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"Building Green" - Can the Construction Industry achieve the Net Zero target

15 October 2021

2021 has seen record breaking temperatures worldwide (over 50 degrees Celsius recorded in USA) leading to unprecedented and catastrophic wildfires; and torrential rainfall (1 years' worth of rain falling in just 4 days in China) resulting in unparalleled and disastrous levels of flooding.

These are just some of the bleak and devastating effects of global warming and why the focus on net zero is increasingly at the forefront of both governmental and industrial concerns. The construction industry is no exception. 

Globally, the construction industry has a substantial environmental footprint. According to the 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, the construction industry accounted for 35% of the global final energy use and 38% of the total global energy related CO2 emissions.

In 2019 the UK, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change, became the first major economy to pass a net zero emissions law with the target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. 

So, how does the construction industry address this growing concern, meet this target and more importantly, who is going to fund the initiatives required?

As a starting point, businesses need to review the day to day sustainability of their operations and current working systems. In particular, considering ways to reduce their carbon output to create a healthier working environment and achieve the net zero goal. 

In order to be achievable, developers will need to make net zero a key consideration from the outset.  Incorporating the targets in the tender process will help encourage businesses and suppliers to prepare low carbon solutions for every project. 

Ex-Construction Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, stated that the government was committed to pushing the construction industry towards net zero. She suggested a carbon exclusion measure would be considered where businesses with no net zero plans in place or who lacked commitment to net zero, would be excluded from bidding for public sector work. This approach has already begun filtering its way into the private sector with some leading construction companies beginning to rank their subcontractors in terms of their green credentials. 

Building green is a rapidly growing enterprise. There has been much back and forth by the UK government on how to promote and encourage building green. A consultation was carried out earlier this year, The Future Building Standard, with the purpose of considering proposals to change Part L (Conservation of fuel and power) and Part F (ventilation) of the Building Regulations from 2021 onwards, along with considering the future of non-domestic buildings. 

There is clearly an appetite for and willingness to change, however, the construction industry is restricted in its efforts by the lack of low carbon materials available on the market. Those materials that are available, inevitably, attract a higher cost which creates a further uphill battle in a market where cost saving and reductions is paramount. Ultimately, a zero carbon target will require significant short term costs. More needs to be done by suppliers to make going green more economically appealing and therefore achievable. 

The efforts must go beyond the construction industry, there needs to be greater investment into the development of green technology and materials. There is clearly a long way to go, however, with a collaborative effort from the government, developers, construction companies and suppliers, net zero by 2050 may just be possible. 

For more information on the topic please contact Denise O'Hagan or David McNeice.

Further Reading