Specifier Review
Delivering a low carbon future

Delivering a low carbon future

With the UK hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow this November and the deadline for reaching net-zero carbon looming, what can the construction industry do to achieve this goal?

Mark Wakeford, Chair of the National Federation of Builders (NFB) Major Contractors Group (MCG), explains more and tells us about the NFB’s useful new handbook featuring practical tools for contractors to start or accelerate their net zero journey.

The COP26 summit will bring together heads of state, climate experts and negotiators to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At the summit, delegates will aim to agree coordinated action to tackle climate change in the race to net-zero. In the run up to the event, the organisers are encouraging businesses, including the construction industry, to join in with the Race to Zero global initiative. This aims to help achieve net zero emissions no later than 2050 and unlock inclusive, sustainable growth.

So, with this milestone event taking place this year and with the deadline to reaching net-zero fast approaching, how can the construction industry reach it, especially when they have lost a year during the pandemic?

Customer Expectations

The biggest challenge is the need to re-think construction and to ask customers to do the same. It’s important to recognise the limitations of construction and customers will need to change some of their own behaviours to support the industry to reach net zero.

This challenge has not been helped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The deadlines have not moved so a year has been lost in the war on carbon. However, the NFB’s Major Contractors Group has not taken a break. They’ve used this time to better equip members with guidance and information to move more quickly to net zero and lobby the Government for policy change.

Delivering a low carbon future

As part of their aim to support larger contractors and to influence the industry to adopt best practice, the MCG launched ‘Transforming Construction: Delivering a Low Carbon Future’.

This handbook arms the construction industry with practical tools for businesses to start or accelerate their journey towards achieving net-zero.

The handbook does not require any expertise or prior knowledge and it points to expertise that can support a company’s or individual’s actions.

The guide meets the current demand for low carbon transformation that is being driven directly by the construction industry.

According to recent research by the NFB, over 80% of main contractors actively want to take on the journey to net zero having either produced a business decarbonisation strategy, or are planning to do so.

Staged actions

The handbook presents staged actions and measures for contractors to adopt and implement to work towards the ultimate goal of net zero while being affordable and fitting with each business’ vision. It looks at key areas to address in terms of leadership and procurement, and examines four other crucial areas to address within the industry: reducing staff and corporate carbon-footprint; reducing project carbon-footprint; reducing embodied energy; and reducing building performance.

The handbook also includes useful case studies from a range of businesses allowing members of the industry to identify an example which fits with their own stage of decarbonisation. This sharing of knowledge is crucial to the success of net-zero.

Practical tools to help contractors decarbonise include details of how to implement management systems that assign responsibility and ensure a thorough process in environmental sustainability management, such as appointing a carbon-change maker at a senior level to drive the agenda.

Employee and business carbon footprint transformation measures include investment in greener company vehicles or flexible working practices, among many others. Another vital area to consider is tackling carbon emissions from the construction process.

Recording, accounting for and reducing emissions associated with construction projects is the first step in achieving this since it is virtually impossible to decarbonise without proper measurement. Contractors can then implement carbon reduction schemes benchmarked against themselves or an industry average. Meanwhile, embodied carbon considers the total carbon emissions generated to produce a built asset.

Assessing and recording the embodied carbon of materials brought to site allows for accurate accounting. Furthermore, improving a building’s operational energy use over its lifetime is one of the key metrics in measuring building performance and is frequently referred to in the definition of a sustainable or green building.

The industry will therefore need to build greener, high performance homes and buildings that significantly reduce operational energy use, or derive energy from wholly or mainly on-site renewable sources. Finally, low carbon procurement needs to focus less on the capital cost of a project and more on the ‘whole life value’ of a building.

We all have a role to play in enabling this to happen and none of us can afford the barrier to exist in ourselves or our businesses. With this huge challenge comes huge opportunities. Those companies with active leadership who are prepared to take the opportunity seriously and lead their sector are likely to be the ones who benefit. But by working together as an industry, sharing best practice and ideas, the road to zero carbon will be both easier and more successful.

To download ‘Transforming Construction: Delivering a Low Carbon Future’

visit Carbon Report 2020 – National Federation of Builders