Commentary

Collaboration is best hope for decarbonising construction

Carbon reduction in the built environment sector needs to be addressed more strategically, transparently and holistically than at present, writes Kane Greenough of Morgan Sindall Construction.

It is essential the UK construction industry achieves net zero by 2050 and the situation is now urgent. The Environmental Audit Committee warned last month that more can – and must – be done if construction’s targets are to be reached.

It’s a finding that resonates with us at Morgan Sindall Construction, and one we enthusiastically welcome. Our Decarbonising Communities strategy outlines how we are tackling this issue through collaboration with our supply chain and partners.

We support the EAC’s calls for mandatory whole-life carbon assessments for buildings, a national retrofit strategy, more efficient use of low-carbon building materials and an upskilling programme to help plug the green skills gap.

Ministers are also being urged by the EAC to do more to help the industry measure and tackle embodied carbon. We see this as being an absolutely vital part of shifting the sector up a gear so it can be propelled towards the 2050 target faster.

By identifying and reducing embodied carbon all the way along the supply chain, we can transform the entire built environment eco-system, cutting carbon on a much larger scale than if we just focus on our own operations.

The North West has worked tirelessly on reducing operational carbon but there has historically been far less focus on embodied carbon. Yet the impact of tackling embodied carbon more effectively could be game-changing, as the carbon produced in the manufacture, transportation and installation of building materials represents a large percentage of a building’s whole life carbon measurement.

For construction companies, this means ultra-early engagement with supply chains, along with helping to educate and empower suppliers to commit to their own carbon-reduction journey. It means meaningful carbon measurement and reporting for every link in the chain.

Morgan Sindall Construction has been actively looking at embodied carbon for some time, collecting carbon data and discussing carbon reporting with our supply chain, including manufacturers, to help them to understand the data that we will need moving forward and to calculate and report against our embodied carbon target of being net zero by 2030 – 20 years ahead of the construction industry requirement. This has led to a number of our manufacturers appointing a sustainability team and lately producing Environmental Product Declarations for their products.

Part of our bid to decarbonise assets involves sending environmental questionnaires to our suppliers, asking direct questions on how they can help us to deliver fuel free sites and reduce our operational energy on site. We also ask suppliers how we can promote material re-use and how they can actively help us to reduce waste – in addition to considering the embodied and operational carbon performance of the products they supply.

Our projects utilise CarboniCa – our in-house developed, digital carbon reduction tool that measures whole life carbon emissions, ensuring potential carbon outputs can be managed and reduced during the design, construction and entire building lifecycle. We work with our suppliers to identify where improvements can be made, then monitor and report on progress.

CarboniCa has been externally validated by Arup and is an example of one of our Intelligent Solutions, designed to help customers decarbonise their assets and meet their own net zero aspirations. Seeking out opportunities for innovation is key. Recently, we identified a lack of dedicated smart metering tech for construction sites. Historically, on-site data is manually read by meters and then reported upstream within the construction business.

But this isn’t challenging the use of energy – it’s just reporting it. We’ve since worked with an innovation partner to get smart meter tech up and running on three of our project sites, including the Wirral Growth Company project in Birkenhead and the University of Salford’s Robotics Building.

Needless energy consumption during the construction process has to be tackled more efficiently. As part of our site waste management plan, we have approximately 300 energy-reducing initiatives that we can implement and monitor on site. Some of these measures are very simple – making sure televisions in contractor huts aren’t left on standby, for instance, but in conjunction they can make a big difference.

We really hope to see the EAC’s recommendations being realised across our industry. After all, 2050 isn’t that far away. The more support and impetus our industry has to achieve the most important target we’ve ever faced, the better.

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