How the Construction Industry Is Turning the Dial Down on Its Carbon Footprint

The construction industry is a prolific contributor to the world’s carbon emissions. In fact, around 38% of global energy-related emissions come from building and construction. 

In the UK, specifically, the construction sector contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. Which means it’s no surprise that the UK government set a target to reduce the built environment emissions to 50% by 2025. 

The overarching mission of the UK is to become net-zero by 2050, and with the construction industry playing a large role in emissions, it has forced construction companies across the UK to re-access their operations quickly and begin to adapt. For example, British Land, one of the UK’s largest commercial property developers, has pledged to achieve net-zero across its portfolio by 2030. 

It sounds much easier said than done when you look at the number of products and operations that contribute to the construction industries emissions; from transport and delivery of materials, right down to the way in which buildings are being constructed. The change is profound and could take longer than expected if adoption is slow.

However, innovation is pushing its way through the construction industry regardless of global pandemics. 

The future of the construction industry post-covid not only looks bright, but it looks a whole lot greener thanks to these exciting carbon-cutting transformations. 

3D Printed Buildings

Across the construction sector concrete is a carbon-emissions criminal. Not only does concrete produce 550kg CO2 per cubic metre, but its core ingredient cement is responsible for around 8% of global CO2 emissions due to its widespread use in rapidly growing cities. 

Aside from its production, concrete is also becoming an environmental problem in terms of waste, with more entering landfill then being recycled or re-used than any other construction material. 

Use less, recycle more is the push from many environmental organisations in the construction industry. 

One innovation that is truly testing the reduction of concrete is 3D printing. 

While traditionally used in the manufacturing of products and small items such as car parts, researchers have now developed an application where 3D printing can be used to print concrete buildings. 

A team of researchers at UCLA have received a grant to make 3D printed concrete which could cut the carbon footprint of concrete by 60%. 

Both companies that are testing out 3D printing and the current studies show that it’s achievable to not only cut emissions from concrete with this method but also during construction. 

Precision printing in this way with concrete would massively reduce how much concrete is even needed in the first place. 

Pedal Power Over Petrol 

Making small but vital steps, a number of smaller UK contractors are trying to think greener in terms of their operations. 

FM Conway has recently tested eBikes to deliver materials across their sites in London. 

Each bike can carry up to 250kg and is fitted with electric pedal assist motor and GPS tracking. 

While this is currently under trial by the construction company, it’s yet another sign that more businesses are taking their carbon impact seriously. 

Going green may seem like a utopian fantasy for smaller construction companies; they don’t get the big grants, government projects, or have the workforce for research and development. 

But if a construction company is truly passionate about committing to carbon-reductions, there is now a wealth of support and funding available. 

Committed to Carbon Reduction 

Large construction firms are already leading the way in their pledge to cut carbon emissions, which means smaller firms will have to follow suit. 

Construction company Willmott Dixon has pledged to make all new build and refurbishment projects net-zero carbon from 2030 onwards. 

As part of their sustainability strategy, Willmott Dixon will also be working with their suppliers to ensure that they too are going carbon-neutral over the next decade. 

With this kind of peer-to-peer pressure between construction companies, it will mean that more businesses will have to face their environmental responsibility and act sooner rather than later. 

The global engineering company Mott MacDonald has already become the first company in its class to be certified as carbon neutral, which marks a major milestone for the industry, let alone the company itself. 

Mott MacDonald has reduced its global carbon footprint by 45% per employee through offsetting its emissions on peatland restoration programmes in Sumatra and Indonesia. 

While offsetting is something which can be easily actioned and implemented by larger construction and engineering firms, there are many avenues that smaller companies can go down in order to understand their carbon footprint and work with local environmental organisations to define where cuts can be made. 

Offsetting locally is just as important as building wind farms in the far east, and creating a circular economy through waste materials—these just some of the small changes that are becoming the stepping stones to carbon neutral. 

If David Attenborough’s recent documentary, Life On Our Planet has taught us anything about our carbon impact, it’s that action is needed now by all; individuals and businesses.