Sustainable development

Respect for the environment is a priority for SEFI companies. Furthermore, this approach is part and parcel of the overarching concept of sustainable development.

Acting on these principles, a few years ago the major French infrastructure groups committed themselves to a procedure of ISO 14001 certification (environment), a procedure that embraced all their activities and all their subsidiaries, in France and abroad, and which involved setting ambitious annual and medium-term targets.
In order to demonstrate the importance that French contractors attach to environmental issues at the highest level, some groups have appointed Sustainable Development directors. Other companies have opted for a more decentralised approach by, for example, appointing an environment manager in each subsidiary. Subcontractors and suppliers were also given a part to play by incorporating environmental criteria in invitations to tender and by raising awareness among clients of construction processes that extend the useful life of a structure or facilitate its maintenance..
To encourage all their staff to incorporate sustainable development concepts and tools in their managerial and commercial practices, most companies have also adopted environmental charters, and many other initiatives have been launched, such as poster campaigns, specialised information letters, working groups, institutional and industrial partnerships and exchanges of experiences aimed at promoting good practices.

Staff training and the development of staff awareness of environmental issues are among the main factors that enable construction firms to have real impact on the ground. To take an example, recently the number of hours and programmes devoted to this important issue was increased.
In addition to the measures taken to reduce the impact of their activities on the environment, some companies have developed specific products or services in this sector, such as water treatment, the cleanup of polluted soil (e.g. the rehabilitation of the Spolana Neratovice factory in the Czech Republic carried out by SOLÉTANCHE BACHY). Specific contracts or procedures have also been created (e.g. the HEQ® -High Environmental Quality- and the system offered by SPIE BATIGNOLLES, Concertance Environnement®). In particular, High Environmental Quality buildings limit environmental impact throughout all the phases of the construction and lifetime of a building (including demolition).

Within the framework of their construction activities, the initiatives taken by the major SEFI companies to preserve the environment are based in particular on the following objectives::


Reducing the consumption of water and electricity and the emission of carbon gases is one of the means used by major French firms to reduce the impact of their activities on the environment. They are also working to develop a range of «cleaner» products.

Various instruments are being used to achieve these objectives:

  • Innovation: The Innovation and R&D policy of the major French construction firms is one of their strategic development priorities, and it is an aspect that has enhanced their reputation throughout the world. The environmental sector is no exception. Many tools and products that are «cleaner» or that consume less energy and materials have been designed thanks to R&D. For example, in 2003 COLAS developed a bitumen-free binder that is purely of plant origin. This company also developed the production of solvent-free paints and varnishes (Resithan Park and Park UV). At European level, GTM (VINCI group) is coordinating a research programme, PICADA (Photocatalytic Innovative Coverings Applications for Depollution Assessment). The aim of this project is to develop a range of transparent facade coatings that incorporate a component with self-cleaning and depolluting properties. The first trials should be carried out in 2004 on the facades of the Olympic village in Athens. This type of product extends the time between facade treatments and helps preserve the historical heritage, and as it is transparent it does not undermine the aesthetic appeal of the buildings that are treated;

  • The use of performance indicators that provide a means of calculating the consumption of the different products and materials and setting consumption reduction targets;

  • The increasing use of recycled materials: On the worksite where the Newport bypass is being built in Wales, 95% of the materials used by VINCI Construction Grands Projets for the earthworks and roads were recycled. Furthermore, the group was the «National Winner» of the Green Apple Awards for construction projects that contribute towards sustainable development. Also in the roads sector, renovation techniques have been developed for highways that involve the use of recycled materials;

  • The implementation of construction processes that reduce the consumption of materials: A case in point is the trenchless technique used to rehabilitate drainage networks. In addition to reducing the consumption of raw materials and reducing the volume of surplus excavated materials, this technique reduces the inconvenience caused to local residents and does not deteriorate the existing roads. In 2004, 40% of the pipes to be laid by SADE will involve this technique. Also, in cooperation with EDF and a number of industrial groups, BOUYGUES CONSTRUCTION developed solutions that limit energy losses in sensitive areas (balconies, windows, etc.).


    Increasingly, before a project is launched, environmental impact studies are carried out to ensure that the construction project blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape. In addition, many measures are taken to preserve biodiversity (protection of flora and fauna, etc.), especially when it comes to roadworks.
    Contractors also seek ways to reduce the impact of the inconvenience caused by projects: noise abatement (noise screens, etc.) and reduction of particles (filter systems, aspiration, etc.) and dust. For example, BOUYGUES has developed an innovative system (the «cigar-cutter») that is used instead of a pneumatic drill to cut large-diameter reinforced concrete columns inside buildings. The machine offers the second advantage that it reduces the emission of dust and the unpleasant-ness of the work.


    The major construction contractors have been increasingly looking at ways to control the waste generated by projects and have been rigorously monitoring the quantities produced and reprocessed. This involves selective sorting, the systematic recovery of products that are harmful and dangerous
    for man and for nature (waste water, etc.), the setting in place of processes designed to prevent deterioration during storage or the handling of such products (for example, BOUYGUES CONSTRUCTION has developed a plant refuelling system with a hermetic nozzle similar to the type used in Formula 1 motor-racing which has been introduced on the Istria B project in Croatia, significantly reducing the risk of hydrocarbon spills) and the reprocessing of certain waste products (for example, sewage sludge can be used for agriculture). Finally, certain processes can directly reduce the volume of waste produced (in the water sector, the volume of sludge can be reduced through the passivation of residue).

    In addition to the traditional risks connected with the construction industry, contractors, in particular in the water sector, have found ways to manage the risks of pollution (chemical, microbiological or caused by acts of malevolence). This involves implementing prevention systems and crisis management measures backed up by staff training actions.

    Finally, the rehabilitation of sites, especially in the industrial sector, is becoming common practice, further helping to protect the environment.