Steel and sustainability – part one

This is the first of a two part series explaining the positive impacts the use of steel can have. This article focuses on how steel in buildings facilitates sustainability, whilst the second discusses the sustainability implications of using steel in construction, as well as its recyclability. Kerri Thurlow writes.

THE advantages of using steel are apparent in con struction as well as in their manufacture. Steel is light weight compared to many other materials used for the same pur pose. For example, one kilogram of steel is likely to be sufficient to clad almost nine times the area of one kilogram of roof tiles. This means that when flat steel is transported, more func tional units can be transported in each load than other materials used for the same purpose.

Because steel building compo nents — and entire building envelopes — can be cut to precise specifications or prefabricated off-site, on-site waste is min imised. Any waste that is created as components are cut to specifi cation can be reused in the steel making process. No off-cuts need to be disposed of in landfills, as may occur when waste is pro duced by contractors on-site.

Dematerialisation and increas ing material efficiency are part of the strategy to achieve the commitment BlueScope Steel has made to continually improve the environmental footprint and sustainability of its steel prod ucts. The high strength steels BlueScope Steel produces mean that the same functionality can be achieved using less material.

Although steel products have long lifespans and can be used to create adaptable spaces or to add volume to extend the life of existing buildings, eventually most buildings will be decommis sioned. Reusing and recycling building components is inherent to sustainability at this phase of a development’s life. One of the emerging strategies to increase sustainability is to design for dis assembly. High-grade, durable materials — such as steel — work best in designs for disassembly, where building components, or entire buildings, are removed and reused.

Steel is theoretically 100% recyclable: if recovered at the end of each use phase, the life cycle of steel is potentially end less. Recycling prevents the waste of potentially useful mate rials, reduces consumption of raw materials and energy — thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions — compared to virgin production, and reduces pollu tion. Therefore, ensuring that any steel components that can not be reused are recycled is a meaningful contribution to resource sustainability.

Kerri Thurlow is BlueScope Steel’s strategy & sustainability manager. Contact the company on 1800 800 789 or visit www.bluescopesteel.com.au

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