The sustainable future of steel in construction – the latest steps

By Dr Troy Coyle, HERA CEO

Sustainability in construction, particularly reducing carbon emissions, is a hot topic in New Zealand. Government-led initiatives such as Building for Climate Change are directing change within the sector. This framework proposes to set mandatory reporting and measurement requirements for whole-of-life carbon emissions, including from the materials used in construction, the construction process, construction waste, and the disposal of a building at the end of its life, which will form part of the NZ Building Code and associated regulations.

So, what are the latest steps being taken to secure a sustainable future for steel in construction? 

This month HERA, in partnership with Ekos and thinkstep-anz, launched a new zero carbon steel program for steel products, Hōtaka Whakakore Puhanga Waro. This is a major step forward in making steel in construction sustainable in line with a broader drive for carbon emissions reduction, and yet more proof of the steel industry’s momentum towards a fully sustainable future.

HERA is now in the process of developing Australasia’s first material passport, which will involve research to identify roadblocks and barriers to the reuse of structural steel. It will also investigate the role of a data platform in facilitating steel reuse. A material passport decision-making framework will be developed, with aim to facilitate the reuse and repurposing of steel, adding more value to steel’s place in the circular economy.

We also recently commissioned an assessment of the economic impacts of adopting Construction 4.0 (Industry 4.0 adapted to the construction sector) in New Zealand. The study showed that Construction 4.0 adoption would lead to a 0.5 to 1.0% increase in GDP, worth $1.2 to $2.5 billion within five years. HERA has already developed capability in Fabrication 4.0 (through our fab4.0lab), and now we are looking to do the same in Sustainability 4.0 as part of our broader Construction 4.0 research program.

Meanwhile the Sustainable Steel Council has developed a certification program based on Aotearoa New Zealand’s Living Standards Framework (LSF), which looks at sustainability in terms of intergenerational wellbeing across four capitals: financial, human, social, and natural. The steel industry was the first sector in New Zealand to use the framework to assess its own economic contribution, and the industry has used the LSF as the basis for developing the Aotearoa Steel Industry Transformation Plan, with New Zealand Steel and many of the steel industry associations already on board. At least 70% of structural steel volume is now coming from certified members.

HERA looks forward to sharing access to emerging research and approaches to improving and evaluating the sustainability credentials of steel. We are also keen to connect with like-minded organisations to develop best-practice initiatives and coordinate information sharing across the globe.

Dr Troy Coyle brings more than 20 years’ experience in innovation management across a range of industries including materials science, medical radiation physics, biotechnology, sustainable building products, renewable energy and steel. She is a scientist with a PhD (University of NSW) with training in journalism and communications

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.