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Green report: Construction must slash embodied carbon

Construction can still achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 but the industry needs to take into account carbon emissions at every stage of the construction process, a report has said.

The manufacturing, transportation, construction and demolition of buildings and infrastructure contributes 11 per cent to global carbon emissions, according to a new paper by the World Green Building Council (GBC), a global network of environmental building organisations.

The group has recommended that these processes, which produce what is known as ‘embodied emissions’, need to be reduced by 40 per cent by 2030 ahead of the sector becoming fully net zero carbon by 2050.

In order to achieve this, co-operation is essential between local and national governments, investors and developers, the report said, to create more stringent requirements on the emissions of new buildings and the supply chain.

The report gave the example of ABN AMRO’s Circl pavilion in Amsterdam, which was designed to have the smallest possible environmental footprint. Insulation material in its ceiling was made from 16,000 pairs of used jeans and its window frames came from old office buildings.

How can contractors contribute?

The report calls contractors a “central hub of knowledge for their subcontractors and downstream suppliers” who “provide a source of quality control for the developer regarding progress against requirements”.

It cites the following examples of how contractors can help reduce embodied carbon emissions:

  • Minimise the impact of construction processes on the natural environment.
  • Explain trade-specific procurement requirements for low carbon or carbon positive materials to subcontractors.
  • Disclose embodied carbon data for materials used on-site.
  • Promote circular principles through demolition and construction waste workflows where possible.
  • Source plant and equipment that operates on carbon-neutral biofuels or renewable electricity.

Skanska UK announced in May it would consider the carbon emissions of its supply chain as its own, as part of a bid to reduce its overall emissions to net zero by 2045 – a first among major contractors.

Skanska president and CEO Anders Danielsson said: “As we move forward, greater transparency on carbon emissions is needed throughout the whole value chain.

“But this is not enough, we need our customers to put higher demands on sustainable procurement. It is only then the industry will shift its approach, and we can move towards net zero carbon emissions.”

Stephen Smith, executive director of Multiplex, also a member of the World GBC, said: “The specific, ambitious and evidence-backed actions being called for from all stakeholders across the value chain will ultimately generate much needed sustainable outcomes for the sector.

“Embodied carbon is an often overlooked but critical component in the building life-cycle and must urgently be addressed.”

He added that Multiplex would continue to explore and enable sustainability solutions with its business partners and peers.

Ramboll group executive director Søren Holm Johansen said: “Designers must create awareness and help buildings owners minimise the carbon footprint across the lifetime of their buildings.”

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