On-the-ground net-zero progress is made by measurement

On-the-ground net-zero progress is made by measurement

Richard Robinson is deputy co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council and chief executive of Atkins UK and Europe

The built environment accounts for 43 per cent of UK carbon emissions. Without its contribution to the UK’s carbon-reduction efforts, the country will not meet its 2050 net-zero target. We know where we need to get to and how we’re going to get there. We now need to see – and measure – real, on-the-ground progress.

“Best practice is being shared, as well as data, and this bodes well”

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) is spearheading the sector’s response to the 2050 target through CO2nstruct Zero – an industry change programme developed with the Green Construction Board to accelerate our transition to net zero. At the heart of this work is the CO2nstruct Zero Performance Framework. This not only sets out how the sector will commit to net zero, but, more importantly, how it will objectively and quantifiably measure whether we’re doing enough, fast enough, while highlighting where more action is needed if we’re to meet our obligations.

Launched at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, the framework is a world first and a clear statement that now is the time for collaborative action, measurement and delivery. Of course, without data we can’t measure anything, which is why the CLC has focused so heavily on engaging with trade organisations and businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Today, the CLC has more than 200 business champions and partners sharing information and measuring progress in a consistent way. We’re working together to coordinate initiatives, overcome challenges and seize opportunities. We’re pulling together as an industry that understands that net-zero transition is bigger than any one company or subsector. Real progress is being made.

For example, the recently launched National Retrofit Hub – backed by more than 40 organisations, including the Federation of Master Builders, Innovate UK, Trustmark, Sustainable Development Foundation and the UK Green Building Council – will be a game-changer, as we look to retrofit our homes to use low-carbon heating systems.

The fact that the UK’s 30 million homes account for more than 21 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions – with three-quarters of this coming from heating systems – illustrates the importance of the action taken to tackle the fiendishly complex task of delivering retrofit at scale.

The industry has stepped up to bring clarity to those who work in the retrofit sector by signposting and sharing best practice to speed up the roll-out of greener homes.

Elsewhere, a sector-wide plan has been launched to eliminate 78 per cent of diesel plant from construction sites by 2035. For context, construction vehicles and onsite plant emit 30 megatonnes of CO2 per year – a number that is as significant as it sounds. To date, 30 per cent of the UK’s tier one contractors have trialled zero-diesel construction sites, and HS2 is setting new benchmarks in construction vehicle emission standards, as it targets diesel-free sites by 2029.

Best practice is being shared, as well as data, and this bodes well for our industry.

Measurement and metrics

Looking ahead, I’d like to see the sector focus on measurement, productivity and partnerships. The Performance Framework’s measurement and metrics have been a welcome guide for the sector, bringing consistency to the setting of targets and sharing of data. That said, there is much more to do on this, as we look to formalise the consistency of carbon measurement across the sector in a way that clients, funders and businesses can rely on.

This year we will see updates to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ Whole Life Carbon Assessment for the Built Environment standard and Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard, which, together with PAS 2080, will define the end-to-end process for carbon measurement and quantification in the built environment, providing an ecosystem for financers, planners and clients to use.

Productivity is, of course, a major area of focus for the construction sector, but we perhaps don’t always appreciate the intrinsic link between improving productivity and reducing carbon. Since Covid, our productivity has actually tracked 7.5 per cent above the 10-year average, but there’s still much to do if we’re going to get closer to the UK average across all sectors. That said, we need to build on the progress made and satisfy an increasing appetite for digitally driven project delivery and modern methods of construction, which can help us reduce waste, time on site, travel and, ultimately, our carbon footprint.

Finally, partnerships. The CLC works in partnership with government and organisations of all sizes across the industry to ensure the construction sector has the voice, support and resilience needed to grow; improve productivity; attract and retain talent; and successfully transition to net zero. But we need to go beyond this.

For example, as we continue our efforts to switch to electric construction vehicles and plant, we will need to get much closer to the motor industry, and we are now actively seeking a partnership with the appropriate industry body to develop a joint plan. Similarly, we need to forge closer ties with steel, timber and glass manufacturers, not to mention the UK aggregates sector. Partnerships are paramount if we are to reach net zero by 2050.

But on-the-ground progress is being made, measured, analysed and shared, as we continue to transform the built environment together.

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