Cutting Carbon in Construction

Research published in April 2022 from the University of the Basque Country shows that the European construction sector was responsible for 38% of greenhouse gas emissions and that, from these emissions, 11% is calculated to be currently embodied in building materials.

The construction industry in the UK has made steps forward in recent years to address the two main factors of these emissions – particularly with regard to carbon which is the most common greenhouse gas emitted.

The main factors influencing the carbon emissions are the manufacturing of materials and heating and cooling of finished buildings.

Current techniques for manufacturing legacy construction materials such as steel and concrete produce considerable carbon emissions – and the UK’s heat supply, will require a radical shift from carbon-based to renewable and other lower carbon forms of energy. 

Heat and buildings

The UK government published its Heat and buildings strategy in 2021. This strategy "sets out how the UK will decarbonise our homes, and our commercial, industrial and public sector buildings".

It states that heating the 30 million buildings in the UK contributes to almost a quarter of UK emissions. The government plans to address the carbon emissions produced in heating and powering our homes, workplaces and public buildings.

One pillar of the strategy is enabling buildings to be heated using renewable and low carbon electricity.

Designers and developers are looking to low carbon heating technologies such as heat pumps, heat networks and underfloor heating.

Designers are also incorporating more creative low carbon design features into new buildings such as green roofs and walls that can absorb carbon dioxide and excess rainwater.

Retrofitting current buildings to improve energy efficiency is also a key factor. Improving insulation, LED lighting and efficient glazing can have a big impact on reducing the carbon footprint of existing buildings, as well as ensuring their sustainability in the future. 

Digital technologies

Construction is not alone as most heavy industry faces challenges in meeting net zero targets. Construction's particular challenges come from the fact that it is a heavy carbon emitter and is in the public eye.

To tackle this, UK construction companies have taken measures to reduce carbon emissions. Many businesses are adopting digital technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the creation of digital twins of physical buildings.

BIM can help the construction industry in achieving sustainability goals by creating a virtual 3D model with data that performs energy-usage calculations; compares building materials to find what best fulfils sustainable requirements; develops and tests site logistic plans, and analyses water and lighting for best optimisation.

By adapting to the latest technology, Genuit has reduced like-for-like carbon intensity by 44% during 2021. This is excellent progress toward our 2025 goal of a 66% reduction. We have also signed up to the ambitious 1.5 degree warming target as part of our Pledge to Net Zero, and are submitting our Science Based Targets and milestones this summer.

Operating sustainably is now deeply embedded across our businesses and within our culture.

To read more about our record on sustainability and reducing carbon see our 2021 Annual Report.

In Search of the Perfect Circle

One of the key solutions to addressing the factors contributing to the climate crisis is a transition to Circular Economy.

Converting to an approach relying on goods that naturally eliminate waste, circulate materials and regenerate nature can help to solve a number of interlinked environmental crises. This includes biodiversity loss and food waste and the over-extraction of natural resources.

We need to adapt and use the technology and knowledge at our disposal to build a better system. We need to move away from the unsustainable and linear ‘take, make and waste’ model. A model that has been at the heart of human production and consumption for generations.

Currently the extraction, production and end-of-life management of resources accounts for more than two-thirds of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. (Source

Construction industry

Across the Genuit Group, our businesses are endeavouring to lead the plastics and construction products industry in recycling and waste management by becoming a zero-to-waste operation, to advance this transition to the Circular Economy. 

We are a signatory of the Operation Clean Sweep initiative, led in the UK by the British Plastics Federation. We are committed to ensure that plastic pellets, flakes and powders that pass through manufacturing facilities in the UK are effectively stored and managed to prevent escape into waterways and the wider environment.

Reducing waste

As part of our commitment to the transition to a circular economy, 46% of our processed polymer comes from recycled sources. But - our ambition is to reach 62% of tonnage from recycled plastics by 2025, as well as become a fully zero-to-landfill operation across all businesses in the group. 

According to the Centre for International Environment Law, emissions from plastics production and incineration could account to 56 billion tons of carbon between now and 2050. This equates to between 10-13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget identified by leading international expertise.

The role of manufacturers such as those found across the group should be to take single use and short-term use plastic products (such as bottles and packaging) to transform this resource into something with a useful carbon life of hundreds of years.

Turning otherwise wasted material back into a useful resource with higher societal value. This in turn reduces the amount of fresh material that needs to be manufactured to meet demand.

Circular construction

We are working with influential industry partners and trade organisations to help shape the regulatory agenda to enable more recycled product to be used in innovative ways.

The challenge is critical, but the opportunity is clear: by keeping plastic materials in a closed loop and enabling the plastic to stay at a high enough quality to be reused. This greatly reduces the need to produce new polymer material. 

The environmental impact could be huge. Ensuring less raw material needs to be extracted means a potential 39% reduction in greenhouse gases.

It is also a responsible policy to ensure the future stability and prosperity of the construction sector and wider manufacturing.

The economy is seen as the ‘flywheel’ for positive change. And by harnessing the power of international economy and interlinked interests, we can strive to fix the climate.

Supporting The Transition to Low Carbon Construction

Recent reports suggest embodied carbon will form more than half of all built environment emissions by 2035. To tackle this, the UK Government announced that all new buildings must reduce their carbon emissions by a third. [Source]

Building Regulations were amended to enforce a 30% cut on emissions from new homes and a 27% cut on other buildings. The new rules will come into force in June 2022. [Source]

Embodied Carbon Vs Operational Carbon

Carbon dioxide in construction can come from various sources. These sources are more than just the energy required to provide heating, lighting, cooling and ventilation throughout the life of the completed building.

These operational emissions are important. But there is increasing focus on the embodied emissions associated with all the non-operational aspects of a building. This includes those from the extraction, manufacture and assembly of a building’s materials and components, repair and maintenance.

The carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere contributing to the greenhouse effect and consequently climate change. It is for this reason that Genuit is committed to the objective of achieving a low-carbon construction economy.

Across the Genuit Group we are striving to improve sustainability in the construction world with activities to reduce embedded carbon. As well as signing up to  Science Based Targets 1.5°C pledge - we have ambitious targets that we aim to hit by 2025.

We are holding ourselves accountable by setting a clear strategy and measuring progress against the targets which include ensuring 62 per cent of our plastic products (by tonnage) are made from recycled plastics; the carbon content of products using recycled polymer is a fraction of products made from virgin materials.

We have also committed to a 66 per cent reduction on carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 as part of our pledge to net zero carbon.

Genuit Group businesses are looking at the lifecycle of products - how many years will that product work before being replaced, and can the product be recycled or reused?

We have also been taking action with regard to manufacturing processes. Moving to low carbon methods through renewable energy, with supply chains established more locally.

Recycle and Reuse

Polypipe Civils and Green Urbanisation, for example, has invested heavily and optimised its own recycling and polymer processing plant. The Group is now the largest recycler within the European piping industry. 

We have not wavered in our commitment to reducing operational carbon either. Nu-Heat, UFCM and Polypipe Building Products are encouraging customers to switch to renewable sources for heating systems as they manufacture and install low-carbon, low-energy underfloor heating in homes and businesses across the nation.  Adey are the market leaders in magnetic filters, which ensure energy efficient operation of water based heating systems. Adey filters are a low cost option for retro fitting and reducing the carbon impact of existing systems.

This can have a direct impact on reducing carbon footprint of customers. It demonstrates that Genuit Group is taking a holistic view to reduce carbon in the construction industry. From manufacture - to supply chain - to the operation and life of the building.

To find out more about how Genuit is supporting the transition to low carbon construction, get in touch.