7 Ways for the Construction Industry to Reach Net Zero
Read Time 3 mins |
Written by: Alex Bantock
This summer has seen unrelenting heatwaves blanketing the Northern Hemisphere and with temperatures rising, so is our understanding that this isn't merely a 'hot summer', it's a prelude to what is to come. We have caused this and the climate anxiety is almost palpable. In times like these, it's important to repurpose our stress into aggressive yet positive action - something that drives us with an urgency that the planet needs and deserves.
Achieving at least a Net Zero, or an arguably unrealistic Carbon Neutral, built environment by the latest 2050 is critical if we are to prevent temperatures from rising further and worsening the already disastrous global events. However, despite the construction industry being ripe for change, it will have to drastically reduce its emissions in a time of unprecedented population growth as well as find innovative ways to address its value chain comprised of hard-to-abate segments (from concrete and steel to heavy transport).
Focussing on what the industry currently has at its disposal, we have comprised a list of 7 ways for the construction industry to reach Net Zero. Despite this being by far an exhaustive list, we believe that they present strong levers for decarbonising the industry quickly, effectively and without requiring significant innovation.
1. Advocate for and adopt Government incentives: Governments worldwide are encouraging the transition towards Net Zero construction through incentives such as tax credits, rebates, and subsidies (for example, the European Green Deal). In addition, many Governments are implementing carbon requirements in their planning regulations, ensuring that carbon is considered from the early design stages and that companies disclose and reduce their asset-related emissions.
2. Embrace a whole life carbon (WLC) approach from day one: Incorporating WLC from the onset of any construction projects and activities allows for more informed decisions on materials, designs, and processes that include a long-term view and reduce both embodied and operational carbon.
3. Select low-embodied carbon materials: Opt for materials that have a lower embodied carbon footprint. This means not only materials that are widely considered the 'most sustainable' but can also be sourced locally. Remember, timber can lose its 'sustainability rating' if it has to be transported large distances. It is important to have methods in place that allow for these material footprints to be accurately measured.
4. Prioritise retrofitting: The industry saying has become "the most sustainable building hasn't been built yet", which is because retrofitting a building 'saves' the embodied carbon that has been locked into the building structure and avoids the further release of embodied carbon associated with a complete rebuild. As long as retrofit vs. rebuild decisions are backed by an accurate and robust WLC assessment, retrofitting existing buildings to improve their energy efficiency can reduce the need for new construction.
5. Adopt circular economy practices: By limiting the waste generated across the value chain as well as the negative over-consumption of materials, the industry can save a significant amount of emissions. There are three principles to a circular economy: design out waste and pollution, keep products in use for as long as possible and regenerate natural systems.
6. Leverage digital tools: Utilise software tools that can calculate, manage and reduce the WLC of buildings. This helps in making informed decisions throughout the construction lifecycle whilst optimising building designs. Most importantly, these tools should be integrated into the design process as early as possible in order to maximise the savings potential of the early design stages.
7. Foster cross-sector collaboration: Collaboration across the construction value chain, including architects, contractors, material suppliers, policymakers, and clients, can drive shared knowledge and align common sustainability goals to accelerate emission reductions. We cannot achieve this mammoth challenge with a siloed approach and the more stakeholders we can involve in the journey, the better.
The way we build and maintain our buildings today can either help us curb emissions or push us further down the perilous path of climate change - and the wind seems to already be blowing against us. Our journey to Net Zero will be long, and undoubtedly, it will present us with many challenges. But the more the industry accepts its responsibility for the well-being of our planet, the greater chance we have of saving it. Levers like the above can help us move quickly and effectively to a low-carbon, and hopefully Net Zero, future.
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