How The Built Environment Can Contribute To Sustainability

November 23, 2021
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If 2020 was the year of Covid-19, then 2021 is so far defined by climate change and the need for urgent, immediate action. Despite a brief moment when it seemed like pandemic lockdowns across the globe were contributing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, 2020 saw record emissions and tied for the hottest year ever. Emissions at the end of December 2020 were 2% higher than the same month the previous year, according to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021.

The upside of these dire developments is that we’re seeing action on multiple fronts to curb the devastating effects of climate change, as well as the appetite and financing for even more initiatives in the same vein.

“As of December 2020, over two thirds of the world’s GDP was being generated in places with actual or intended ‘net zero by 2050’ targets, covering over half the world’s population and emissions,” states the UN’s progress report. “We’re also seeing businesses rally around environmental, social, governance (ESG) reporting standards, and investing in reaching net zero within their own companies.”

Sustainable Development Goals to save the planet

All seventeen of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relate in some way to environmental health and the impacts of climate change. However, when it comes to saving the planet, the four SDGs below focus on the environment and climate change specifically in relation to the built environment.

SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

SDG 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

How much progress has been made?

When it comes to environment-focused goals, the UN’s latest report on the SDGs reveals that although we have made some progress, an alarming amount of work still needs to be done. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and “need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050”, states the report. Meanwhile, deforestation, land degradation, development and wildlife trafficking threaten 28% of species with extinction and efforts to protect key biodiversity areas (KBAs) have largely stalled. In the past two decades we’ve lost almost 100 million hectares of forest land.

This is where sustainable construction practices have an important role to play as the built environment has the potential to lead the fight against climate change and enhance the move towards low-carbon and sustainable living.

Safal Steel is committed to sustainability

Construction is one of the most important steel-using industries, accounting for more than 50% of world steel demand. Buildings – from houses to car parks to commercial centres and skyscrapers – rely on steel for their strength. Steel is also used on roofs and as cladding for exterior walls.

The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 to 9 billion people in the next 30 years, according to a United Nations report released in 2019. As the need for buildings and infrastructure continues to increase worldwide due to population growth and rapid urbanisation, reducing consumption of natural resources and associated emissions is crucial for future sustainability. Whilst the operation of buildings accounts for 28% of global CO2 emissions, they also present many opportunities for reducing emissions and mitigating climate change.

Steelmakers around the world are increasingly providing construction solutions which enable energy-efficient and low-carbon buildings. Steel is affordable, readily available and safe to use. Additionally, its intrinsic properties of strength, versatility, durability and 100% recyclability allow for improved environmental performance across the entire life cycle of buildings.

Benefits of using steel in construction:

• Reusable and endlessly recyclable

• Strong, requiring fewer beams and therefore providing more open spaces

• Lightweight, requiring less material for foundations

• Enables energy efficiency in buildings and construction projects

• Material efficiency relative to strength means less impact on the environment

• Fast on-site assembly for prefabricated buildings

• Durable – 30 years or more in a benign environment

• Steel is non-combustible and doesn’t promote flame spread (SANS 10177); it has a Fire Resistance Rating (FRR) of more than 30 minutes

Safal Steel is deeply committed to sustainability, with our production processes being amongst the greenest in Africa:

• Our production facilities have effluent treatment facilities

• All the water we use in our processes is purified and reused on site

• Our production activities produce less than 10 000 tons of CO2 equivalents per annum

Our products Zincal®Colorplus® & Optima® are also developed with sustainability top of mind, emitting no greenhouse gases and our materials are designed to naturally reduce build-up of most contaminants on external surfaces provided that they are exposed to natural rainfall. Furthermore, the thermal properties of our innovative modified polyester paint system Colorplus® make for cooler buildings in summer, reducing the need for power generated cooling. Our products are also 100% recyclable, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of our business.

Safal Steel is a proud founding member of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) – one of approximately 75 members of the World Green Building Council. The GBCSA are passionate, collaborative planet shapers which operate across the commercial, residential and public sectors to ensure that buildings and homes are designed, built and operated in an environmentally sustainable way. The GBCSA works with its membership community to inspire a built environment in which both people and the planet can thrive.