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Sourcing UK steel won’t improve the sustainability of your projects and steel with a high recycled content isn’t the best way to reduce embodied carbon. Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right; sourcing locally reduces A5 transportation emissions whilst a high recycled content engages with the circular economy, reducing A1-A3 materials emissions. Right? The truth is that is an over-simplification of the problem.

With the construction industry currently booming, there is a large disparity between high demand and low supply, particularly in the UK where steel manufacturers are struggling to stay open amidst soaring gas prices. It may not be feasible to source locally, but the reality is that sourcing locally does not even guarantee lower embodied carbon; Steel made in the UK is typically produced via the more carbon intensive basic-oxygen-furnace route whilst European steel has a greater market share of electric-arc-furnace produced steel, with greatly reduced embodied carbon. This may be significant enough to offset carbon savings from transportation.

A high recycled content in steel means that a certain percentage doesn’t need to be produced from raw materials and some A1-A3 emissions are avoided. Whilst it is true that all steel should be recycled where possible, we are far from a fully circular economy and hence the decision to specify recycled steel should depend on its availability; if recycled steel is not available from the local area, there may be better ways to reduce your embodied carbon.

As with most challenges, it is important to consider them holistically. Consult with a whole life carbon expert to determine solutions that are specific to your projects.