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REAPing the benefit - Clay's Resource Efficiency Action Plan (REAP) changes the model for construction materials

Clay Technology magazine
10 Dec 2013

Resource Efficiency Action Plans are vehicles to improve efficiency and reduce waste. Simon Hay, CEO of the Brick Development Association, UK, explains how the recently published Clay Bricks and Clay Blocks REAP is set to help the brick industry do just that.

Traditionally, construction materials have followed a linear path from extraction and manufacture to construction, demolition and landfill. But in a world with shrinking resources, this linear model is no longer acceptable. The construction industry has already made steps for change and, through the likes of the UK’s Green Construction Board (GCB), is actively working alongside Government to meet the targets set out in the Low Carbon Construction Action Plan of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020. While clay is arguably not a rare resource (at least not in the UK), the industry is responsible for reducing the energy used to vitrify, manufacture, package and transport the brick or block to as low a level as possible. Products produced today must be capable of being adapted to what is known as the circular economy, for reuse or recycling. Throughout production, construction and eventual demolition, an end use for materials must be planned for.

UK agency WRAP is working to promote this circular economy and, as part of this, is supporting a new UK Resource Efficiency Action Plan (REAP) for the brick industry. The Clay Bricks and Clay Block REAP was launched on 8 October 2013 at the House of Commons, where speakers included John Sandford, Sustainability Director at Wienerberger, Iain Wright, Shadow Minister for Innovation and Skills, and MP Lorely Burt. The idea of a REAP for the sector was initially discussed by the Brick Development Association (BDA) and the Construction Products Association (CPA). The CPA connected with WRAP and, with both parties agreeing that a wider ranging investigation into the use, design, logistics and reuse of bricks was required, a partnership was entered into with the ready-mix and the precast concrete sectors, who were initiating their own action plans at the time.

The three sectors have much in common. While transport and packaging are obvious, the product sectors all have the beneficial effects of high thermal mass and durability. And although there are some areas of competition, much of the sectors’ output is complementary. Due to the large critical mass of the heavyweight industries, together they can attract assistance from other contributors.

While the brick, precast and ready-mixed sectors have produced separate REAPs, they are working together to assist each other and in doing so support the whole supply chain, from raw material extraction through to the demolition/ deconstruction of buildings, in identifying and creating an actionable strategy for reducing waste and improving resource efficiency. The initiative has received additional support in the form of Government funding as well as technical input from Ceram (for clay bricks and blocks, and precast concrete) and the Building Research Establishment ([BRE] for ready-mixed concrete).

Building foundations
The REAPs are not an end in themselves, but a starting point to examine activities and increase profit. Everyone knows that good environmental practice and sound management in reducing waste and energy requirements is not only necessary to fulfil our energy obligation up to and beyond 2020, but also that it makes good business sense. As such, these plans will be built upon by the respective sectors to become a blueprint for improvement and an agenda for the sectors to respond to new technologies, further improving their industries. The plan will undergo constant review to confirm that, against a set of key performance indicators (KPIs), the industries are improving.

It is thanks to the expertise of the people in the brick industry that the Clay Bricks and Clay Blocks REAP is both comprehensive and inspirational. While the BDA feels that the industry is already environmentally sound and efficient, there is nonetheless a strong commitment to improving performances, reducing environmental impact further and increasing efficiency. From manufacturing, logistics and architecture, to construction on-site and eventual reuse, these plans will address the totality of brick’s use in construction.

The REAP is not only concerned with manufacturing but considers the whole life cycle of the material. As a country and as an industry, the UK cannot affiord to waste resources, and this plan builds on the considerable resources of the sector to look to the future and build on its already successful products.

An important initial outcome of the REAP was to codify the industry’s existing activities in line with the GCB’s headings to review and improve its performance. This was issued as a separate document, Key Performance Indicators and Targets to 2020. These KPIs are a central part of the reporting mechanism to ensure that the REAP progresses and becomes an active blueprint for the sector, and that it both develops and changes to respond to improvements in technology and practical requirements.

REAPs in action
Of course, these plans must be carried through. Many actions are already underway, including a 25-page document advising designers and contractors on the use of recycled bricks – not as straightforward as you might think. For example, many bricks used as internal walls are soft and not fully vitrified, having been under-fired in Victorian times. These bricks are not suitable as external facings, as many contractors have discovered, to their cost. Issues such as this have to be considered before defi nitive advice can be offered that will help to take the industry forward. While many BDA members would rather not have to compete with the recycled brick sector, they accept the broader view that it helps the industry’s sustainability credentials.

There are many other complicated issues that need to be addressed. While bricks produced today under EN771-1 2011 Specifi cation for Masonry Units will be suitable for reuse in years to come, how can clay bricks dating back more than 100 years be CE marked, even though they were produced under a harmonised standard? The sector is addressing some complex issues on the most seemingly minor of topics.

This might be a new plan, but the brick industry is already reaping the benefi ts – most obviously through the KPI document, which is helping the sector to improve as we speak. Action management such as this encourages transparency and is representative of brick production in the UK, and through this the industry will monitor investment and ensure that current UKAS certifi ed environmental management systems are maintained or improved upon.

To read the Clay Bricks and Clay Blocks REAP in full, visit

KPIs and targets to 2020

Action Carbon – Aims to reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. While these goals are taxing, there are a number of initiatives currently ongoing, including a pilot kiln that could reduce fi ring times.
Action Water – There are two main possibilities of reducing water consumption. First, reducing mains intake by recycling water within the production process and second, rain water harvesting from the extensive plant roofs. These two initiatives will heavily reduce the industry’s dependency on mains water in the future.
Action Wellbeing – The brick industry is a central part of its local communities and many brickworks have a long history of involvement. Today, there is no tolerance of health and safety lapses, coupled with a requirement to educate and ensure the wellbeing of the industry’s workforce.
Action Waste – While the brick industry has traditionally produced little waste, this has not always been used as benficially at it could. A strategic review will be conducted and advice sought from European colleagues who have some new solutions.
Action Materials – The brick industry has commissioned BRE to carry out an Environmental Product Declaration to EN15804, which is among the fi rst to be carried out under this process.
Action Biodiversity – There are many attractive ex-brickwork sites in the UK, with nature transforming clay pits into dramatically beautiful locations. The brick industry has in the past, and will seek in the future, to accelerate this natural process, and also to consider the current sites and promote biodiversity within existing operations.