Decarbonising in the Construction Sector
2022 has seen an increased focus on reducing the carbon footprint of the construction industry. New practices have been introduced, or are being phased in, and old practices that may have not been environmentally friendly have either been replaced or are being updated to try and reduce their impact on our planet.
Whilst there will always be elements that will be less eco friendly than others, and all changes will take time to become normal practice, there have definitely been core changes in the construction sector to move towards a lower overall carbon footprint.
Carbon footprint of materials
Traditional construction materials such as concrete, virgin wood and steel all have a poor carbon footprint, due to the amount of CO2 that is produced during manufacture and subsequent transport. Historically, not much thought has been put into how this impacts the overall carbon footprint of a build or site, but things are changing, and green alternatives are now coming to the fore.
One such example is the introduction of low carbon concrete, which uses blended materials such as Geopolymers and alkaline activators. Another example is the use of recycled wood (sometimes even on the same construction site, so there is no transport element), or reusing wood that has been removed from an existing build.
Of course, there are cases in which using traditional materials like concrete cannot be avoided, so decarbonisation is taking place at the source, during cement production. This is still very much in its infancy, but different ways this is happening include using low carbon fuels instead of fossil fuels to heat clay, using electricity where possible instead of combustion, and also capturing the carbon being produced and try to do something with it instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.
Energy codes for buildings
All new homes built in England have to adhere to new building regulations introduced this year, which came in to set down the path towards the introduction of the Future Homes and Building Standard in 2025. The aim of these building regulations are to ensure that the carbon emissions produced by new residential dwellings in England are cut by at least 30%, with new commercial buildings also included, with the aim to reduce carbon emissions by 27%.
It should also be noted that anyone looking to have an extension or alterations to an existing build will also need to comply with the latest building regulations.
Energy efficiency of processes
Actual processes in construction, such as tarmacking, building, transportation and earthworks, can have a huge carbon footprint due to the energy being consumed and the CO2 output, especially using plant machinery for long periods of time. Focus is being placed onto reducing the carbon footprint of different processes; ways to do this being trialled include using electricity instead of fossil fuels where possible, switching from diesel to natural gas if possible, and the creation of cement that uses industrial waste products to further reduce its carbon footprint.
Nature-based areas in urban planning
There has long been a focus on ensuring new urban developments have green spaces, but this is even more important now and concepts being introduced include community gardens, urban forests, green roof gardens, ensuring small bodies of water within public green areas and planting domestic deciduous trees as part of urban replanting schemes.