The construction industry has a big part to play in helping the government achieve its ambitious environmental target for 2050
The setting of an appropriately high target of 80% for carbon reductions is an important step and one that we must all support.
Setting this target for 2050, a time period that is still some way off, allows us all the chance to think through, test and implement a range of more radical solutions than a shorter time horizon would have allowed.
We must also combine this with interim targets that will help us to know if we are making progress.
In the buildings sector, to meet our fair share of the target, we will clearly need to address all aspects of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions.
The climate change committee rightly point to the wide range of areas to include, in terms of new buildings and the existing building stock, and the role that the building sector has on others.
It is important to tackle new buildings, and this is being done through the successive improvements to the energy standards in the Building Regulations.
Perhaps more importantly, the introduction of Display Energy Certificates will start to show people that real energy use is routinely much greater than predicted use, and so post occupancy evaluation and better building management will grow in significance. This can allow real low carbon buildings to be delivered and operated.
But most of the 2050 buildings are already built. It is important to remember that nearly all buildings will undergo at least one refurbishment over this period, and these opportunities must be taken to increase efficiency. It may be necessary to find ways to bring in standards of some sort at these refurbishment points.
The building sector must be integrated with the power generating sector, with greater use of combined heat and power, whether the source of heat is gas, biomass, waste or nuclear.
The building sector must be much better integrated with the power generating sector, with far greater use of combined heat and power, whether the source of heat is gas, biomass, waste or nuclear.
At present the heat wasted from power stations is more than is needed to heat the nation’s homes. Avoiding this waste will require major changes to business models for heat and power companies, and the finding of sufficient urban land for the required infrastructure.
Space will also need to be found for far more renewable energy generation, and the major changes to the National Grid that will support this will follow.
We must also consider the building materials side of construction, which historically has been a small proportion of total carbon emissions, but will be increasingly significant as the in-use energy use declines.
Major efforts will be needed to lower the carbon content of all materials, through process efficiencies but also a major effort to re-use and recycle more.
Obviously, the places where we build impact in a major way on the broader infrastructure, and the carbon impacts of transport in particular. Supporting changes in people’s travel patterns will be a challenging part of the carbon strategy, but one that the broader construction sector must be a part of.
The challenge has been laid down by the government in a way that the threat of environmental change requires; now it is for all of us to respond.
Dr Andrew Cripps is leader of Buro Happold’s sustainability and alternative technologies group.