Design-Related Activities That Cause Waste and How to Stop Them

The construction industry is expected to hit $12.9 trillion by 2022 with the CAGR expected to be approximately 7%, with China, India and SE Asia touted to be the fastest-growing markets. These kinds of growth numbers suggest that the construction industry would be the backbone of any economy. While technology and regulations are making their way into a largely unorganized construction sector in the developing economies, there is still a long way to go. 

The burgeoning growth of the construction industry has led to the increase of construction wastes and this situation is fast becoming a serious issue which regulators are grappling to control. Understandably the construction waste material brings many negative impacts on the environment, cost, productivity, and time among others. 

The increase of construction wastes is mainly due to the inefficient waste management practices in construction projects. Government agencies and compliance authorities with an intent to curb the increasing construction waste are keen to deploy techniques that might result in the more efficient waste disposal and management.

Person Cutting Wood on Table Saw during Daytime

The research study conducted by Steer highlighted the growing concern of stakeholders across the construction industry towards efficient waste management and sustainable development. Almost 70% of our respondents highlighted the growing relevance of effective waste management on construction sites. It must also be noted that 11% of greenhouse gas is caused due to construction activity and approximately 20% of municipal landfill comes from construction waste – a trend that government agencies and compliance authorities are increasingly becoming aware of. Several stakeholders highlighted the growing concern from a compliance perspective and the ability to improve project cost savings. 

While academic research has highlighted various potential reasons for construction waste, issues around design and documentation are certainly among the biggest contributors to material waste. Through this blog post, we will explore some of the design-related activities and how could construction companies look to minimize this waste.

Design and Documentation in the Construction Industry

Design is the initial step in the development of construction projects before entering the construction process. Broadly speaking, design and documentation is a process of creating the description of a new facility, usually represented by detailed plans and specifications; construction planning is a process of identifying activities and resources required to make the design a physical reality. Hence, construction is the implementation of a design envisioned by architects and engineers. Design is often a complicated and iterative process and numerous operational tasks must be performed with a variety of precedence and other relationships among the different tasks. 

Man Wearing Blue Hard Hat Using HammerThere are innumerable iterations and versions of the design and documentation from the time they are first drafted to the final version. These changes of design plans could be because of evolving market demands or site complexity. Often, the service life of a facility is long and the anticipation of future requirements becomes difficult. While, the design and documentation play an important role throughout the construction process, accommodating changes to the evolving design specs could become challenging from an on-ground practical perspective, especially when materials management is concerned. 

Design-Related Activities Causing Construction Waste

One of the prominent identified reasons for materials waste is around design and documentation. Very often in construction projects, there are alterations to design specs and confusion arising from the versioning of documentation. It is not uncommon that the on-site teams and the head office teams are looking at two different versions of the same design specs. This issue primarily arises because the processes are still largely manual or email-based resulting in some inefficiencies. 

When we talk about construction materials waste arising from design and documentation, we are looking at the waste arising from the following:

  • Change to design - Innumerable design changes often are the largest contributors to materials waste. The issue arises when the designs have been finalized and the construction materials have been ordered based on the approved designs. A report[1] by Emerson suggests that up to 30% of initial data created during the design and construction phase is lost by project closeout. With so many changes to the design, inevitably, a lot of construction materials would eventually end up as waste. 
Floor Plan on TableDocument problems - As per a report[2] up to 70% of the total rework experienced in construction and engineering projects is a result of design-induced work. This could be a result of document problems that arise during the design phase. Manual processes are the reason behind the same; without a digital interface where designs are updated in real-time to ensure that all stakeholders are looking at the same design specs, it becomes challenging. Paper-based designs or CAD files shared over Emails or messages could often lead to confusion, which could be the reason behind construction material waste. 
  • Other material waste issues - Some causes of construction waste are the lack of attention of the designers in the construction process and the constructability of design intention. Specifying too many materials and sizes in the construction project may lead to ordering large amounts of material because of minimum order or production requirements from the suppliers. This material cannot be used in actual construction and may remain on-site and end up as waste 

Numerous other design-related issues lead to construction material waste issues. These include design errors by the internal teams or architects, complicated designs, or construction drawing errors. Any of these could well add up to on-site material wastage. 

Minimizing Construction Waste Caused by Design Activities

Top view of mechanical machines providing frame of future building in sandy quarry on sunny dayWhile all construction material waste cannot be eliminated by using a software application, using a construction management solution like Steer could help reduce unwanted inefficiencies in the system and minimize the on-site material waste. Using a construction management solution with all stakeholders under one unified platform could ensure that they are looking at the same version of the document and any last-minute changes made would be reflected in real-time in the version held by the stakeholder. 

Moreover, an integrated system will allow the planning for both design and construction which can proceed almost simultaneously, examining various alternatives which are desirable from both viewpoints and thus eliminating the necessity of extensive revisions under the guise of value engineering. Furthermore, the review of designs about their constructability can be carried out as the project progresses from planning to design. Finally, all stakeholders can collaborate in real-time on the construction management solution to ensure that everyone is on the same page while undertaking any design changes to the proposed site. 

Steer: A Materials-Centric Approach to Reducing Waste Caused by Design

Construction Worker Working on Site

With Steer, we take a materials-centric approach to managing all major activities in construction sites, with modules designed for a more effective materials management to incorporate industry best practices around construction waste management.

Steer's ‘Site Materials’ module has elements around site materials inventory, site waste tracking, waste movement tracking, and environmental compliance to ensure your organization stays on top of any issues arising from construction waste management.

Effective construction waste management will have substantial impacts on your organization, including:


• Reducing ecological impact

By adopting Steer, you would ensure proper waste management practices are followed in your organization. This will allow your company to send less refuse to landfills, where it would take up valuable space, clutter the environment and potentially leak harmful substances into the soil and groundwater, which might cause further complications.

• Maintaining compliance

If you merely throw your waste into dumpsters or add it to municipal waste streams, you could face fines for that improper disposal. Steer allows you a comprehensive waste management plan, which would allow you to stay apprised of relevant changes in the law, remain compliant, and avoid penalties.

• Lowering costs

Steer allows you to implement a responsible waste management plan, ensuring your construction company can reduce expenses. With proper tracking, you may be able to bring in extra funds from reselling used materials, and eventually lower your expenditures by reusing materials instead of purchasing fresh stocks.

Steer’s unique material-centric approach and its focus on construction material waste management can allow your organization to track and reduce construction waste which brings in not just savings but a credible boost to the brand image as well.

Reach out to one of our Go-Digital Evangelists HERE to understand how Steer’s material-centric approach can help you manage your construction wastes better.

Siddharth Wadehra, Head of Partnerships & Research

Sid Wadehra is a seasoned and a result-oriented professional with varied experience spanning geographies from leading multinationals to fast growing start-ups. His industry experience is well-complimented with business education from a global business school. Sid's expertise include digital transformation, corporate strategy, and innovation management.

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