Decarbonisation of construction – is change the client’s responsibility?

11th March 2024

Every party to a construction project was represented at Blake Morgan’s Developing Connections Roundtable discussion on Thursday 29 February, from university employer to steel recycler. Hosted by Blake Morgan lawyers and its Project and Cost Management team, the topic of discussion focused on the decarbonisation of the construction sector.

Off-shore wind’s heavy construction carbon process is never mentioned in the media. The irony of the huge carbon output to reduce future carbon was not lost.

How is change to be implemented?

Public sector frameworks leave decarbonisation strategy to clients. The NEC has introduced the X29 Climate Change Option but no one in the room has prepared a climate change scope for clients, let alone a set of KPIs.

Some client change has been introduced by green investment funding for carbon reduction plans for retrofitting existing estates. But the lack of local supply chain for this work brings limited economic benefit.

Opinion was that there is generally a poor understanding of life cycle assessment, checking of output and lack of long term accountability. Clients again taking the blame. Will more widespread use of BIM/data sharing platforms help improve transparency and accountability? 

It was thought that a change in mindset would only be driven by mandated innovation. Should there be fewer intellectual property rights over innovative design and manufacture solutions to help drive the change needed?

If the funding for new builds mandated operation off grid, this would drive the innovation of decarbonisation in regeneration. Developments in Swiss towns prescribe a maximum watt usage for the build to drive innovation. The level of private sector support around the room for a mandated approach to change was interesting. Although it has to be said that the Swiss concept of car free communities to enhance community and childhood freedom was less attractive to those undertaking the weekly shop.

If a lobbying voice was possible it would be to influence government policy to keep steel manufacture in the UK and to drive electric arc furnace demand. Do we as an industry wait for UK legislation to be implemented, we hear of the many political pressures, from the war in Ukraine, tensions in the middle east, the cost of living crisis and not to mention a general election on the horizon. Our industry leadership teams need to drive the sense of urgency.

Looking ahead to the challenge set for the UK to be Net Zero by 2050

Interestingly, a statistic that is widely used states that 80% of the buildings that will be occupied in 2050, have already been built. Therefore, the attention of clients with large estates will be looking at retrofitting and making existing buildings more energy efficient. The question is, do we have the supply chain and skill force to deliver retrofit projects at scale? Perhaps an opportunity for universities and colleges to develop such skill gaps.

Should we look to other sectors? For instance, demand from other sectors such as automotive, will increase the availability of low carbon steel and lower the production costs of low-carbon fuels and carbon capture.

Do we need to consider how we look at procurement and the key drivers? Traditionally, time, cost and quality drive how we procure, do we now need to consider carbon in such context? In the words of Sir David Attenborough “Real success can only come if there is a change in our societies and in our economics and in our politics”.

Developing Connections

Developing Connections has been set up for the built environment with this roundatable event looking at the decabonisation of the construction sector. Working with panels of experts, we tackle topics impacting the sector such as prop tech, off-site construction, build to rent, financing, decarbonisation and sustainability with a lively, engaging discussion, that will inform, influence and connect you to people from across the industry. Find out more about the forum here and sign up to the Developing Connections mailings here.

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