Building towards net zero – next steps for the construction sector

Published on
3 min read

Sustainability, net zero, ESG. All topics that are (or should be) at the top of every organisation’s agenda. But many are confused about what they should be doing, and indeed exactly how we define net zero.

The general response from most environmentalists and climate change experts is that it is time for action, given that we are now in a climate emergency.

The UK government has targeted 2050 for net zero emissions (along with the Welsh and NI Assembly, and Scotland earlier at 2045), with a target of a 78% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 announced in April this year. Many local authorities and public bodies have set targets earlier than 2050.

With so many clients reporting this as a priority, Mills & Reeve’s construction team commissioned a report from Professor Sean Smith, Chair of Future Construction, School of Engineering and Director of the Centre for Future Infrastructure, Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh, together with Carla Parsons, an associate at the firm to research what considerations the construction sector need to think about now and in the future.

Professor Smith commented: “The general response from most environmentalists and climate change experts is that it is time for action, given that we are now in a climate emergency. The UK government has targeted 2050 for net zero emissions (along with the Welsh and NI Assembly, and Scotland earlier at 2045), with a target of a 78% reduction in carbon emissions by 2035 announced in April this year. Many local authorities and public bodies have set targets earlier than 2050.”

Carla Parsons, co-author of the report, who also advised on the much anticipated report from UNTCAD (United Nations Conference on Trade Development) later this year, said: “It is critical that action is taken now in order to reach net zero by 2050, and the construction industry has a major part to play in reaching this target. It is not always obvious what needs to be done to get to net zero, or even what net zero is, due to the huge range of terminology we see being used in relation to carbon emissions.

We have produced this thought leadership piece to help navigate net zero and to highlight some of the key considerations to inform and develop carbon reduction strategies. We can no longer avoid the necessity of net zero and we hope this report will be an informative and useful guide for anyone on their journey towards net zero.”

Stuart Pemble, Partner at Mills & Reeve said: “As we start to emerge from the pandemic, we are all asking ourselves what will the world look like? How and where we work, shop and play, and how and when we travel (and, perhaps, no longer travel) to do all of those things, has seen a once-in-a-generation change which arguably increases the challenges faced by our built environment. The growth of online shopping was already posing a challenge to our high streets before Covid, but the past year has seen those challenges turn into shop closures which will transform our town and city centres.  And the growth in remote working may mean that the business districts of our cities will not see the return of office workers, and of all of the businesses which supported them, in the same numbers as existed before the pandemic.”

The report outlines some clear highlights for the construction sector:

  • Fossil fuel reductions has been the success story but other areas need to catch up
  • The property and construction sectors need to work together
  • Measuring and reduction are key – offsetting is a last resort not a go to answer
  • Buildings must be repurposed
  • Carbon assessment post-contract delivery is vital

Visit Building towards net zero | Mills & Reeve (mills-reeve.com) to download the report and full research paper.

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