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UK industry group calls for carbon assessments before all new builds

In a bid to address the construction industry’s growing carbon footprint, a group of UK architects, developers, and contractors have called for compulsory emission assessments before all future builds.

Though most of us are now savvier to the inner workings of industries and how they affect climate change, thousands walk past the construction sites of high-rise offices and new build apartments every day without so much as a second glance.

Infuriating as the constant racket of sawing and drilling may be, we largely accept that it’s just part and parcel of city living.

But, what if I told you that the in the UK alone, new building developments account for more than 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year? Will you gawp the next time you stumble upon yet another shiny new gym?

Ignoring the blushes of the Prime Minister, who recently hopped off a private plane to attend the G7 summit in Cornwall, the nation is wising up to environmental issues that previous generations overlooked. Chief among them is the lack of sustainability in construction.

As you’re reading this, those who work in the construction’s many sectors are pushing to bring industry standards more in line with national climate goals.

Introducing mandatory carbon reports

A cohort of UK architects, developers, and contractors – including authors from the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Institution of Structural Engineers – has come together to form Part Z: a committee determined to push green regulations nationwide.

The ultimate goal is to go entirely net zero with all future projects, but given that concrete alone makes up an estimated 8% of all global emissions, we’re talking about a mammoth undertaking here.

Part Z believes the most crucial step to eventually decarbonising our cities is to start holding building firms accountable for their own carbon outlays.

It has drawn up a proposal which would make it mandatory for any company build larger than 1,000 square meters to fully disclose its embodied emissions total – that refers to carbon emitted from the extraction and processing of materials, as well as the actual construction process itself.

This follows on from the UK Climate Change Committee’s progress report last month, which expressed a clear need for carbon transparency and a plan for phasing in greener ‘standards for all buildings, roads, and infrastructure by 2025.’

‘We are ready for embodied carbon regulation, and we hope that the government will engage with industry to introduce Part Z into law,’ said Will Arnold, lead author of the proposal.

city buildings under white cloudy sky during daytime
Credit: Unsplash

The lead up to COP26

In truth, we’re unlikely to see any real movement on new bills until COP26 in November. In the build up to which we have both good and bad news.

It’s promising to note that for the first time (since its conception in 1995), the conference will dedicate a whole day to construction related climate targets.

However, UN climate champion Nigel Topping remains concerned by a distinct lack of engagement from architecture firms across the country.

This lack of impetus was made clear in a recent study, which revealed that architecture students in the UK feel unprepared for climate considerations in their future jobs.

Despite the vast majority wanting to help the climate within their field, 76.9% of the sample felt they had no knowledge of how to do so. 69.2% claimed tutors failed to mention the climate at all in lessons.

Ahead of COP26, a meagre 6% of leading architecture firms have signed up to the body’s 2030 Climate Challenge which aims to find solutions to deliver net-zero buildings.

It’s fair to say that the industry is far from unanimous in choosing the planet over profit right now. But, with committees like Part Z striving for ambitious reform, we can hope to see wholesale changes at COP26.


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