Is this the decade that demolition gains deserved respect in the value chain?

As part of his regular column with Demolition and Recycling International, our MD Richard Vann looked at demolition’s place in the value chain and asks whether this decade will be the time when the contractor will get the appreciation they deserve.

Ask anyone outside of the demolition industry what our engineering profession does, and they’d no doubt describe scenes full of dozers and excavators (even cranes and balls), pulling down tired buildings, plant and other assets, in order to make way for something more exciting.

Perhaps with a little latitude, they wouldn’t, strictly speaking, be wrong, of course. But would they understand the lengths to which we go to ensure hazards are mitigated? Methodologies are designed and validated? Communities are engaged? The environment is protected?

No – and why would they?

Compare that to the perceptions that exist surrounding the role of a construction consultancy or architect. Admittedly, a layperson perhaps still wouldn’t describe the technicality of these professions in deserved depth either. However, I bet they’d be more likely to acknowledge the design acumen, planning rigour and project management prowess of such teams.

This is not to take anything away from such a summary. These are highly skilled individuals bringing innovative new buildings, facilities, structures and processes to market. But what if they weren’t the only people to kickstart the lifecycle of such an asset?

The ongoing economic shift to a more closed loop society means that we are increasingly trying to preserve the world’s resources and prolong the part they play in the value chain.

That’s why in product design, for instance, savvy brands are now pioneering goods that don’t just look and perform great during their useful life – they’re engineered for ease of safe, cost-effective reuse or recyclability too. Naturally, experts from the waste industry are consulted as part of this process, which means the supply chain becomes less linear, and more circular.

So, what has this got to do with the demolition industry?

As a demolition consultancy, yes, we are often hired to deliver works execution services and, in the UK, we act as CDM Principal Designer for the vast majority of our clients – a role that we see as integral to the project management structure. However, as with most undertakings, the quality of inputs at the earliest possible stages of an assignment will influence the level of success that can be achieved.

Some forward-thinking organisations may therefore seek front-end engineering support much earlier in the lifecycle of a project – and I’m not just talking about feasibility and options studies. We are often asked to deliver pre-build asset management and retirement provisioning services for high hazard plants, for example – a process which provides the foundations for a robust financial management tool that owners can utilise to confidently accrue adequate funds for the asset’s eventual end of life decommissioning.

This has the potential to be far more than a budgeting exercise. It can help when periodically assessing the plant’s ongoing viability against future liabilities, evaluating the business case for retro-fitting and maintaining cost awareness for the acquisition or divestment of assets, to name just a few benefits.

But the value of this type of service – and indeed the demolition profession on the whole – would be amplified if the data to support the planning and programming of the asset’s retirement, was considered during the pre-construction phase of a plant.

Firstly, the longer-term costs associated with the eventual decommissioning of the installation could have a significant impact on the asset’s profitability across the entirety of its lifecycle – costs which could be better controlled with more of the closed loop collaboration described above.

Secondly, if the decontamination, dismantling and demolition of an asset are considered before it has even been constructed, there may be ways to ease some of the practical, safety and environmental concerns that may otherwise arise further down the line.

It must be noted that such collaborations are already taking place in industry, but not to the degree that they should be. I hope that ongoing supply chain dialogue during 2021 and beyond, will change that. We can close the loop in our world too.