Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

Let’s use what we have on our doorstep

Construction is continuing to make strides to both create and to be a more sustainable industry.

And as we hurtle in 2024 toward the 1.5 degree global warming threshold, we need to get things moving – fast!

One way many are hoping to achieve this is to utilise what is in our own ‘backyard’.

According to the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC), a locally sourced material is one which has been “obtained from a defined radius around a project site, helping to support the local economy and reducing transportation costs and energy.”

Surely, we would all like our buildings and structures to be sustainable, to use materials whose manufacture, and delivery is minimal, whose impact on our climate is negligible.

But is this even possible?

The level of usage of local materials in building construction is still relatively low

Kirsty Hammond Kirsty Hammond Publisher and editor of Specifier Review

Reduced environment impact

Using local construction materials has various benefits, such as reducing transportation costs, supporting the local economy, and minimising environmental impact.

Architects should research materials abundant in particular regions, like stone, wood, or clay, and of course ensure they meet building code standards. Local suppliers can provide cost-effective options, promoting sustainability in all construction projects.

Materials traditionally used in construction are likely to be available locally and could be used as a building product such as mud or even straw. Straw when packed tightly can be used as a filling material or as support for a roof structure.

Often, old materials and building methods are more sustainable than new ones. Wattle and Daub and Thatched Roofing are two examples of sustainable building methods that could see a resurgence.

Local stone

In the UK, traditional construction often incorporates local building materials anyway. For instance, Cotswold stone is commonly used in the Cotswolds region for its distinctive honey-coloured appearance. In Scotland, granite from quarries in Aberdeen is prevalent in their local architecture.

Timber from local forests is utilised as standard across the country for framework and construction. Incorporating these materials showcases regional identity and supports sustainable practices however we need to go further.

Locally sourced materials don’t have to be traditional in method. How about using materials from a local demolition? Reusing and repurposing all contributes to a healthier build. Steel for example can be removed and reused from one project to another.

Reducing construction waste is also a big concern for the sector. It is thought that on average,13% of building materials delivered to UK construction sites are wasted.

Careful material selection

The carbon footprint of building materials can be measured by assessing the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production, transportation, and use.

Life Cycle Assessment or LCA is a common way to quantify these emissions. It takes into consideration raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, construction, and end-of-life phases.

Materials like concrete and steel often have higher carbon footprints due to energy-intensive production, while locally sourced, renewable, or recycled materials can significantly reduce environmental impact.

Sustainable construction practices aim to minimise carbon footprints through careful material selection and efficient building processes.

The circular economy of reclamation and reuse in construction involves salvaging materials from existing structures, refurbishing them, and integrating them into new projects. This sustainable practice reduces waste.

Examples include repurposing reclaimed wood for flooring or using reclaimed bricks in new construction.

Embracing the circular economy principles in construction contributes to a more resource-efficient industry, aligning with global efforts to reduce waste and promote a circular approach to materials.

Increasing awareness

The use of local materials in building construction is a strategy that aims to reduce costs, promote sustainability, and support cultural continuity.

Local materials can be sourced from the immediate environment, such as stone, earth, wood, bamboo, and plant-based materials. These materials are often abundant and readily available, making them a cost-effective option for construction projects.

Additionally, the use of local materials can contribute to the preservation of traditional building practices and support social engagement. The benefits of using local materials include affordability, reduced construction costs, and environmental sustainability.

However, the level of usage of local materials in building construction is still relatively low. To promote the use of local materials, there is a need for increased awareness, research, and funding for the development and improvement of these materials.

Green King

King Charles in his latest essay regarding the built environment considers that: "We face the terrifying prospect by 2050 of another three billion people on this planet needing to be housed, and architects and urban designers have an enormous role to play in responding to this challenge," he writes.

"We have to work out now how we will create resilient, truly sustainable and human-scale urban environments that are land-efficient, use low-carbon materials and do not depend so completely upon the car.

“However, for these places to enhance the quality of people’s lives and strengthen the bonds of community, we have to reconnect with those traditional approaches and techniques honed over thousands of years which, only in the 20th century, were seen as 'old-fashioned' and of no use in a progressive modern age. It is time to take a more mature view."

Towards the future

The future of construction is increasingly focused on sustainable practices, and using local construction materials aligns with this trend.

It reduces the carbon footprint associated with current construction and promotes regional identity in architecture.

Innovations in technology and building techniques continue to enhance the feasibility of utilising diverse local materials, fostering a more environmentally friendly and resilient construction industry for the future.

Building using sustainable materials requires creativity, resilience and ingenuity.

Can we do it? Are we creative enough?

Only time will tell.

Kirsty Hammond is publisher and editor of Specifier Review