Page 2: The historical perspective
During the 1990s there was increasing governmental and environmental pressure on the UK’s construction companies to address construction procurement methods and efficiency and engage in more sustainable practices. This took place against a background of global concern about causing irreparable damage to the planet’s resource base. The construction industry must think carefully about how and why it uses scarce resources.
In 1998, a Construction Task Force was set up to investigate poor industry standards. The outcome was the publication of the Egan Report which revealed under-achievement within the construction industry, low profitability and insufficient investment in capital, research and development and training. The Report contained proposals for improving construction performance and stated that the industry must design projects for ease of construction and processes with improved energy efficiency.
Sustained improvement should be delivered through use of techniques for eliminating waste and increasing value for the customer. Instead of focusing primarily on the base price of a project, construction firms should take wider consideration of future maintenance costs and environmental impact. For example, it may appear cost effective to install cheap windows but if they need extensive maintenance or replacement after a short period of time then the initial purchase proves to be a false economy.
As a result of the Egan Report, a Local Government Act was passed laying a new statutory duty of best value for local authorities. As well as local authorities and housing associations many private facilities and property managers are also adopting the best value concept. This was particularly relevant in the case of the replacement window market which was often more concerned with providing PVC-u windows as a short term solution than with any thoughts of long-term performance, maintenance and implications on the environment.
For years, the pressure group Greenpeace has been active in highlighting the environmental concerns with PVC-u and was particularly scathing in its criticisms of the Government demanding that: 'The UK Government has agreed to eliminate hazardous substances by 2020. Let’s start with PVC-u windows.'
PVC-u stands for unplasticised polyvinyl chloride. (Soft PVC, often called vinyl, contains softeners or plasticisers. PVC-u does not contain these softeners and is hard and inflexible as a result.)
The production and disposal of all types of PVC release some of today’s most damaging industrial pollutants and some of the chemicals used to make PVC-u are the subject of international conventions to ban them. When PVC-u windows are disposed of, many of these chemicals are again released into the environment, either through chemical reactions caused when PVC-u is incinerated or through depositing old PVC-u frames in landfill sites.