A new report published by Tarmac and Infrastructure Intelligence and based on industry research reveals that construction still has major challenges on its journey to net zero, says Andy Walker.
Given that the UK is hosting the international climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow later this year, it shouldn’t be a surprise that environmental issues are taking centre stage in the business arena, especially in the construction and infrastructure sector which is so important to the global effort to address climate change.
I have been saying for some time that without the active involvement and engagement of our industry, in the UK and internationally, the battle against climate change cannot be won. The sector’s input is crucial to addressing environmental harms and to securing a sustainable future for all citizens.
That’s why Infrastructure Intelligence was delighted to join forces with Tarmac to canvass the views of professionals from across the construction and infrastructure industry in a unique research project aimed at providing a snapshot of views and attitudes to carbon reduction and net zero.
The resulting report, Clean construction: unlocking net zero, includes the results of a survey we conducted to canvass the latest views of the sector and it also contains a number of essential insights from industry decision makers and leaders about the key challenges being faced on the journey ahead to net zero.
Against the backdrop of a growing climate emergency, our report gives the construction and infrastructure industry the opportunity to understand how the UK’s infrastructure pipeline can be successfully delivered to underpin the transition and ultimate delivery of a net zero society. The industry leaders we interviewed pulled no punches and don’t shy away from the challenges facing the sector.
Clarity on strategy needed
Our survey reveals that more than 60% of construction and infrastructure professionals would like the UK government to launch a National Net Zero Strategy before the start of COP26, with 57% also calling for the government to provide clarity on plans and support for key energy infrastructure including carbon capture, usage and storage.
These are just two of the key findings from our survey that looked at a range of industry attitudes to unlocking net zero – with 45% of respondents also calling on the government to provide guidance and training to help the infrastructure sector decarbonise. The survey also found that 82% of clients considered setting targets and earlier engagement at the preliminary stage to be the main contributing factors in reducing carbon on projects.
On the same theme, client strategy and management (52%) and materials (20%) were the two main factors currently delivering significant carbon reduction opportunities, with skills and knowledge (13%), cost (7%) and procurement (6%) also highlighted.
Opportunities and barriers
As we all look forward to a post-Covid future and consider building back better and greener, it is more crucial than ever to recognise both the opportunities but also the barriers ahead to help us to create an improved, resilient, low-carbon built environment for future generations. The report addresses these barriers and makes for interesting reading about what the sector needs to do to overcome them.
While the survey highlighted many positive attitudes in the drive to achieving net zero, it also raised a number of concerns that the industry still has to battle against including complacency, established ways of working, cost issues and a resistance to change amongst some stakeholders, while striving to put positive words into action for the good of the society it serves.
Government support and policy aside, the survey showed that our industry itself also has room for improvement. Although almost 55% of respondents said their company or organisation already has a net zero strategy or roadmap, almost 29% said no, and a further 16% were unsure. And although 25% of respondents said they began to evaluate carbon at the start of their involvement on projects – with the majority (45%) evaluating throughout and towards the end of the project – an alarming 25% still didn’t evaluate carbon on the projects they were working on. So, clearly there’s work to be done there.
Looking further ahead, 84% of respondents said that net zero provided an advantage for their business – though a concerning 15% saw no advantage to their business. And, while 73% believe that net zero is not a threat to their business, 15% believe that net zero threatens their business survival, with a further 11% unsure.
COP26 is seen as a significant green threshold for many people. But, before the summit doors even open in Glasgow in November, nearly 50% of respondents want more guidance and training to help the infrastructure sector decarbonise.
No construction company active in the UK can afford to ignore the net zero agenda. I’d urge everyone to read this report as it will help in shining a spotlight on the key issues facing our industry and what needs to be done to achieve a genuinely sustainable future.