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Constructing a cleaner future

Reducing the impact of climate change is not just about CO2 - other gases and particulate matter have a telling impact, and positive steps are being made to cut the more damaging substances going into our atmosphere. London is the first city in the world to require construction equipment to hit standards for the emission of particulates and nitrogen oxides; standards which could cut the emissions from diggers, bulldozers and other machines on building sites by 40 per cent by 2020.

While we are most well-known for work reducing energy consumption in homes, we have been involved in the issue of emissions from machinery for about ten years - a logical extension of our work in transport. Our Transport Certification Manager Colin Smith says:

"London’s Low Emission Zone has seen reduced emissions from buses, lorries and vans in recent years. However, very little has been done around emissions from construction activity, so this policy is to be welcomed.  "Construction machinery generally is in service for longer than on-road vehicles and combined with the fact that the emission standards for the engines used in machinery lag behind their on-road counterparts mean that machinery pollutes more and for longer. It’s clear that encouraging the use of the least polluting machinery in building our economy is vital.” 

Pollution is both a climate and health risk, though less is known of the specific impact of construction than in the transport field. In the coming years it’s going to be important to draw out more detail about which emissions affect what - and how quickly changes need to be enforced. Colin continues:

"Emissions from construction machinery are still a relatively unknown quantity and an area that needs more research to differentiate between diesel-generated particulate matter (also called black carbon or soot) and dust emissions from say, demolition activity. The diesel generated emissions are the type that are harmful to humans and suggested by some as the second largest contributor to climate change.”

Like in old homes, retrofitting old equipment with cleaner options is going to be a big part of construction machinery cleaning up its act - but it’s going to be important for the industry to know where to look to make sure their changes are going to bring the necessary results. Colin adds:

"This is where our Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) certification comes in. It’s there to give assurance to construction industry and policy makers that retrofit equipment meets set standards for compliance with quality, service, performance and local policy.”

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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