We must aim to re-use and repurpose as much of our existing building stock as possible

Addressing the climate emergency is a social imperative for us all, but particularly for the built environment sector, which is responsible for around 40% of all carbon emissions.

Meeting net zero targets in the years to come will require unprecedented capital reallocation. Some estimates say that achieving net zero would mean tripling overall decarbonisation investment from 2021 to 2025 compared with current investment levels. Successfully delivering this massive increase in capital projects will require new approaches to planning, developing, and constructing projects, including better use of analytics and modern tools. Further investing in people can also help organisations develop carbon strategies that prioritise innovative solutions and new opportunities, as well as improve recruitment and retention.

There are three things that are fundamental to the industry achieving net zero.

  • We must measure both embodied and life-cycle carbon at the outset of projects and minimise the impact throughout the design and delivery phases.
  • We should construct for the future, anticipating different economic and social needs in the decades to come so that we aren’t redeveloping every ten years.
  • We need to put a collective effort into the creation of green infrastructure that encompasses biodiverse solutions and combats the effects of climate change that are now sadly inevitable.

If construction is to reduce its impact on the environment, we must aim to re-use and repurpose as much of our existing building stock as possible. Many buildings may not require demolition and can be transformed and renewed through retrofit into fantastic new assets, savings tonnes of embodied carbon in the process.

Retrofit must therefore be a central part of this strategy if the UK is to reach net zero carbon by 2050. The UK has some of the leakiest building stock in the world, and we are wasting tonnes of carbon each year heating these buildings. According to the Committee for Climate Change (CCC), heating UK buildings accounted for more than a fifth of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, while London had the highest proportion of emissions from buildings out of all 15 major global cities assessed by JLL in 20225.

Alongside this, there has been a growing awareness in the built environment of whole life carbon. It has been estimated that around 50% of the world’s raw materials are consumed in the development of buildings. We need to radically reduce the amount of embodied carbon in the buildings we are creating, through retaining and repurposing as much of a building as we can and re-using and recycling materials. Government policy is playing catch-up here and there is currently not even a consistent government backed definition of how to measure embodied carbon.

SCF have therefore developed a baseline assessment in line with the industry, which gives us, our contractors and clients a solid benchmark – the SCF NET ZERO CARBON GUIDANCE TOOL. This is now being rolled out by the National Association of Construction Frameworks (NACF) for other public sector frameworks to adopt and we are proud to be paving the way and setting ambitious but also importantly a realistic and achievable baseline, which we hope to see used widely.