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James Wates on why clients are calling the shots

The future use of sustainable materials is driven by client demand, writes James Wates

ACHIEVING 10 per cent or higher of recycled content in construction materials at no extra cost does not have to be difficult, as the Wates Group found on a recent public sector project in Essex.
The green field HMP Chelmsford site has been retrospectively assessed using the Waste Resource Action Programme. Findings show that the project team reached 12 per cent, mainly through use of recycled content in a few key areas.
The development consists of three new single storey buildings. Each unit is built around a steel frame with a half-and-half brick clad and curtain wall finish. They have a combined internal floor area of 855 sq m and externally there is 400 m sq of road and parking space.
BREEAM ratings of excellent were awarded to the visitor and workshop centres while the accommodation block achieved a very good rating.
"The substructure, roofing and services materials made the biggest contributions to the final recycled content figure," says James Wates, deputy chairman of Wates Group.
Small percentages of around 5 per cent for recycled content were also achieved in the external walls, windows and doors.
"The contracts we hold with the Ministry for Justice are all design and build, which gives us ample opportunity to look at material specifications early on," says Mr Wates. "As a client they are also driven by the sustainability agenda and, as well as a requirement for all their new builds to achieve a 'very good' BREEAM rating, they have set a target of 15 per cent recycled content on all future contracts."
This example of client leadership and its potential impact on future purchasing practices is something the Wates Group both welcomes and hopes to see more of. In the meantime it is focusing on making sure architects appreciate recycled content is a value driver for clients. Wates is also taking on a new challenge - changing attitudes to certain materials. One example is recycled aggregate which, until very recently, was dismissed as a viable option by many but is has become the material of choice.
"We have a strong commitment to resource efficiency and effective carbon management," says Mr Wates. "But the real breakthrough came in 2006 when we set out the case - and the target - for zero waste to landfill by 2010."
Closing the loop on waste and recycling, and exploring every market opportunity to reprocess waste is now a major incentive.
"Undoubtedly," says Mr Wates, "waste to recycled content is an important part of the equation to be factored into the bid process. Already on the new infirm-ary block project at The Royal Chelsea Hospital all crushed concrete from demolition is reused on-site. Like many of our competitors, we have agreements with plasterboard providers to take the old stuff back for recycling."
These are early day in terms of measuring the impact on the bid quality of using recycled materials, but the more of a lead clients take - and particularly the industry's biggest client, the public sector - the more opportunity everybody has of reaping the benefits.
As Mr Wates notes: "Clients want improvements in bid quality, designers are becoming increasingly aware of what can be achieved, contractors are making further contributions to the process, and better thought-through bids are making themselves felt. I still don't think we fully realise what is achievable and there is still a huge amount of learning to be done."

James Wates will be presenting a case study on using recycled materials in construction on the first day of the Green Construction Awards

GREEN WEEK

The two-day Green Construction Summit on September 25 and 26 offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the benefits of good environmental practice from some of the leaders in the field. Keynote presentations will followed by streamed sessions looking specifically at recycling, materials, waste, low-carbon buildings, planning and energy efficiency. See the website at www.greenweek.co.uk for details.