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Sustainable Construction – Are We Asking Enough Questions?

Each year The Economist organises its Sustainability Week conference. The 2021 event features four days of virtual seminars running from March 22-25. Out of the four days there is only one session that looks specifically at sustainable infrastructure and communities.

Given that the event is organised by The Economist, an emphasis on finance and investment is to be expected. But maybe construction and the built environment should have a higher profile. They are, after all, major contributors to national economies and greenhouse emissions globally. And we’re talking about the stuff of everyday life: how and where people live, work and travel.

The UK Green Building Council estimates that UK construction contributes around 40% of the nation’s carbon emissions. This suggests that the construction industry should be centre stage when we are discussing the net carbon zero economy.

Zero Carbon Skills

There‘s a significant economic angle in all of this. The CITB recently published the Building Skills for Net Zero report. The most eye-catching number in the report is the need to create 350,000 new construction jobs by 2028 if we are to decarbonise the UK’s housing stock by 2050. This figure includes 86,000 construction project managers. Scaling-up sustainable construction skills will be a huge collective effort calling for significant investment.

CITB Strategy and Policy Director Steve Radley pointed out that creating the right economic conditions is critical: “The government also has a key role in specifying what it wants and creating the pipeline of demand that will give industry the confidence to invest in the skills we need – and for providers to invest in the courses we need to deliver these skills.”

Procurement Must Lead The Way

There are big questions concerning new projects being commissioned across the housing, healthcare, education and infrastructure sectors. Are sustainability issues being given enough of a weighting in the procurement process?

We have to address material selection and embodied carbon, construction methods, waste management and the thermal efficiency of new buildings. And what happens to the components of each building at the end of its life also cannot be ignored.

The answers to these questions aren’t simple ones. But the entire industry needs to be asking them more often and with greater urgency – from procurement to delivery.

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