Stop fixating on price and prioritise carbon reduction instead, says Paul Cossell of ISG 


We need to be clear that building or retrofitting to net zero standards is a deliverable reality today. In fact, many of the approaches that enable us to achieve this standard owe more to nature-based solutions than cutting edge material composites.

Exemplar projects, including a number delivered by ISG, increasingly demonstrate the ability of our industry to collaborate effectively across the broad spectrum of stakeholders and seek out smart approaches, strategies and solutions to achieve a net zero standard for our built assets.

Net zero is not a singular product or building approach – it is a unique and holistic whole-lifecycle view of every existing property asset or new build project, that optimises decision-making based on carbon and wider societal value. This is why it is so important that we interrogate each and every project brief, prioritise re-use and reconfiguration over demolition, and actually do the right thing, by our planet and communities, not just take the easiest option.

In fact, we have found that prioritising carbon is an excellent proxy to recalibrate conversations with our customers on what we should all be striving for in the built environment – operationally excellent buildings that enable occupants and surrounding communities to thrive.

It is so important that we interrogate each and every project brief, prioritise re-use and reconfiguration over demolition

Our fixation on price must end – this is the straitjacket that binds our ability to wholly embrace an entirely new way of building, maintaining and upgrading assets. Price never delivers value and this is the reason why today we are all collectively delivering buildings that are cumulatively compounding the environmental issues we face. We need to be part of the solution, not a contributor to the problem.

This is a multi-faceted challenge and involves behavioural change at a scale that would seem unimaginable, but the precedent has now been set. The cliff-edge is 2050 and we have been given ample warnings by academics, activists, politicians and by nature itself.

If we imagine replacing carbon as the core driver for projects, rather than cost, we can incentivise our sector to innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible. At a stroke you would deliver buildings that are designed for operational excellence and longevity, reducing operational costs and creating a valuable resource at end of life to be disassembled and reused.

We would no longer be storing up capacity and material issues for 2050 – we would draw a line in the sand that would then enable us to circle back to those existing buildings that are poorly performing, giving us a fighting chance to tackle this immense legacy challenge.

Legislation and regulation could form part of the response, but so does bold action and bravery from clients, investors, contractors and the supply chain, to quickly accelerate our journey towards a “net zero as standard” prerequisite for every decision we now take.

Paul Cossell is chief executive of ISG 

Ideas for positive change


This is part of our Countdown to Cop26 coverage in the lead up to the world climate conference in Glasgow in November. We will be publishing more big ideas about ways to tackle the climate emergency over the coming weeks and you can find more here.

Do please send us your own thoughts about how to make construction greener! Email us, using the subject line “Cop26 ideas”, at