Our Environmental Approach

Following the recycling mantra

Building for the future

The construction industry, as a whole, is responsible for nearly 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. About half of those emissions come from the building and running of residential properties. This is not a problem for the next generation to solve but one that must be tackled immediately to safeguard the future for generations to come.

As structural engineers, we have a duty and an opportunity to make a difference and lead the way to the positive changes we want to see in our built environment. This is a challenge with no single silver bullet and we relish the chance to formulate inventive and innovative approaches to reduce our impact on the environment. These solutions range all the way from the overarching design philosophies of projects down to the smallest details.

What we do at Croft

Deciding to take a sustainable approach and produce a low-impact building and to what extent those things are pursued has to happen at the earliest stages of design as it will greatly impact other design decisions throughout the project. These approaches range in ambition from big-picture strategies, like contributing to a circular economy, to more project-centric goals like creating an energy efficient building. A variety of tools and expertise are necessary to achieve both aims.

The construction industry, as a whole, is responsible for nearly 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions

The Circular Economy

How we approach the Circular Economy


The aim of a circular economy is to directly reuse products and materials where possible and recycle where direct reuse is not possible. This reduces both the consumption of raw materials and the production of unusable waste.

As structural engineers, our design decisions can directly affect how well a building can contribute to a circular economy in many ways.

Firstly, we can reduce the need for replacing buildings in the future by designing:

  • robust structures to prolong their lifespan
  • versatile structures suitable for possible/likely future changes of use

Secondly, we can improve how many of a structure’s components can be directly reused by:

  • designing for deconstruction using easily reversible connections such as bolts and bearing/hook-style connections
  • reducing use of irreversible connections such as welds or adhesives
  • using typical, off-the-shelf materials and section sizes with known properties so that they can be used in a new application at the end of the original building’s lifespan

Finally, we can improve rates of recycling by specifying both products made of recycled materials and products made of materials that are readily recycled.

Low Impact Buildings & Improving Existing Structures

Even if a project brief doesn’t specify a desire for reduced environment impact, we can use our knowledge and experience to produce efficient structures that also benefit the client.

Project Types

As we are based in London, the majority of our projects are historic renovation works; many on properties over 100 years old. Updating these existing buildings to make them fit for modern life has a substantial inherent environmental advantage over demolishing existing buildings and starting from scratch.

Many of our renovation works lead naturally to improvements in efficiency. For example, a loft conversion will often see the original roof insulation replaced with significantly more effective contemporary materials. Similarly, lots of London houses have uninsulated suspended floors. Adding an insulated basement to such properties isolates the properties from the relatively cold ground below.

The benefits of improved insulation are twofold. Of course, it helps to keep interior spaces warm in winter but it also aids in keeping them cool in ever-increasingly warm summers. In the current climate, building low energy homes and retrofitting old properties to improve their efficiency is becoming ever more popular. Pursuing superior insulation to its extreme leads towards Passivhaus.

Project example

Passivhaus is a set of design criteria developed in Europe and becoming ever more popular in the UK. The targets relate to the airtightness and thermal efficiency of buildings with the aim of reducing, or even eliminating, the need for heating and cooling. Building to these standards can produce houses that use up to 75% less energy than a standard UK new-build[3].

Achieving the Passivhaus standard requires a fully insulated building. While this might sound simple, it prohibits many of the most common details such as a simple column on a concrete footing. In this case, either the entire footing must be within the thermal envelope of the building or the column itself must be isolated from the footing and then insulated up its length until it passes into the thermal envelope of the building. Products such as high-strength cellular glass insulation make these details possible.

At Croft, we have successfully completed several low energy, sustainable homes.

Project example

How we use materials

At Croft, we have extensive experience designing timber structures which have the potential to be both cheaper and more environmentally friendly than other materials.

Where other materials are required, there are ways we are able to enhance how they are used; with steel structures, we can optimise for the weight of steel used to reduce both the cost of materials and the embodied carbon of the structure and we can use materials like concrete to create thermal mass which, when used effectively, can capture heat during warm days and retain that warmth to reduce the amount of heating needed during colder nights.

With all these materials, it is possible to reduce the project’s environmental impact by ensuring all structural elements are designed such that their full capacity is used, rather than being overdesigned.

Manufacturing steel from the raw materials is incredibly energy intensive. Fortunately, around 70% of steel is recycled; a fairly impressive record for any major industry. Reforming recycled steel is a very energy-intensive process involving heating to 1200°C. The large nature of the plants required for this process mean that there are relatively few of them necessitating transportation of steel over long distances. All this results in steel having very high values for embodied carbon and energy (see Table 1).

However, steel has many redeeming qualities from an environment point of view. Primarily, steel is an infinitely recyclable material. While it does require large amount of energy, steel can be reformed over and over again without any loss of material nor material quality. This could allow a truly closed loop with no requirement for new raw materials and no waste for a given amount of steel. The manufacturing of steel also produced blast furnace slag as a by-product. This can be ground up and used as a replacement for ordinary Portland cement.

Concrete is a mixture of sand, aggregate, cement and water. The manufacturing process is energy intensive, involving mining and crushing limestone before heating it to 1400°C:  the temperature the limestone undergoes chemical reactions to form cement clinker. This takes the form rock-like balls which then need to be ground up into the fine powder we all know as cement.

Concrete is a very popular material due to its low cost and versatility. Concrete is not recycled, but is can be crushed, and repurposed hardcore. Increasingly, replacements for Portland cement like pulverised fly ash and ground granulated blast furnace slag are being used to reduce the environmental impact of concrete. How concrete is used can also be influential on its environmental impact. For example, it can be used to create thermal mass to reduce the heating and cooling needs of a building.

It is also possible to reuse existing concrete foundations to build a new building with the same footprint. If concrete is in place long enough, the cement will actually reabsorb some CO2 from the atmosphere in a process called carbonation.

During their growth, trees absorb CO2, effectively locking it away within the wood. Traditionally in the UK, timber has been used in the construction of floors, roofs and stud partitions. In recent years, it has been gaining popularity; partly due to its environmental credentials but also as a result of its versatility. Modern engineered timber products such as glue laminated timber (glulam), laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and cross-laminated timber (CLT) have paved the way to new ways to build structures using timber. Timber’s many desirable qualities have led to it becoming a favourite for projects like low-energy homes and prefabrication.

The gold standard for sustainable timber is the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. However, at present, which represents only about 20% of global industrial timber production. Other counterpoints to the sustainability of timber often relate to the preservatives used to protect it and the lack of ability to recycle timber at the end-of-life stage leading to re-release of the sequestered CO2 back into the atmosphere. With regard to the preservatives, using timber only where it is appropriate and correct detailing of timber structures can help prolong the lifetime of the material and mitigate, or even negate, the need for preservatives.

Additionally, improvements in areas such as clean energy will help reduce the environmental impact of the preservatives themselves. In response to the end-of-life criticism, burning wood only releases the CO2 it has already sequestered making it carbon-neutral. This is a claim that very few materials can, or may ever, be able to make. The burning of green waste is also more commonly being used to generate power, only adding to the green credentials of timber.