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The Brick Development Association (BDA) has recently published its most recent Brick Sustainability Report, which covers a diverse range of activities, from the selection of alternative raw materials, approaches to resource efficiency and the circular economy, to biodiversity, its links to developing a natural capital strategy and health and safety measures that affect the wellbeing of employees.

As significant contributors to the built environment, UK brick manufacturers are keenly aware of the importance of sustainability and it remains top of their agenda as production capacity continues to grow.

Production is one of the most significant influences on energy efficiency in the manufacturing process: the firing of clay brick to temperatures in excess of 1000°C is energy intensive, so brick kilns must maintain maximum capacity for optimum efficiency. However, production is dictated by demand, which fluctuates in line with market trends and investment in new housing.

The brick industry works closely with developers, procurers and merchants to accurately forecast customer needs, and as a result, increase production and delivery levels. As well as continuing progress towards the industry’s general energy efficiency targets, such as the 2020 Specific Energy Consumption (SEC) target of 706kWh/t, manufacturers continually respond to changes in Government housing targets to ensure scalability and flexibility in the supply chain.

Does the longevity of the clay brick and the ability to use recycled brick make it a sustainable building material and outweigh the energy used in production?

The circular economy

The concept of the circular economy is gaining considerable momentum, influencing business practices across a broad range of sectors and informing new policy. Organisations such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation advocate for an accelerated transition to a circular economy in the UK and abroad, but in order to achieve meaningful progress on a global scale, it is incumbent on individual industries to adapt circular economy principles in a way that works effectively in context.

UK manufactured bricks are highly durable, boast a long service-life and therefore represent a unique contribution to the circular economy of our built environment. The sector has developed a model that identifies certain activities and design priorities suitable for application in the manufacturing and construction industries.

You must consider the longevity and insulation qualities of clay brick. Although the initial outlay of energy in production is high, over its lifetime, clay brick proves to be highly energy efficient. Brick’s thermal mass saves money on heating and cooling by moderating changes in environmental temperature: during the summer, bricks gradually absorb heat from the sun and keep buildings cooler during the hottest part of the day. In winter, bricks hold a building’s heat for much longer, keeping you warmer for longer.

Tom Farmer, Marketing Manager at the Brick Development Association, comments: “The typical lifespan of a clay brick is 150+ years and when used in the construction of a house, is capable of withstanding sustained use by multiple generations, potentially for different purposes. Brick homes also offer a high degree of flexibility during this time: a well-designed brick house can adapt to growing family needs, offering a robust shell and lends itself easily to extension and renovation.”

Minimising waste

The volume of waste per tonne in brick production is low. Total waste sent to landfill per tonne of production since 2014 has been on a downward trajectory, with a 24% reduction in waste sent to landfill against 2011 baseline. Volumes increased slightly in 2017, which may be a result of the significant investment by the industry in new and refurbished plants.

2017 performance sits comfortably within the 2016 target and is significantly lower than the performance recorded in 2014. A substantial increase in waste recycling rates has also been recorded over the last four years.

Continual improvement

The most recent statistics from the National House Building Council (NHBC) housebuilders survey regarding modern methods of construction, show that masonry construction continues to account for the majority of new residential builds and the proportion has remained fairly constant over the last 10 years.

The robust and durable nature of brick allows homes to withstand the rigors of everyday life over the years, providing occupiers reassurance of both a solid structure and sound investment.

However, brick manufacturers recognise the need for continual improvement and constantly seek to identify ways to improve performance. Whether this relates to processes of extraction or manufacturing, or indeed the performance of products throughout their lifecycle. In fact, 100% of production is reportedly covered by a certified Environmental Management System (EMS). 97% of production is also covered by a Quality Management System (QMS), Energy Management System (EnMS) and a certified responsible sourcing framework.

Since 2014, UK brick manufacturers have invested £150m into plants and machinery, ensuring the industry draws on the very best systems and new technology to help improve sustainability going forward in the broadest sense.

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