The Government’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is challenging for every business sector but perhaps none more so than in the construction industry.

UK construction directly accounts for 10% of the country’s emissions and influences a staggering 47% of all emissions through all of the work in the sector.

Rapid change is likely to be incredibly difficult due to the fragmented nature of the sector and its complex supply chains, but there is a real opportunity for clients and contractors to drive the agenda so that UK construction gets moving and recognizes the opportunities ahead.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) in November called for open and frank discussions on solutions that the industry can provide to tackle climate change and challenged the Government to establish a “Ministry of Carbon’ to drive forward the initiatives needed to reach the low carbon targets. We’ll have to wait and see whether the Government takes them up on this but you don’t need a crystal ball to predict that whoever holds the balance of power after 12th December will soon take a stick to the industry in the form of legislation to force carbon reduction.

There is no doubt that legislated standards are required that counter the effects of short term market forces so that those who ignore the environment cannot gain economic advantage from doing so. But the NFB also points to the need for Government funding to support low carbon initiatives and create the necessary momentum to achieve targets.

The application of appropriate standards and verifiable outputs needs to be provided at the procurement stage by design teams. The industry needs to adopt a more collaborative approach in procurement to procurement that treats all stakeholders fairly with appropriate transfer of risk.

There are a number of initiatives already focused on designing out waste and developing new products and materials with low carbon footprint.  Offsite manufacturing can reduce carbon within a building using efficient, repeatable designs and more efficient production. Onsite waste accounts for 15% of the embodied energy of a building and research shows that offsite manufacture can reduce this by at least 50%.

There is a real opportunity for construction to make significant impact on carbon reduction and the best way to achieve this is through a collaborative approach with main contractors, clients and the whole supply chain acting as one.

The NFB is right to point out that without a bold vision from Government, backed by a detailed action plan and regulatory landscape, the challenge is probably insurmountable. But in the current political landscape that will take time so the industry should seize the opportunity now and drive the agenda so that it is ready to make the most of the carrots and mitigate the pain of a regulatory stick.