Sustainability is a philosophy, a way of living that allows the needs of the present to be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Environment. People. Economy. These are the three pillars of sustainability. Like a three-legged stool, a philosophy built on any two of these pillars would be unstable.
Looking after the environment and people couldn’t last for long without nurturing the economy. Protecting the environment and the economy at the expense of human wellbeing would be disastrous. To focus on people and the economy without a care for the environment would be to continue a bad habit.
For a perfect balance, all three pillars of sustainability must be respected and understood. They support a wide and diverse range of sustainable choices, from wellbeing policies, employment and training, and time management, to recycling policies, mode of building and furnishing premises, and use of space.
But let’s have a closer look at two major factors of sustainability: materials and energy.
When we’re looking at the sustainability of materials, there are several factors to consider.
If it’s an organic material …
How quickly does it grow?
How far does it have to travel?
Does the production of this material involve fair trade and ethical labour?
If it’s an inorganic material …
Is it recyclable?
What are the environmental costs of producing it?
What are the environmental costs of transportation?
Again: fair trade and ethical labour?
Let’s cherry-pick a few examples of sustainable materials for a UK office.
For furniture and structural applications (window frames, for example), recycled steel is a sustainability champion.
Steel, an alloy of iron (approximately 99%) and carbon (approximately 1%), is one of the strongest and most durable materials available. However, the production of steel comes at a heavy cost to the environment.
Iron occurs in ore as a compound with oxygen – most commonly, magnetite (Fe3O4) or haematite (Fe2O3). To separate the two elements, the compound is heated to a temperature of around 1,700°C, and carbon from the burning fuel combines with the oxygen to produce carbon dioxide (CO2). The resulting compound – about 96% iron and 4% carbon – is called pig iron, and this material then goes through a decarbonisation process, where it’s re-melted and exposed to oxygen, which combines with the unwanted carbon to form more carbon dioxide.
The production of steel gobbles up the Earth’s depleting fossil fuels and emits huge amounts of carbon dioxide.
Steel, though, is infinitely recyclable, with no deterioration in quality. Easily recoverable from refuse by magnetic extraction, steel is at present the world’s most recycled material, with an estimated 650 million tonnes reused, globally, every year. Production of recycled steel equates to energy savings of around 70%, and 740kg of coal per tonne of steel.
The UK steel-recycling industry is growing fast, and jobs are being created on the back of it. With local availability of recycled steel, transportation is reduced, resulting in smaller carbon footprints for the steel itself, for manufacturers, and for consumers. At Aqua Libra Co, we’re proud to incorporate recycled steel in our products.
In 2011, the Forestry Commission reported that Britain comprised 28,650 square kilometres of woodland, accounting for 11.76% of the country’s total area. Nine years later, in 2020, Britain’s woodland area had increased to 32,000 square kilometres. That’s 13% of Britain’s total area.
In response to a growing demand for home-grown materials, and with support from the Grown in Britain scheme, the British timber industry is beginning to thrive.
Grown in Britain’s stamp of approval guarantees that materials and products come from legal and sustainable UK sources. More and more businesses and consumers are choosing home-grown timber and timber products, reducing the environmental impact of transportation, and stimulating economic activity in the forestry and wood-processing sectors.
Our growing timber trade is providing employment, sustainable timber sources, and additional woodland habitat for Britain’s wildlife.
And the more woodland there is, the more carbon dioxide is sequestered, tipping the atmospheric balance in the right direction.
When you’re buying furniture or building a home office, look out for the Grown in Britain logo.
Bamboo is a bit of a mixed bag.
This rapidly renewable resource, which reaches maturity in just five years, needs no pesticides for healthy growth, thanks to its antibacterial properties. It absorbs up to 70% more carbon dioxide than hardwood trees, and its nutrient-rich leaves nourish and regenerate the topsoil. When harvested, it’s cut at the base of the stem, so no replanting is needed.
Bamboo only grows in tropical regions, so any bamboo products you buy will have been produced from material transported from Asia, Australia, or South America. This significant contribution to a carbon footprint, however, is offset to some degree by the carbon-negative factors associated with the plant.
Bamboo starts to lose sustainability points when it’s processed. Engineered (strand-woven) bamboo makes terrific flooring, but in the production of strand-woven bamboo, heat and chemicals are used. As for bamboo fabric, bear in mind that this description is a misnomer; it will most likely refer to the fact that natural cellulose from bamboo has been used to produce rayon, a form of plastic.
Other natural materials from renewable sources include linen and sheep’s wool, both grown in Britain – and cotton, which has a bit further to travel!
All over the world, energy is being produced from renewable sources such as the sun, wind, and water. The UK has the distinction of owning eight of the world’s twelve highest-capacity offshore wind farms. However, despite innovative global efforts to reduce our reliance on the Earth’s diminishing reserves of fossil fuel, at least 80% of commercial energy is still derived from gas, coal, and crude oil.
It’s important to use energy economically.
Lightbulbs emit energy in the form of visible light (measured in lumens) and heat. A traditional incandescent bulb will emit 85-90% heat and only 10-15% light. An LED bulb emits 20-50% heat and 50-80% light.
To produce 1600 lumens, an incandescent lightbulb will consume 100 watts, which is five to seven times more energy than an LED bulb, which consumes just 14-20 watts.
Thanks to lower energy consumption, LED lightbulbs save money and contribute to a lower level of CO2 emissions.
A desktop computer consumes, on average, around 0.1 kWh when in use. If it’s being used for eight hours a day, that’s 0.8 kWh per day, 4 kWh per (five-day) week, and 208 kWh per year. The generation of 208 kWh of electricity produces 48.5 kg of CO2 emissions.
When a computer is in sleep mode, its energy consumption falls to around one third, so if your PC is left in sleep mode overnight (about 16 hours), it will consume approximately 0.5 kWh of electricity. That’s 2.5 kWh per week and 130 kWh per year, equating to around 30 kg of CO2 emissions. If it’s left in sleep mode during weekends, that’s another 82 kWh (19 kg CO2) per year.
Turning off your computer at the end of each day saves a lot of money and energy.
When it comes to water dispensers, Aqua Libra Co products are all designed to conserve energy. Ultra-efficient refrigeration, smart-reporting technology, and our own patented twin boiler all contribute to low energy consumption. And the excellent Aqua Pure filtration system eliminates all limescale, meaning full functionality and longevity.
If you’d like to talk to us about your project, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.