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Working towards a more sustainable construction sector

Working towards a more sustainable construction sector
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COP26 may be drawing ever closer, yet all seems to be in a state of flux and transition. The media is full of predictions of a potential return to the dark days of the 1970s, with strain on the energy infrastructure raising the possibility of a three-day week. While it would appear that a completely green grid is some way off, this shouldn’t detract from the considerable progress towards decarbonisation made by so many sectors across UK B&I.

Design and construction are two such sectors that have witnessed a sustainable revolution over the last decade. With UN leaders meeting in Glasgow next month, we ask some of the industry’s leading lights for their predictions for how the sector can step-up and further assist in the drive towards Net Zero 2050.

Phil Cox, Director, leading structural materials trade body, Modern Masonry:

“There’s a lot of noise around sustainable materials and what constitutes a ‘green’ building product. However, many top line stats offered by manufacturers are deceptively superficial. As ever, it’s easier to cherry pick facts to support one’s preferred narrative rather than address inconvenient truths, however minor.

“As understanding of the climate crisis grows, my hope is for even greater awareness around real steps manufacturers are taking to decarbonise, without the misleading effect of carbon credits.

“Reaching Net Zero targets is something our members, comprising the majority of UK block manufacturers, take very seriously. We hope their collective efforts and transparency will set an example for others to follow, particularly in the aftermath of the upcoming COP26.”

Rachel Davis, Director, structural and civil engineering practice, Perega:

“Where green specification was once a nice to have, it’s becoming an integral part of the design and build brief for both new build and retrofit.

“We’ve already seen evidence of this within healthcare construction, as the NHS continues its accelerated drive towards Net Zero 2050. In this space there’s a heavy emphasis on re-use over replace, and we now adopt this approach with materials wherever possible.

“However, where new is unavoidable, specifiers are starting to look for products manufactured within a circular model, which can be repurposed beyond their original lifespan or contain a high volume of recycled materials.”

Adrian Attwood, Executive Director, conservation construction contractor, DBR Ltd:

“It can be tempting to view sustainability solely through an ecological prism, however that’s just one side of it. If we are to truly sustain the UK construction industry, we need to urgently address the looming skills shortage we face.

“Over the next year I’d like to see all sides of the industry come together to establish a stronger, home-grown pool of talent as imported labour decreases and the existing workforce continues to age.

“That’s not all, if we are going to protect and strengthen our industry in the long-term we need to encourage current practitioners to become the teachers of the future, passing their skills to the next generation. It’s a challenge but one I know the construction industry is more than capable of rising to.”

Stuart Murphy, Founder, renewable infrastructure pilot project, TPGen24:

“Recent events have proven how fragile our energy infrastructure is and that, in our ambition to reach Net Zero, we’ve become too reliant on intermittent resources like wind and solar. Fundamentally, when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, these systems cannot produce energy and inevitably lead to shortages and spikes in electricity prices, negatively affecting the consumer.

“As we draw nearer to COP 26, we have an opportunity to address this serious issue head on, exploring more reliable, perpetual solutions, such as woefully underexplored tidal energy solutions. The construction industry stands to massively benefit and will play a central role in whatever strategy comes out of this autumn’s discussions. Championing resources such as tidal will present the opportunity for more jobs, greater investment, urban regeneration and establishing an expertise which we can export globally.”

Richard Waterhouse, spokesperson, integrated construction information platform, NBS

“Carbon reduction has now become a huge focus and many organisations are looking to build their green credentials to ensure they’re doing all they can to minimise their impact on the environment. What we’re already seeing is that the role of data is becoming instrumental in driving down emissions. With access to the correct data, organisations can analyse information, offering up-to-the-minute reporting and comparative statistics to record progress and identify energy and carbon inefficiencies. We should drive the use of standardised data to improve product selection, in-use performance and end of life recycling.

“For the specifier community, a more active collaboration between developers, designers, engineers, contractors, and clients is also required to reduce waste significantly. It’s as much about the work as the materials used, and sometimes this means choosing retrofit over a new build. There’s also an onus on the Government to do more to encourage the retrofit of UK buildings. We’ve seen this recently from the FMB (Federation of Master Builders), who are calling for the financial burden to be removed from residents if we’re to truly deliver greener, cleaner homes.” 

As we can see, there’s still some way to go. However it’s hugely encouraging to see positive change being effected across the sector. The challenge now will be to maintain this momentum in the decades ahead, but we’re sure the industry will rise to the occasion.

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