How can the construction industry reduce carbon emissions?

The global construction industry makes up 38% of global emissions, so what could companies do to decarbonise and reduce their impact?

Currently, the construction industry accounts for 38% of the total global emissions with buildings being built every week. However, despite this, less than 1% of these structures are tested for carbon emissions. 

The report contained six buildings as case studies and found that, per square metre, the whole-life carbon footprint was around 1,800 kilograms of CO2 equivalent. Half of all emissions are embodied in buildings, meaning they are caused by the manufacturing of materials and the construction process, the report said.

The report, published by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, says that there are around 255bn square metres of buildings in the world, with 5.5bn being added every year. That is the equivalent of a city the size of Paris being built every week. 

It was also discovered that 70% of embodied emissions are caused by just six materials. While it doesn’t mention exactly what those materials are, the report does conclude that cement, which is a key ingredient in concrete, is responsible for an estimated 8% of all emissions. So how can the construction industry improve this?

Reduce building emissions by half

"To get the construction industry on track to reach global climate targets, all companies need to start measuring the full carbon footprint of their real estate assets," said Roland Hunziker, sustainable buildings director at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

"The report shows that if all parties in the building value chain collaborate and focus on whole-life carbon emissions reductions, we can start setting this important sector on a path towards net-zero”, he added. 

With the industry producing 14 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, the current goals are for this to be reduced by half by 2030 and zero by 2050. 

An understanding of net-zero

One of the easiest ways to help reduce carbon emissions is to understand what net-zero emissions are, and the report emphasises that the industry needs to adopt a clear definition of it. If construction companies understand them, then they can work towards achieving them. While this is difficult due to there being no recognised standard for net-zero, it is possible. "We recognise making this accessible is a challenge, but equally this is a technical area and there is a risk of oversimplifying”, said Diane Millis, Communications Manager at The Carbon Trust.

"Many companies and organisations are only just beginning to understand [that] net-zero is fundamentally different to carbon neutrality so there is a lot of information out there that isn’t accurate, unfortunately”. 

To qualify as net-zero, a building must not add any new greenhouse gases to the atmosphere either through its construction, operation, or demolition.

 

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