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The future of the construction industry: what businesses can do to reduce their carbon emissions

In the second of our construction mini series, we talk to Stuart Young of BEIS, about helping businesses build a greener future.

Lombard supports businesses to invest in renewable assets and make the transition to a low-carbon economy. Philip Milton, Lombard Construction Sector Lead (Midlands & East), talks to Stuart Young, Head of Stakeholder Engagement and Construction Sector Relationship Manager, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and a member of the Construction Leadership Council, about the sector’s collective action to transition to Net Zero.

Use the link below to watch the short video with Philip and Stuart. 

Click here to see the video

How is the construction industry taking action to reduce carbon emissions and meet net zero by 2050?

“The construction sector is acting on this through the Construction Leadership Council’s Construct Zero Performance Framework of nine priorities, underpinned by 28 metrics. We’ve got over 180 companies promoting and amplifying our sector’s work in this space and showcasing best-practice . That includes SMEs right across the sector as well as high-profile organisations such as NatWest, HS2, CBI and PwC. 

“We’re seeing real progress at a top level: Mace achieved its ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2020. Multiplex has set out a pathway to demonstrate a set of actions that is going to help it achieve net zero by 2050. We’re embedding the CZ metrics across the sector and, in November, we’ll be showcasing the sector’s achievements one-year on post COP26.”

What are the benefits of sustainability for businesses?

“We have businesses demonstrating leadership and doing excellent work in relation to carbon reduction. It enables them to become more sustainable, efficient, and adaptive to digital technology. 

“Turner & Townsend, for example, is a global organisation currently working with the London Borough of Hounslow, which has ambitious targets to retrofit its entire corporate property portfolio – that’s about 30% of the council’s direct carbon emissions  

“From what we’ve heard to date, it’s already retrofitted 32 schools and 30 corporate buildings, which has saved the equivalent of 3,400 tonnes of carbon emissions. 

“On the SME side, one of our business champions is Northstone Group, which is trialling HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil) as an alternative to red diesel. 

“We know that in the UK, the built environment sector is responsible for around 43% of carbon emissions. Globally, it’s around 36%. Put simply, with the Prime Minister’s ambitions to transition to a net zero economy, this won’t be achieved without the support and positive engagement of the construction sector.”

We’re seeing companies reaching out to our team daily to join the Construct Zero programme. If you’re interested, please drop Stuart a line at Stuart.Young@beis.gov.uk. We’d like to see that take-up continue

Where and how does plant fit with sustainable goals and actions?

“Plant plays a key role in the construction industry’s Construct Zero industry-change programme. In terms of Construct Zero’s nine priorities, it’s listed as number one [accelerating the shift of the construction workforce to zero emission vehicles and onsite plant].

“We’ve got a series of workstreams that operate collaboratively to address the biggest issues facing the sector, and one of them is focused around zero diesel and reducing plant hire. That group is chaired by HS2, one of our business partners. 

“We’re looking to produce an industry roadmap for publication in the autumn that will set out how the industry can transition to that space. We’re also working with the Construction Plant-Hire Association who will be providing the metrics around plant hire.” 

For businesses that might not fully understand why it matters, what’s your message?

“Come and talk to us. We are always open for more businesses to become involved in Construct Zero as either Partners or as Business Champions. We recruit Business Champions bi-monthly, regardless of what stage of the journey they’re on. If they align to one of our priorities and they’ve got the direction of travel – they’ve got some discussions in place, they’ve got a plan in place, but they may or may not have implemented it yet – we’d love to have them on board.”

Amid various pressures and challenges, why is it important to maintain momentum?

“It’s important because this is probably one of the number one challenges for businesses. Taking a broader perspective, it’s morally responsible, and society’s role is to try to create a better environment for our children and future generations. Only by addressing these challenges and building on the momentum of COP26 will we create that environment.”

What progress has been made since COP26 and what do you want to see from COP27?

“From a CLC/Construct Zero perspective, we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve raised awareness of the issue, it’s now on a lot of companies’ radars. It’s almost a question of why wouldn’t you do this as opposed to why should you do it? 

“We have started to turn the dial and change the narrative around this. 

“We know and understand it’s a very challenging environment for businesses to operate in with the cost of inflation, global supply chain challenges, product availability, costs and so on. 

“Even so, we must still as a sector continue to push on the commitment to deliver net zero. Let’s keep having the conversations and try to embed more of the metrics. And from a wider perspective, let’s think about how we can accelerate the pace of delivery. We know we need to do more, quicker- that’s a partnership between Government and the sector/industry more generally. The challenge is not going away. COP27 will provide another useful discussion point. But, clearly, we don’t need a COP to have those conversations.”

Further reading

Look out for more content coming soon on the opportunities and challenges in the construction sector, including areas such as supply chains and regional economy investment.

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