Building and construction have a significant impact on climate change.
What’s going on?
The built environment contributes an estimated 40% to the UK’s total carbon footprint. [source]
Almost half of this is from energy used in buildings – plug loads, for example, and cooking and infrastructure such as roads and railways that has nothing to do with their functional operation.
Transport is another major source of emissions. Plant and machinery, meanwhile, are major contributors to air pollution.
There is embodied carbon throughout the construction supply chain. Cement in concrete is high in carbon emissions, for example – it accounted for 8% of global total emissions in 2015.[source]
While a single company can address the embodied carbon challenge within its own organisation, effectively collaborating and engaging the smaller businesses they deal with across their supply chain is what will really be key.
And a further challenge comes from materials sourced overseas where regulations are not as high as in the UK, as non-UK supply chain scrutiny is currently limited.
When it comes to the built environment industry’s responsibility to address this energy ‘in use’, opinion varies.
The low carbon route map targeted by the UK’s Green Construction Board (GCB), for example, does not include ‘in use’ emissions. However, several definitions of zero carbon buildings do.
Overall, the carbon footprint of the built environment has reduced since 1990, with the rate of insulation installation and, also, decarbonisation of grid electricity both contributing to this downward trend between 2008 and 2012. [source]
Direct emissions from fuel use in existing buildings rose for the second year running in 2016, mainly due to heating. Heating alone results in 10% of the nation’s carbon footprint and homes are more significant than all other building types put together. [source]
Decarbonising the nation’s heat supply is one of the big policy challenges ahead. Another is tackling the carbon embodied through construction.
The fragmented structure and nature of the construction industry make rapid and coordinated change difficult, however.
UK construction industry emissions fell 3% year on year in 2019, to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. 
Overall, UK construction industry CO2 emissions have increased by 45% since 1990. 
Buildings and building construction work emissions totalled 2.4 million metric tons, representing 17% of total construction industry emissions. 
Construction emissions vary by segment, with emissions from civil engineering accounting for almost half of construction emissions. 
Getting nature positive
Building sustainable projects in an unsustainable world is not completely fruitless, but it is close. For this reason alone, building companies must look beyond sustainable projects to how best to contribute to building a nature positive world.
There are solutions to these challenges, however.
Inspired by steps buildings and infrastructure companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.
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