The urgency of climate change is focusing minds on achieving net zero goals. Dan Allison, Division Manager, Net zero buildings explains how today’s builders need to think about tomorrow to meet the challenges of sustainability in the building sector.
Building for a sustainable future
The consequences of global warming are clear as temperatures hit a record high of 40.3C in Lincolnshire on July 18, 2022, confirming that the time to act is now.
The government is committed to addressing the need for a sustainable future through the ‘Build Back Greener’ campaign, its decarbonisation pathway which includes several objectives. The central aim is the need to achieve net zero by 2050, but these have now been challenged by the High Court.
Whatever the final outcome of the High Court’s decision, the direction of travel is for public sector buildings to reduce their carbon footprint by 75% by 2037.
The key to doing this is to solve the riddle of building better, more sustainable and more profitable buildings.
Even though the government has promised to help the UK achieve net zero targets, a High Court ruling highlights how actions speak louder than words. After the decision, the government must now detail how these targets would be achieved – due to claims that the strategy lacked clarity and substance.
The government has also pledged to support the industry with grants to achieve net zero targets. It is essential that change happens sooner to ensure that buildings installed today will be sustainable for the future.
Decarbonizing our built environment
According to the UK Green Building Council, the built environment accounts for 40% of the UK’s net carbon footprint. Fifty percent of a building’s carbon footprint currently comes from its construction.
Additionally, according to UKGBC, 66% of commercial building emissions are caused by fossil fuel heating systems. There is currently a high demand for gas boilers to heat commercial buildings, however, to achieve net zero targets by 2050, gas boilers must be phased out as the primary heating source to reduce carbon emissions. operational carbon.
Heat pumps are recommended to replace gas boilers. The government has already set a target of 600,000 heat pumps by 2030 to replace fossil fuel heating in UK homes.
For the UK to gain some momentum towards its net zero targets in the building environment, three steps are needed.
Addressing our carbon footprint through assessments:
- Existing processes
The construction supply chain, involving every process and every product in every area, must have a carbon rating – what gets measured gets done.
- Act fast and act now
The industry is happy with net zero targets because 2050 seems so far away. However, we need to act now and make incremental changes to ensure our buildings meet net zero goals 30 years from now.
- Reduce our operational carbon emissions
Operational carbon is the carbon emitted during the use of a building. Buildings’ operational carbon – including heating, cooling and electricity – is estimated to account for around 30% of the UK’s total carbon emissions.
Therefore, there is a huge price for the built environment to choose wisely for these large items – radiators, air conditioning, etc. – which will also reimburse the building operator by reducing energy bills for years to come. As we move towards net zero, less carbon is emitted into the atmosphere and everyone wins: people, profit, planet, triple bottom line.
The decarbonization of the national grid will play an important role in the transition to renewable energy becoming the main energy supplier underpinning operations in buildings.
Make that change now
The UKGBC also reported that 80% of the buildings we will have in 2050 have already been built.
It is a crime that buildings constructed today are handed over to their new occupants with fossil fuel heating systems rather than green technology.
We need to question the way we design and construct our buildings, for example not only their operational carbon footprint, but also the use of green roofs or walls to sequester carbon dioxide and improve insulation.
Lean and green processes
With 400 million tonnes of materials used every year in the UK construction industry alone, it is more important than ever to assess the durability of materials and minimize waste.
When buildings are constructed offsite using lean manufacturing, you significantly reduce its carbon footprint. Modular buildings use less total energy and waste in both their construction and installation, while being more cost effective.
Lean manufacturing continually drives every process to improve the quality and efficiency of your products, which in turn enhances sustainability.
Modular buildings are also recyclable and reusable by design, greatly reducing the amount of energy needed to construct future buildings.
Offsite construction has been around for over 50 years, but as a country we have been slow to embrace it. In the industry, we all knew we had to change the way we build someday. There just isn’t enough of a planet to carry on as we have for centuries. It’s good that the urgency of climate change has brought that to light, so hopefully this time it will be a change for good.
For more information visit Net Zero Buildings or contact 01638 596 155.