Member Interview Series: Stephen Elliott – British Association of Reinforcement (BAR)

Member Interview Series: Stephen Elliott – British Association of Reinforcement (BAR)

Member Profile – British Association of Reinforcement

Intro: Stephen Elliott owns Constructive Dialogue, a communications consultancy established specifically for the construction and building industries. He’s worked with the British Association of Reinforcement (BAR) since its inception, and is now both their Project Director and Chairman.

Tell us about British Association of Reinforcement

BAR was set up in 2005, and it acts as the industry association for UK manufacturers and fabricators of concrete reinforcement products, including cut, cut and bent rebar and mesh, and also reinforcement accessories as well. Its purpose is to add value to the industry through market and product developments, promotion of good industry health and safety practices, and to form a development of the reinforced concrete industry as a whole. All of our members are recognised and approved by industry accredited quality schemes.

You’ve just joined CONSTRUCT, tell us what you hope to get out of, and bring to the membership?

We joined CONSTRUCT because we do reinforcement and they do concrete construction – it’s a marriage made in heaven! We want to work with them to increase the dialogue and collaboration, and to reform the concrete sector as a whole. There’s significant synergy between us, and our becoming members of CONSTRUCT and CONSTRUCT becoming members of BAR will help to realise the potential of the synergy through more industry collaborations and sharing of knowledge and expertise. We’ll now be able to sit on their committees, and they can sit on ours.

What are the biggest issues facing the reinforcement sector and the construction industry as a whole, at present?

One that’s really reared its ugly head post-Brexit and post-pandemic is material shortages, and the cost of those as well. The timing of these two have basically created a perfect storm for supply chain issues. However, we’re remaining optimistic – we believe any issue will be temporary, and will alleviate over time. I’m not aware of any reinforcement supply issues; our people both in the UK and from Europe have got the full capacity to supply.

Looking forward, the other major challenge is net zero – the government’s target is to reach net zero by 2050, so the industry as a whole is going to have to be far more sustainable. At the moment I believe the construction industry accounts for something like 45% of total carbon emissions in the UK, which is huge! So, whatever we can do to reduce that will have a significant effect.

On the manufacturing side, our two members are Celsa Steel and ArcelorMittal, and they’re doing all sorts of initiatives and implementing policies to reduce the carbon emissions of reinforcement. Celsa has just joined the United Nations Global Compact, where there’s more than 13,000 member companies in 162 countries, and it commits every company to aligning all of its operations with UN’s Global Compact ten principles, which includes things like environmental sustainability and anti-corruption.

ArcelorMittal meanwhile have announced that their plant in Spain – Sestao – will become the world’s first zero carbon steel plant, and the way they’re going to do that is by harvesting green hydrogen and renewable energy. It has also launched its XCarb™ programme which will ultimately bring together all of the company’s reduced, low and zero-carbon products and steelmaking activities, as well as wider initiatives and green innovation projects, into a single effort focused on achieving demonstrable progress towards carbon neutral steel.

Of course, all of the reinforcement steel produced by BAR members is via the EAF (electric arc furnace) method, using 98% recycled contents. Producing steel by this method reduces the carbon footprint by four times when compared to basic oxygen steel.

In terms of the fabricators, they’ve got ongoing active sustainability programmes to reduce their environmental impact by increasing process efficiency, and also by making improvements to things like prefabrication, by making the material uses far more efficient, and by producing far less waste.

So, as an industry we’re looking at the challenge of zero carbon emissions as a whole, but we’re also able to offer a more sustainable product which will help CONSTRUCT members meet their own CO2 objectives. The more sustainable we can make it, the more sustainable they can make their concrete solutions for their clients.

Another challenge we’re facing is the human factor – we’ve got an ageing workforce and a poor image of the construction industry that stops young people from wanting to join. We need to attract more diversity, and particularly more women into the industry , and we need to do it quickly – the workforce is steadily ageing and we’ve got lots of experienced people retiring but no-one coming in to take their place.

What do you think can be done about that?

I think we need a strong overall industry campaign to attract younger and more diverse people. Companies also need to be a bit more proactive too. For example ArcelorMittal are tackling two of these issues – lack of workforce and also social responsibility – by introducing an active programme of working with ex-prisoners. In doing this they’re introducing them to the industry while giving them a fresh start.

Also, like the car industry has done, more investment in robotics and modular construction could be an option, alongside having more efficient products that require fewer people, such as using reinforced prefabricated mesh, which uses much less of a workforce than you would be using otherwise.

We also need to embrace more of a digital technology approach – I think because the construction industry sees itself as a “physical” sector, it’s not as switched on to the technological advances that other sectors seem to adopt more readily.

What are the recent innovations from your members that could have an impact on our concrete contractor members?

I’ve touched on sustainability innovations, but BAR is also doing some quite innovative research which hopefully will have a direct benefit for CONSTRUCT members. We’re planning to publish some brand new research which has never been done before. It’s been carried out by the University of Greenwich, and for the first time will provide real, accountable cost comparisons between the free, operational and the performance benefits of reinforced concrete compared with what timber and steel would have to do to provide a building of equivalence.

Following on from this research, I’m now in discussions with the University of Greenwich about how we can use reinforced concrete in modular construction. We’re very keen to look at different ways of doing things, and it would be great to work on some of these projects with CONSTRUCT, too.

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