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.
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.