When it comes to sustainability targets, we’re all clear on what needs to be achieved and why this is so important. It’s the how that’s often trickier.
Since 39% of all carbon emissions come from buildings, the construction industry is one of the key sectors working towards the target of 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and net zero by 2050. Delivering carbon efficient buildings, both new developments and retrofitting projects, is one of the most important ways of limiting increases in global temperatures.
Net-zero buildings reduce and offset emissions through sustainable practices and renewable energy sources. They are measured on their credentials during construction, in use or operation, and at end of life, and must deliver carbon emissions overall that are either net zero or negative over their whole life.
Finding and implementing solutions or techniques to achieve this is challenging but not impossible.
To support the sector, the UK Green Building Council produced a framework for the construction industry to work to. This sets out approaches for both construction emissions and operational energy.
The majority of a building’s environmental impact will be made during its operational, or day-to-day, use, so efficient design is vital. Around 28% of global emissions are linked to powering, lighting, heating or cooling properties.
This means architects, designers and main contractors must incorporate high levels of energy efficiency, using renewable sources, hydrogen boilers or electric vehicle charging points for example. Using electricity as the sole, or primary, source of fuel, or heating buildings through heat pumps, will improve operational efficiencies to reduce a building’s whole life carbon. And if the electricity is met through renewable sources within the building itself, this allows the building to offset any remaining emissions.
Around 11% of emissions come from the manufacturing and construction processes for buildings, through the extraction or manufacture of materials and during the build stage. So changes during manufacture and construction must also be made.
The use of electronic equipment or machinery, offers an emission-free and noise reducing solution, while comprehensive waste segregation techniques will improve recycling or reuse rates for surplus or waste materials. Installation of modular or pre-fabricated components will reduce waste created during construction and offer carbon and time savings. And use of alternative materials, such as sustainably sourced timber will reduce and offset emissions at the same time.
In steel construction, methods such as pre-fabricated components or recycled steel help to reduce emissions of a steel frame building during construction. For operational emissions, structural steel can offer benefits for architects to create open, light spaces to support energy efficiency. And at end-of-life, steel’s potential for reuse or 100% recyclability reduces its whole-life carbon.
To support steelwork contractors, the BCSA’s Sustainability Charter provides a framework of policies and processes to work to, to ensure they are taking all available steps towards reducing global emissions.
With net-zero targets set in stone, adapting and planning to meet these will ensure individual businesses’ sustainability as well as support environmental and global sustainability.