity. Yet all too often, either the construction industry does not do enough to mitigate this, or its approaches are not sufficiently joined-up.

How to make the most out of resources and materials used on sites, and what can be done with them at end of life must both now be reimagined. While the carbon emissions of concrete are understood, for example, there is a lack of understanding across the industry around its overall impact on nature.

It is important to ensure that 100% of key buildings materials should be set to BES 6001 – Responsible Sourcing of Construction Products – or a comparable standard. Learn more about BES 6001 here.

Strong regulation and standards on what can be bought aligned with strong internal sustainable procurement policies are a critical foundation on which to build business-level strategies to help tackle the threats to biodiversity caused by over-exploitation.

Engaging designers at the point when they are designing a building product – and specifying both what goes into it and how it should perform (meeting thermal requirements, for example, or homogeneity properties) – is also key.

Getting nature positive

There are solutions to these challenges, however.

Eradicating the need for virgin materials and their extraction through the reuse of what was previously termed waste as resources, is a circular economy approach with clear environmental benefits.

Critical rare earth and minerals need to be mined to enable the green transition, such as lithium. The UK has world-leading environmental expertise in mining, and as such, it is an area being promoted.

Inspired by steps building and infrastructure companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.

Explore actions for nature