In January 2007 retail giant Marks and Spencer launched Plan A, setting out 100 commitments, adding another 80 during the intervening years, with an aim to become the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015. It’s collaborative approach has set the standard for the industry to respond to. Adrian JG Marsh reports.

“When we kicked off it was a leap of faith,” says Munish Datta Marks and Spencers’ head of the Plan A property team.

“We needed to upskill ourselves and work with our contractors and help them upskill; we’re in a much better place now. Property is now responsible for 21 of our Plan A commitments and represents 30 per cent of our carbon foot print.

“We set our selves a target of zero waste by March 2012. Fit out contractors achieve 90 per cent and we want to drive to 100 per cent.”

Marks and Spencer measures performance at both project and contractor level by using the WRAP methodology. Last year the company sourced 23 per cent of materials from recycled sources but now says it wants to reach 30 per cent.

Datta emphasises that the process of change has been a collaboration with contractors. They’ve made great progress with materials. In 2007 FSC timber came at a premium cost. Today FSC timber is a minimum standard.

At Cheshire Oaks, M&S’s new showcase store and largest after its flagship store at Marble Arch, London, the building fabric has been carefully selected to reduce energy consumption and environmental impact. 2,600 m2 of Hemclad panels have been used in the external walls, which include hemp fibre insulation to give a U-value of 0.12W/m2.K and a total saving of around 360 tonnes of CO2 emissions in the construction of the walls.

Mr Datta said: “Cheshire Oaks will have 26 per cent recycled content and products such as Fermacell and Strata Tiles have a high recycled content. The roof insulation is 100 per cent recycled.”

Overall the new M&S will see energy and carbon consumption drop 30 per cent when compared to a similar sized traditional store.

A plea from Munish Datta to contractors and manufacturers: “How can we take what we know and add value quickly? Make it (products and services) cheaper so it becomes standard practice.”

Across the industry the trade is responding. The Plasterboard Sustainability Partnership (PSP) says the greatest opportunity for waste reduction can be realised in the design stage. A ‘design out waste’ sub-group has been set up to review design actions. It consists of representatives from GPDA, AIS, FPDC and WRAP.

Industry estimates suggest that 20 per cent is the average plasterboard waste during construction but by adopting best practice, including different sizes of boards and design details, plasterboard waste can potentially be halved.

Malcolm Waddell, construction project manager at WRAP, said: “Damage on site currently accounts for two to three per cent of waste, so planning carefully how plasterboard is stored and adopting just-in-time deliveries can make a huge difference.

“At the design stage, by looking at ceiling heights, door detailing and procurement, the most efficient board sizes can be identified, this can offer the greatest opportunities to reduce waste.”

PSP is producing an e-learning module which will be available by September. It is expected to include examples of best practice for standard height walls; bespoke board sizes; door detailing; on site cutting; storage and handling; and packaging British Gypsum has developed detailed drawings to suggest the most efficient way to install around doors and windows. They suggest boarding up to either side of a door opening and then infill at the top.

Andrew Wilkins, British Gypsum’s senior product manager, said: “Main contractors are pushing responsibility for waste to the trade contractor. And some (main contractors) are pushing for zero waste. We’ve seen contractors putting less and less into waste. Where possible they’ll re-use off cuts and only send waste to recycling that is too small to re-use.”

Lafarge Plasterboard’s GTEC LaDura Board has been used in the construction of 350 new-build apartments at Berkeley Homes’ Caspian Wharf development in East London, where the board’s strength and durability replaced the need for plywood.

The original specification for the project called for a layer of standard plasterboard that would be strengthened by a sheet of 12mm plywood.

Errol Ryan, project manager for BDL Group, said: “Plywood can be very time consuming and costly to fit, so by selecting a plasterboard with such excellent impact and pull-out performance we were able to dramatically cut the installation times and costs.”

Off-Site manufacturing of panels and modules has become an attractive solution in construction and offers opportunities to improve quality and reduce waste. One of the major challenges in modular construction has been to reduce damage in transit.

British Gypsum’s heavy duty Rigidur board has been developed in large formats to allow complete wall sections to be constructed from a single board. With no jointing there is no risk of cracking during transit. Sizes of up to 2m x 6m can be manufactured to suit module sizes which minimises waste by removing unnecessary off-cuts.

Andy Higson, British Gypsum’s national business development manager – Off-Site Manufacture, said: “Off site manufacturers generally work to about 10 per cent waste levels. While we can cut board to size you’ll always have issues with window and door openings. Also with stronger boards, so long as you use the right fixings and plugs, you can hang almost any weight on a wall without having to install patressing or plywood.”

Inevitably more clients will adopt the Marks and Spencer approach, which means sustainability targets and methodology won’t go  away. Specialist contractors will need to demonstrate their credentials even more than before. Earlier adopters will find solutions that can help them to improve productivity and gain a competitive advantage.

A final tip to contractors of all sizes from Munish Datta: “Ensure you stay ahead of the trend. Whether you have three employees or three hundred makes no difference. Smaller contractors are often more nimble.”