By Chris Sheehan, Managing Director at the Sheehan Group
Becoming carbon neutral is now firmly on the agenda in the boardrooms of most major UK infrastructure companies.
There has been a shift in mentality, fuelled by the Government’s Zero Carbon target of 2050. Whereas previously some companies simply paid lip service to sustainability many are now integrating it into how they operate or researching how to. From their contracts, procurement through to capability and delivery.
Customers are also driving change by demanding more low carbon and net zero solutions from the supply chain. We have also seen the early shoots of positive change in the planning process, with some developments requiring a percentage of sustainable solutions to achieve planning consent. There is scope for this to go a lot further, but it is a start.
Change has been fuelled by an increasing appreciation of the scale of the climate emergency and the real need for rapid change. But there is significant room for the construction industry to make positive improvement quicker and more effectively. What can be done to help the sector achieve the 2050 target?
There are still major gaps in knowledge in the construction sector culturally, commercially and technologically. There is an on-going large piece of educational work to be done to ensure most of the sector changes its behaviour to ensure we become net-zero. This requires public awareness campaigns on a large scale that delivers an enhanced level of carbon literacy in companies.
Education also need to factor in the sector’s long-standing mindset on cost and encourage people to look at life cost, rather than short term cost and margin.
It is an opportunity for the construction industry to be the drivers of positive change in the built environment. Ultimately net zero needs to become like health and safety is in the sector, where it is ingrained in everyday practice and becomes second nature.
Training will be key to building the required capability to achieve the 2050 target. Do all companies in the value chain have the skills and capacity required to become carbon neutral? Not yet and achieving net zero will require new skills for manufacturers, suppliers and contractors.
Companies need support to upskill colleagues on low carbon knowledge and the sector needs training programmes to recruit for new specialist roles. This requires significant investment and support from Government. If companies are going to invest in upskilling and new technologies, they will need clarity on what the return on investment will be. SMEs will need additional Government support to ensure sector wide success. Creating a supportive culture will be important for wholesale change.
Partnerships and sharing best practice will help drive positive change quicker. At the Sheehan Group we work with our clients strategically to provide them with advice on how to reduce their carbon footprint in construction projects. We also work with partner companies that complement the sustainable construction products and services we offer.
Developing a coordinated approach to sustainable developments requires vision and collaboration. It needs to begin at the design stage and be maintained through every element of the project.
Measuring progress is important. The sector needs hard data that can demonstrate specific measurements and data against the target. People need to be able to access information so they can understand where they are in the journey and what needs to be done. The targets have been set, but how are they being monitored and how will the sector be held accountable?
The construction industry needs to continue to lobby, educate and collaborate with Government centrally and regionally. This way policy makers will better understand the issues and the solutions from within the sector. The construction sector has a large supply chain and it is important Government understands the entire process. More can be done at a policy level to ensure sustainable practices and materials are used in all built environment projects from road infrastructure through to public and private buildings.
There are an increasing amount of sustainable construction products and solutions on the market in the UK and they will need to be further embraced for the target to be met. This could be supported by making the use of such materials a condition of planning in all developments, for example.
A core focus at the Sheehan Group is on the Circular Driven Economy to ensure we extract maximum value from resources where possible.
Our CDE wet processing plant produces high quality recycled aggregate, sand and sharp sand. We also produce concrete blocks using the recycled materials. The process works by recycling demolition and construction waste, saving it from landfill, and turning it into high quality products.
We believe this approach can play an increasing role in our sector’s mission to become net zero.