25 years of SmartWaste: a journey towards sustainability excellence

For the past 25 years, SmartWaste by BRE has been spearheading the construction industry’s journey towards environmental sustainability. Born out of extensive research in the late 1990s, SmartWaste has evolved into a comprehensive software tool that helps construction firms to measure, target, report and reduce waste and other sustainability metrics.

As SmartWaste celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, we take a look back at some of the key milestones over the past two decades that have shaped SmartWaste into the gold standard for sustainability management that it is today.


Science and research underpins SmartWaste

Long before SmartWaste came into being, BRE was conducting pioneering research on reducing construction waste. Funded by the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, BRE developed the methodology for SmartAudits in the late 1990s to quantify waste during construction projects.

The research findings from working with clients like Willmott Dixon on social housing projects laid the foundations for developing a digital tool to consistently measure and report on waste generated. This research-backed experience was invaluable for creating SmartWaste in the early 2000s to fulfil the industry’s need for smarter waste management.


Bringing digital efficiency through SmartWaste

The first version of SmartWaste was launched in 2000, allowing construction teams to report and analyse waste data digitally. The ability to capture waste information electronically was a significant step up from paper-based audits.

Over the next decade, SmartWaste continued to expand its scope and capabilities. Key developments included adding new modules for reporting on site energy, water use, and certified timber. The range of reports and graphs provided actionable insights for clients to understand and reduce their environmental impact.

“SmartWaste helps us make data more transparent, creating more efficient processes and giving us vital information for our annual reports. The complexity has been minimised, resulting in valuable time savings. In addition to this, as an organisation with a keen focus on achieving the highest standards, it is a big benefit that SmartWaste aligns with BREEAM principles.”

Callum Scott, Project Sustainability Manager, Canary Wharf Group

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Waste legislation creates opportunity for better practice

A major legislative boost came in 2008 when Site Waste Management Plans (SWMPs) were mandated in the UK for all construction projects over £300,000. BRE was quick to respond by launching the SmartWaste Plan tool to meet the new compliance requirements.

More importantly, SmartWaste Plan armed the industry to exceed the basic legal requirements. Powerful forecasting and reporting functionality enabled construction firms to actively reduce waste year-on-year rather than simply document it. The ability to benchmark performance was a gamechanger for driving better waste management.

Mainstream sustainability management

For the past 15 years, SmartWaste has helped embed sustainability management in construction. Generating accurate waste data and forecasts is now a best practice expectation for construction projects. One pivotal moment was the London 2012 Olympics, which used SmartWaste across the entire Olympic Park and development of the Stratford site.

SmartWaste also integrates with BREEAM, the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for buildings also developed by BRE. This allowed construction firms to efficiently manage site information and evidence for certification purposes.

Having an effective digital tool has been key enabler. Over 27,000 projects have been completed in SmartWaste with a combined contract value of over £298b. Over 83 million tonnes of waste has been recorded with 90% of total waste diverted from landfill. CO2 from site energy use totals over 1 million tonnes/CO2 which is equivalent to 133 billion smartphones charges! And total transport miles totals nearly 20 million miles (or 80 trips to the moon.) The user base has expanded to over 3,500 active users tracking sustainability KPIs through SmartWaste.

Looking ahead, new system-to-system integration like the API (Application Programming Interface) will make capturing sustainability data even more robust, efficient and seamless, removing the need for manual data capture This will allow SmartWaste users to access machine learning capabilities and other technological innovations.

Towards a circular economy

After 25 years of spearheading waste minimisation in construction, SmartWaste is gearing up to power the industry’s next transition – towards a circular economy.

With its vast reservoir of data and industry expertise, SmartWaste is uniquely positioned to enable construction firms to minimise waste, reuse resources, and drive social value. The abundant data, insights and integration capabilities will allow SmartWaste to drive innovations like low-carbon construction, circular resource use and social value measurement. With digitisation as an accelerator, SmartWaste is perfectly positioned to enable construction firms on the next leg of their sustainability journey over the next 25 years.

Since pioneering digital waste tracking in the late 1990s, SmartWaste is an indispensable sustainability tool for the construction industry. Its successful journey has closely mirrored the industry’s growing prioritisation of environmental issues and the ever-increasing aspiration and drive towards zero carbon.
With an eye on the future, SmartWaste is poised to lead construction firms to the next level of sustainable construction performance. The best is certainly yet to come.

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