UK Construction sector initiatives focused on achieving net zero: some examples


The 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction reported that, globally, construction had generated 35% of energy-related CO2 emissions – lower than the year before, but only because transport emissions rose and took a greater proportion of the whole.

In short, the construction industry is a heavy greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter and considerable effort is needed to meet net zero 2050 targets.

The 2020 report makes clear that "to get the buildings sector on track to achieving net-zero carbon by 2050, all actors across the buildings value chain need to increase decarbonisation actions and their impact by a factor of five". The UK government published its Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener on 19 October 2021, ahead of COP26 to set out its "policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet our net zero target by 2050". The government's Heat and buildings strategy was published at the same time to set out "how the UK will decarbonise our homes, and our commercial, industrial and public sector buildings, as part of setting a path to net zero by 2050".

Across the UK construction industry, substantial action, research and development is already underway to find and secure ways of helping the sector transition to net zero in the aftermath of a global pandemic. Everyone has a part to play – from removing plastic cups from the tearoom to implementing sustainable procurement policies. The following highlights some construction sector initiatives underway to achieve net zero targets. 

  • The Construction Leadership Council and its Green Construction Board
  • CO2nstructZero and the Nine Priorities for carbon reduction
  • Zero Avoidable Waste Routemap
  • CLC CO2nstruct Zero Performance Framework
  • The Association for Consultancy Engineering – are we ready (in terms of delivering net zero in the built environment)?
  • The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors – carbon reporting rules
  • The Association for Consultancy Engineering
  • UK Green Building Council
  • The Institution of Civil Engineers

The Construction Leadership Council and its Green Construction Board

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC)'s mission is to provide sector leadership to the construction industry. As part of its role, the CLC:

  • champions business opportunities arising from the challenge of sustainable construction;
  • promotes the uptake of innovation addressing the targets in Construction 2025 and the priorities of the transformation programme set out in the Construction Sector Deal (see also here);
  • takes into account the UN Sustainability Goals through its workstreams;
  • promotes the inclusion of sustainability concepts in procurement processes measuring whole life value;
  • has published nine priorities for transport, buildings and construction activity to focus efforts and maximise the industry's impact; and
  • promotes the uptake of the necessary skills for a skilled workforce delivering sustainable construction. (Source)

The Green Construction Board (GCB) is the CLC's sustainability workstream which:

  • advises "on the regulatory, policy and technical framework required to overcome key barriers to the delivery of a zero carbon and zero waste built environment (both buildings and infrastructure)"; and
  • identifies "the commercial jobs and export opportunities that such a clean growth, zero carbon, zero waste economy requires".

The CLC's Industry Recovery Plan aims to support the UK construction sector's recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn. Embedded in the plan is the CLC objective of "improving design, product selection, and manufacturing and construction processes to deliver built assets that achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases as part of the pathway towards net zero".

Further reading

CO2nstructZero and the Nine Priorities for carbon reduction

CO2nstructZero is the construction sector's response to the government's 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

Acknowledging that "Overall UK emissions were 537 MtCO2 in 2018" and that there are "three areas, collectively representing 43% of UK emissions, which are relevant to the construction sector": namely, transport, buildings and construction activity, the CLC has identified nine priorities for carbon reduction. These priorities align with the government's 10-point plan and are based on the CCC Sixth Carbon Budget.

They focus on:

  • transport: zero emission vehicles and onsite plant, modern methods of construction and low carbon modes of transport and incorporating readiness for zero emission vehicles;
  • buildings: retrofitting to improve energy efficiency, low carbon heat solutions in buildings and energy performance of new and existing buildings; and
  • construction activity: implementing carbon measurement, designing out carbon, the circular economy – reducing embedded and operational carbon and innovative low carbon materials (prioritising concrete and steel).

In delivering these priorities, the CLC will establish three supporting activities through the development of a Net Zero supply chain: explaining how CLC Taskforce bodies can support businesses with client engagement and consumer marketing; monitoring and reporting on the sector's progress; and joining the Race to Zero on behalf of the UK Construction Sector to share performance.

Zero Avoidable Waste Routemap

The Zero Avoidable Waste Routemap, produced by the CLC in collaboration with Defra and BEIS, makes recommendations "for everyone in the supply chain" on "how to manage construction waste to increase efficiency, reduce carbon and save cost". It sets milestones leading to the overall goal of achieving Zero Avoidable Waste by 2050. Its aims are:

  • requiring consideration of the end of life stage for all major projects at the design and planning stage
  • designing out waste
  • encouraging refurbishment over demolition
  • procuring with zero waste in mind
  • ensuring materials are readily recoverable
  • exploiting offsite manufacture
  • reducing the volume of soil to landfill
  • more reuse and recycling of new build construction waste
  • reducing waste from temporary works
  • better waste services for smaller companies
  • reducing waste from refurbishment
  • less down-cycling of waste from demolition
  • a joint plan to reduce waste to landfill by 2040
  • ensuring waste being landfilled from the construction sector is properly understood
  • ensuring that the generation, true cost and recovery routes for construction waste streams are known in detail
  • gaining strategic understanding of material flows at local regional and national level

CLC CO2nstruct Zero Performance Framework

Following a consultation in early 2021 on how the sector could demonstrate net zero progress, the CLC launched the CO2nstruct Zero Performance Framework in early July 2021 as part of "its mission to drive out carbon" from the sector (see the CLC news release). The framework draws on work "undertaken across the sector by specialist groups and representative bodies to understand their emissions and develop their own plans". It sets out the industry's headline commitments:

  • eliminating 78% of diesel plants from construction sites by 2035;
  • ensuring planning applications from the sector connect to public/active transport and include EV charging where parking is provided (from 2025);
  • retrofitting 27 million homes by 2040;
  • designing all new buildings with low carbon heating solutions from 2025;
  • minimising energy demand and reducing emissions by 75% (dwellings) and at least 27% (commercial buildings) compared to current standards (from 2025);
  • providing carbon data to those buying from the sector by 2030 so that they can make informed lower carbon choices;
  • giving all clients the chance to become net zero by offering alternative Net Zero design options to clients even if not scoped (from 2022);
  • reducing construction product emissions by 66% from 2018 (by 2035); and
  • targeting 1,500 of the sector's businesses and clients to sign up to a measurable carbon reduction plan.

The CLC has also consulted on proposed metrics for CO2nstructZero based on measures that businesses and projects are already using (see CO2nstruct Zero Performance Metrics consultation). These metrics will be published and will enable success to be measured and the industry held accountable to its commitments.

The Association for Consultancy Engineering – are we ready (in terms of delivering net zero in the built environment)?

The Association for Consultancy Engineering (ACE) and Environmental Industries Commission (EIC)'s joint report, "Are we ready? Delivering Net Zero in the built environment", reports on the results of a poll across more than 130 net zero and sustainability experts working across different areas of the built environment. Few sectors rate highly, with challenges such as "client business models being incompatible with net zero pathways" and "disconnects between different regulators" hampering progress. The report calls for a "new, holistic approach which marries policy changes to new ways of delivering projects".

One of the examples given by the ACE is the Construction Innovation Hub's Value Toolkit, a "government-backed initiative designed to change the way the construction industry thinks about and measures value" (see here). One of its key purposes is to "optimise the social, environmental and economic outcomes" from projects to enable difficult questions to be tackled head-on and more balanced, informed investment decisions to be made.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors – carbon reporting rules

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is collaborating with other environment professionals in the creation of new international cost management (ICMS) reporting standards to facilitate the reporting and measurement of carbon in developments. The standards have been published for consultation, as the industry seeks to work harder to lessen their environmental impact. The RICS expects to publish the final ICMS standards in November 2021 and will then issue RICS guidance on carbon assessment to provide "a universal methodology for calculating carbon emissions" (see Construction groups unite with proposed new carbon reporting rules, 5 July 2021).

Further reading

The Association for Consultancy Engineering

The Association for Consultancy Engineering (ACE) and Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) have produced a joint report "Are we ready? Delivering Net Zero in the built environment" (8 December 2020). It details the results of their poll of net zero and sustainability experts across the built environment and calls for a "new, holistic approach which marries policy changes to new ways of delivering projects" (for example, the Construction Innovation Hub's Value Toolkit).

UK Green Building Council

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC)'s mission is to "radically improve the sustainability of the built environment, by transforming the way it is planned, designed, constructed, maintained and operated". It is set on making sustainable development second nature and has published a 10-year plan "Ambitions for 2027" as a roadmap towards making that happen.


Further reading

The Institution of Civil Engineers

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has stated that it "wants to shape the thinking of key industry stakeholders and policymakers responsible for setting future low carbon strategies, thereby influencing clients, the private and public sectors, and ultimately the entire supply chain". In meeting this commitment, the ICE:

  • as part of its Carbon Project, identified three workstreams on which it believes it can make an immediate impact and provide focus for its activities before, during and after COP26:
    • measuring, sharing and benchmarking of carbon impacts
    • capability building in low carbon design and delivery
    • identifying systems-level reduction in in-use carbon
  • produces an annual State of the Nation report setting out its recommendations and interventions. The State of the Nation 2021 report is expected in October 2021. This year's report will build on "two recommendations from last year's State of the Nation 2020: Infrastructure and the 2050 net-zero target report – engaging the public to act and providing an infrastructure skills plan, to encourage civil engineers to develop low carbon solutions with the end user in mind". See State of the Nation 2021: how civil engineering can enable low carbon choices;
  • has published a report on "What makes good design?" based on a recent ICE survey into members' understanding of "good" design – and the cultural shift needed to help them deliver it. Key findings included that "about 60% of respondents thought climate issues were not given enough importance in design" and that "respondents broadly supported the view that wherever they were in the project lifecycle they had a responsibility to influence design" but "believed the skills to achieve this were lacking at every level". The ICE has recommended that climate be ramped up the agenda for all ICE activities "to help create the right environment to support the implementation of low carbon solutions".

Further reading/action

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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