Down to Earth Sustainability

19th August 2021

Geoenvironmental • Geotechnical • Industry matters

“It now appears to be the norm to switch on the news and see videos of wildlife sprinting out of fire-stricken forests, turtles caught up in fishing nets and families cowering on roofs as flood water slowly creeps up towards them.”


Ground & Water Engineer, Aubyn Shortland asks: “How does this relate to the sustainability credentials of the Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental engineering industry?”

The answer is surprisingly easier than you think. For example, the construction and engineering industry collectively made up for 20% of all European plastic consumption in 2017. As I sit here now, I can count on both hands and feet the number of sites where I have encountered ground conditions that have required large level reductions, in order to suit the site’s proposed end-use. All this work requires heavy machinery that burns fossil fuel, testing that requires single use plastic equipment or landfill space to dump all the excavated material.

Sadly, the use of these methods is prevalent across the industry and without alternatives they are generally seen as unavoidable. But steps can be taken to help mitigate and begin to drive the conversation in the right direction to make a positive change. This is why Ground & Water has set up its own Sustainability Working Group. We aim to help reduce not only our own environmental impact as a company,  but also aim to make recommendations for our clients’ developments and our sub-contractors, so together we can all start to move forward in the right direction.

One of the ground investigation industry’s main vices is the consumption of single use plastics. Research conducted by some of the laboratories we use, discovered that in a single year they disposed of approximately 60,000 plastic 1-litre sampling tubs across their clients, which roughly equated to 2.8 tonnes of waste directly into landfill. They too understand the irony of environmentalist’s vast plastic consumption and have recently found a recyclable alternative. With this in mind, we have created a list of items that we plan to phase out of our internal work streams and find non-plastic and/or multi-use alternatives. These such items include, bulk bags, small-disturbed sampling bags, plastic gloves and bailers.

Another avenue for change will be the vehicles we use. Our technicians are well versed with the M25 and as a team they easily cover over 100,000 miles a year. The oldest van in our Technician fleet has a 2019 registration and we are proud to say our vans have modern low emission engines, but what if our vans created no emissions at all? A fully electric fleet may be a little while off for now, but it is very much on the sustainability radar. In the meantime, we aim to begin utilising cleaner construction machinery such as electric powered diggers for the many BRE365 soakage reports we conduct.

With the many branches forming the metaphorical tree of sustainability, it is going to take a combined effort from every member of our industry in order to make a positive impact. That’s why Ground & Water is currently researching different initiatives such as tree planting schemes and construction techniques such as carbon capture, so we can advise our clients the best ways to help reduce the impact of their development on the environment. Our business has already cut its paper consumption considerably, helped very much by the pandemic and people working from home. In an effort to reduce, reuse and recycle; any paper we do use is shredded and used for animal bedding. These are only some of the positive changes we have made so far and we plan to implement many more in the coming months and years.

It is a work in progress and improving our sustainability credentials and helping our clients to do the same, will take time. But with enough time, effort, and participation we hope to make a positive change on our industry. We are always on the lookout for new ideas and techniques so please feel free to drop us an email with any suggestions to: [email protected]

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At Ground & Water we like the bigger picture. Our regularly updated blog highlights and discusses the industry’s challenges and issues. It provides you with insights into innovation, how we are constantly changing and adapting to provide you class leading, cost effective, services and how through investing in our team, we are delivering on our promises. And it’s a great read!

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