The red tape is traditionally across the race finishing line, right? Run a marathon, cross the line, hands in the air, break the tape, everyone cheers.

Yet in the current climate, the tape is now at the start. The equivalent of Grand National starters are not letting go of the tape, tripping the runners and riders before they’ve even begun to canter towards progress…

Cleveland Steel & Tubes Ltd are a material supplier who’s business model is perfectly aligned with the UKGBC’s Circular Economy Programme target of reducing waste and extending product life and value. Cleveland Steel & Tubes’ business model is simple, but effective. We buy surplus pipes from Steel Mills and Oil & Gas companies who, through production and procurement processes, are left with “waste” steel pipe. The pipe is brought into stock, processed where necessary, and offered to the UK (and global) construction market as a viable alternative to newly produced mill material.

The benefits for the client are threefold. Reduced material cost – surplus steel alternatives will always be cheaper than new production. Reduced material lead time – stock will always trump new mill production where leadtime is critical. Reduced carbon footprint – steel is rightfully lauded for its cradle-to-cradle credentials but in the CE hierarchy wheel, Reuse always trumps Recycle.

Life Cycle Thinking, courtesy of the World Steel Association

Yet, even with those tangible benefits, material reuse in construction has actually dropped since 1998. So, what is causing this hesitance? Why is the construction sector so reluctant to come away from a linear model of Design – New Production – Single Use – Disposal? Remember, this is the same construction sector who in 2014 accounted for 59.4% of the UK’s total waste, or 120 million tonnes of waste! A sector that should be acutely aware of its responsibility to change practice and reduce waste.

Is it the fear of something new, perhaps? Doubtful.  The circular economy is certainly a current buzzword, but it is absolutely not a new concept. It’s as old as the Romans. Take a second to Google “Spolia”. There are examples of pragmatic material re-use throughout Roman antiquity; Emperor Vespasian even enforced legislation to curb the practice because it was too popular!

So, if a circular model was galloping along quite nicely in AD79, why have we reverted to a wasteful linear model?

As an experienced supplier of a circular product (pun intended), we believe that the hesitance to tighten the reins, reduce waste and enter a more efficient circular model, is borne out of unclear wording in building standards.

The two key sets of legislation are EN 1090, and the Construction Product Regulations (CPR). EN 1090 requires that all steel used in construction meets the required grade. It allows for alternative grades, but is ambiguously worded and not explicit. Furthermore, CPR was never intended to address the requirements of the circular economy, so it looks unfavourably on re-use altogether. To compound this duality, the 2 sets of legislation are controlled by separate bodies of policy makers working in isolation. DEFRA is responsible for the circular economy and improving sustainability of business, but CPR is controlled by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. More joined up thinking is required.

Perhaps the aforementioned hesitance is demonstrated in the results of a recent survey of UKGBC’s Gold Leaf members who detailed common challenges.

Given our history of supply, I was surprised to see “Lack of business case evidence” listed as a real obstacle to change.

Cleveland Steel & Tubes’ 45 year existence and customer base is business case evidence in itself. Here are some nice examples from my industry of where clients have made real gains by including the circular economy in their supply chain.

The 2012 London Olympics is a shining example. The Olympic Development Agency (ODA) was charged with delivering the most environmentally friendly games ever, which included examining all aspects of the construction of the stadia for their carbon impact and sustainability.

Watson Steel, part of Severfield plc the UK’s market leading structural steel company, was contracted to construct the 3,850T roof of the Olympic Stadium. Initially concerned by material lead times, Watson steel entered dialogue with Cleveland Steel & Tubes, establishing the availability of alternatives. Watson Steel proposed the use of 2,500T of pipe which was originally destined for an Irish Gas Line, but never installed. The ODA jumped at the opportunity, and Watson Steel was subsequently able to report significant carbon savings owing to the green credentials of repurposed pipe.

Dublin Port, a major marine engineering project, is using pipe from a cancelled Russian pipeline as marine piling.

Micro-piling for ground engineering work, prior to house building, more often than not uses surplus oilfield casing material.

And it is not just here in the UK that modern pragmatic material reuse is in evidence. In 2010 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Colorado, made use of steel pipe salvaged from a gas pipeline as pipe columns for use within the main structure. Sound familiar to the Olympic Stadium?

The list goes on and on and on.

In conclusion, we feel that clunky or unclear legislation is stopping clients and contractors from really stretching their legs in the race to enter the Circular Economy.

In my humble opinion LOCOG/ODA have lead the way with their drive for sustainability. To continue the Grand National analogy, they’ve cleared Bechers Brook and shown the rest of the field it is possible, it just takes momentum.

We feel confident the UKGBC’s Circular Economy Programme will produce that momentum.

In case you are interested, both “Gas Line Boy” & “Buy Wise” were runners in this year’s Grand National… Coincidence? I think not!

You can follow Steve Paterson and Cleveland Steel on LinkedIn.

You can follow the UK Green Building Council on TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook, and find out more about our Circular Economy programme.