Building greener flood defences: Climate change calls for the gold standard in sustainable construction

Climate change affects us all, and its negative impact grows daily. In the face of mounting environmental challenges, protecting our planet has become more crucial than ever before. 

Climate change has heightened the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, including floods, making BAM’s work on the Environment Agency’s Collaborative Delivery Framework essential, to protect communities from the potentially devastating impact of flooding.

But do these vital flood defence schemes present a unique opportunity – to not only mitigate the impacts of climate change - but also to serve as pioneers for carbon reduction and sustainable construction? 

By integrating sustainable practices and prioritising long-term ecological health, flood defence schemes can serve as beacons of inspiration within the construction sector.

Hexham - BAM

Early engagement identifies carbon hot spots 

The Environment Agency’s Collaborative Delivery Framework, on which BAM is a delivery partner, enables supplier engagement from the earliest design stage of a project. And it is here that significant carbon savings can be delivered. 

Carbon hot spots can be identified and redesigned. New, innovative low carbon products can be considered and incorporated. Material and product suppliers can investigate alternative low carbon products on the market. All of this delivers huge sustainability benefits, which are often unachievable later in the project.

A great example is our recent flood alleviation scheme in Hexham. Here a collaborative partnership between BAM, the Environment Agency, Arup and Tarmac trialled  new low carbon concrete mixes for the first time in permanent works, showing fantastic potential to reduce embodied carbon by up to 70%. A pioneering experiment which will drive forward carbon reduction in our industry.

Low carbon concrete trial at Hexham

Modern methods of construction deliver lean green flood defences

To meet the challenges of the future, we need to drive the transformation of the construction industry, to engineer and build in a greener and more efficient way than ever before. 

Digital models design flood protection schemes, allowing us to see at design stage how materials can be reused, reduced and recycled to deliver carbon savings. Modern methods of construction and lean engineering processes reduce carbon, reduce waste and promote circularity . 

On our Team Valley Flood Alleviation Scheme, we’re exploring the use of 3D concrete printed bridges, printed in a factory and delivered to site, which can reduce carbon emissions by 60% when compared to traditional solutions. 


Nature-based solutions

Through the Environment Agency’s Collaborative Delivery Framework, we work to incorporate nature-based solutions into flood defence designs. These solutions, such as the creation of salt marshes, restoring bends in rivers, reforestation, and the use of green infrastructure, not only provide flood resilience but also act as carbon sinks, storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

This provides the perfect complement to the hard engineering often required to hold back flood waters and protect communities, further boosting flood resilience and creating rich biodiverse habitats.

A fantastic example is the Tees Tidelands programme, where BAM is currently supporting the Environment Agency to manage flood risk, while also restoring lost intertidal habitats. Rapid industrialisation of the Tees Estuary over recent decades left this area vulnerable to flooding. By restoring valuable intertidal habitats and salt marshes, we're providing nature-focused flood defences for homes and industry. 

Ormesby Beck

Ormesby Beck

Learning together to build a more sustainable tomorrow

But it’s not enough to work on our own. We must share our learning and expertise, engage in collaborative working with others and collectively reduce our impact. When we work together we can create more sustainable flood defence designs, build these with a lower impact and inspire the path to a more sustainable future.  

At BAM we’re taking steps towards a more sustainable future. By working together and taking collective action, we can build a more sustainable tomorrow .

To read more about BAM’s new Sustainability Strategy which was launched earlier this year here

About the author

Ruth Young - BAM

Ruth Young

Framework Manager

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Ruth is BAM’s Framework Manager for the Environment Agency. 

Ruth joined BAM in 2012 as Area Environment Advisor and has worked on a wide variety of infrastructure projects.

Ruth is a chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) with a passion for low carbon solutions and sustainable construction methods.