Water, waste, and light pollution caused by construction all pose a threat to biodiversity.
What’s going on?
Water pollution is a significant form of pollution caused by the construction industry.
The most common source of water pollution on construction sites is suspended solids or silt-laden waters. This is primarily due to the ease with which it can occur.
Remediation projects using hydrocarbons – in the form of petroleum-based substances such as petrol, diesel, kerosene, and oils – also pose a risk. Causes of this kind of pollution include spillage absorbed into the land and unmapped pipe networks still full of product.
High pH water is another issue, and the washing of concreting plants and tools is a common source. Re-use of crushed concrete as a recycled aggregate can also lead to an elevated pH. [source]
Much of this can be addressed by improving water management – designing soakaways and sustainable drainage systems, for example, rather than simply rerouting water into drains.
Waste pollution is also a significant problem because as constructing our built environment involves a major flow of materials, it generates a significant waste stream by tonnage.
The construction industry faces several challenges when it comes to tackling waste.
Often, materials for a project are over-ordered to avoid shortages which would cause delays adding cost. Furthermore, some materials come in standard lengths and when different sizes are required, this can be wasteful.
Across the country, there is no consistent approach by all local authorities to waste processing. As a result, companies must deal with waste from different projects in different local areas differently.
Practical application of circular economy approaches to construction waste is hard. While there is an imperative for contractors to invest in it, the tendency is to pass it down the stakeholder line.
The most effective way to reduce waste is to design it out. Tackling it at source in this way is currently difficult and time-consuming, however, and for building contractors this is not always an option. Hopefully, this will change.
Light pollution from human-caused artificial light at night, which disrupts the local ecology, is another form of construction industry-caused pollution.
Developments in lighting technology have led to major increases in the distribution and intensity of artificial light and calls are growing to reduce artificial light impacts by taking positive action. [source]
Air pollution such as dust and particles from construction activity is also a big issue, particularly in urban areas. However, when green infrastructure schemes are in use, these can alleviate the pressure. Noise pollution from heavy machinery on sites also poses a problem.
The good news is that project by project, construction is highly regulated. Yet this is not always the case with the materials supply chain, or a project’s strategic direction.
Most organisations won’t work with contractors that do not have environmental management systems certified to British standards.
- Constructing our built environment uses the largest flow of materials and produces the largest waste stream by tonnage – some 60 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste and 51 million tonnes of excavation waste in 2016. 
- Between 365 million and 988 million birds are estimated to die in collisions with buildings annually, and light pollution plays a large role in such strikes. 
- Construction, demolition, and excavation waste accounted for 61% of total UK waste in 2016. 
- New build construction waste represents a ‘true’ cost of £11 billion per year and a carbon cost of potentially 3.3 million tonnes/CO2e per year. 
Getting nature positive
There are solutions to these challenges, however.
Inspired by steps buildings and infrastructure companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.