Reducing carbon in construction: a whole life approach
The UK construction sector is failing to meet its carbon reduction targets and needs to explore additional mitigation options. The carbon emissions from heating and lighting our buildings (operational emissions) have been falling but these are not the only emissions arising from the built environment. Sizeable carbon emissions are incurred in constructing, maintaining and demolishing an asset and producing the materials and components used throughout its life cycle (embodied emissions). Considering both the anticipated operational and embodied emissions of a built asset is considered a whole life approach. To date the construction industry has mainly focussed on reducing operational emissions, driven by changes in the building regulations and planning requirements. Extending the focus of project carbon assessments and targets from operational to whole life emissions presents designers, clients and contractors with a broader range of mitigation options. The faster proliferation of a whole life approach should be supported by national and local policies for which there are a number of international precedents. Targeted intervention from national and local government could drive innovation in design teams and supply chains, improve sector productivity, reduce the costs of UK buildings and infrastructure, create employment opportunities, boost export markets and deliver immediate reductions in carbon emissions.
1. The Government should establish a well resourced independent body to develop and accelerate the construction sector’s decarbonisation agenda.
2. Local authorities should require assessment of whole life carbon emissions on significant schemes as part of the planning process.
3. All publicly funded building projects should include a whole life carbon assessment and whole life carbon targets where project benchmarks can be established.
4. The greenhouse gas emission reporting requirements for quoted companies should be extended to include scope 3 emissions associated with developing new facilities.
5. Product manufacturers should require Environmental Product Declarations to support environmental claims.