UK Construction Industry Cites These Barriers to Net Zero Emissions

Earlier this week, engineering consultancy Patrick Parsons published the results of a sustainability survey with a hundred senior executives of UK construction firms, which collectively represent more than £26.6 billion in construction projects over the past year.

The UK construction industry as a whole appears optimistic about sustainability: 85% of respondents believe the industry is doing enough to reach net zero by 2050, with 86% of respondents citing last November’s COP26 acting as a catalyst.

Executives also seem to be reaping commercial benefits from sustainable building:

  • Eighty-three percent say projects designed with green credentials have given them a competitive advantage, allowing them to decrease energy and water consumption, use fewer building materials, and reduce waste.
  • Sixty-eight percent expect the value of developments with sustainable design to increase between 10% and 20% over the next three years. 
  • Sixty-six percent say sustainable design is adding value to current developments.

Yet many acknowledged that certain barriers must be overcome. The top concern was supply chain sustainability, with 68% of respondents saying improvements to building material supply chains are critical to achieving net zero. Relatedly, 62% of respondents expressed a lack of access to alternative materials which have a lower carbon footprint.

Another frequently mentioned challenge was the regulatory landscape, with 63% of respondents saying existing planning regulations need to change to support the sector if it is to hit this target. Given the progress at COP26, Patrick Parsons believes policymakers are likely to make the requisite adjustments.

Additionally, six in ten (59%) respondents highlighted the difficulty of decarbonizing existing buildings and nearly half (48%) of respondents drew attention to the need to collect data to measure carbon in buildings.

Discussing these barriers, Conor Murphy, Senior Partner, Structural Engineering at Patrick Parsons stated:

“The UK construction industry’s ambition to achieve net zero is not without its challenges. There must be a development in the materials used and planning rules must change if we are to decarbonise legacy buildings and improve their performance.”

The survey report concludes by recommending that industry leaders collaborate with one another and the government to share best practices, facilitate life-cycle carbon reporting, and implement planning regulations that encourage carbon neutrality.

UK’s buildings and infrastructure are currently responsible for a quarter (25%) of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Given the large carbon footprint of buildings, many are prioritizing their decarbonization. Earlier this month, the city of Los Angeles introduced a motion to require all new residential and commercial buildings in LA to operate on a zero-carbon basis.