How can the construction industry reduce carbon emissions?
Currently, the construction industry accounts for 38% of the total global emissions with buildings being built every week. However, despite this, less than 1% of these structures are tested for carbon emissions.
The report contained six buildings as case studies and found that, per square metre, the whole-life carbon footprint was around 1,800 kilograms of CO2 equivalent. Half of all emissions are embodied in buildings, meaning they are caused by the manufacturing of materials and the construction process, the report said.
The report, published by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, says that there are around 255bn square metres of buildings in the world, with 5.5bn being added every year. That is the equivalent of a city the size of Paris being built every week.
It was also discovered that 70% of embodied emissions are caused by just six materials. While it doesn’t mention exactly what those materials are, the report does conclude that cement, which is a key ingredient in concrete, is responsible for an estimated 8% of all emissions. So how can the construction industry improve this?
Reduce building emissions by half
"To get the construction industry on track to reach global climate targets, all companies need to start measuring the full carbon footprint of their real estate assets," said Roland Hunziker, sustainable buildings director at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
"The report shows that if all parties in the building value chain collaborate and focus on whole-life carbon emissions reductions, we can start setting this important sector on a path towards net-zero”, he added.
With the industry producing 14 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, the current goals are for this to be reduced by half by 2030 and zero by 2050.
An understanding of net-zero
One of the easiest ways to help reduce carbon emissions is to understand what net-zero emissions are, and the report emphasises that the industry needs to adopt a clear definition of it. If construction companies understand them, then they can work towards achieving them. While this is difficult due to there being no recognised standard for net-zero, it is possible. "We recognise making this accessible is a challenge, but equally this is a technical area and there is a risk of oversimplifying”, said Diane Millis, Communications Manager at The Carbon Trust.
"Many companies and organisations are only just beginning to understand [that] net-zero is fundamentally different to carbon neutrality so there is a lot of information out there that isn’t accurate, unfortunately”.
To qualify as net-zero, a building must not add any new greenhouse gases to the atmosphere either through its construction, operation, or demolition.
Construction workers urged to down tools for mental health
The construction industry is being encouraged to stop all work for one hour to focus on the importance of physical and mental health. The plea is part of the ‘Stop. Make a Change.’ (SMAC) campaign which is asking construction organisations across the country t spend an hour thinking about physical health conditions, such as respiratory health, work-related stress, as well as mental health conditions including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorder.
This year, the campaign, which takes place from 11 to 22 October, will focus on individual workers, placing particular emphasis on how they have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition to encouraging workers to consider their health, safety, and wellbeing, they will also be asked how those areas can be improved
Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council, said: “Our industry workforce is crucial to all of our future successes. We recognise the heroic efforts these workers have undertaken during the pandemic, and want to make sure that, as the industry hopefully emerges from COVID-19, we continue to look after everyone’s health, safety and wellbeing.”
Around 200,000 people took part in the campaign in 2019, which has been running since 2017. SMAC’s website also offers conversation starter kits to help encourage people to talk about their emotions and wellbeing, making it as natural as possible.
Suicide rates in the construction industry are increasing
A study by Glasgow Caledonian University found suicide rates among construction workers had risen to 29 per 100,000 in 2019 from 25 in 2015. Suicide rates among labourers increased by more than 50% from 48 per 100,000 in 2015 to 73 per 100,000 in 2019. However, the rate in non-construction-related industries has fallen, with just under five people per 100,000 taking their own lives in 2019 in comparison to 7 people in 2015.
If you work in the construction industry and need help, The Lighthouse charity provides free 24-hour, seven-days-a-week emotional and wellbeing support for those in the industry through its helpline available on 0345 605 1956 in the UK, or 1800 939 122 in the Republic of Ireland.
Lighthouse also has a free app where workers can access information that can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.