Decarbonising the UK’s townscapes
We have all heard and used the phrase ‘paint the town red’ to describe going out to have a good time. However, when it comes to climate change, the party is over. Change is urgently needed in our towns and cities to make the landscape greener. We work with the public sector on new homes projects, and I was surprised to learn that 77% of direct greenhouse gas emissions from buildings come from homes. Much of this is attributed to energy inefficiency.
Given that statistic, it is no wonder then that the government has consulted widely on how to decarbonise new homes. Plans are afoot to introduce a Future Homes Standard through updates to the Building Regulations, to ensure that new homes are zero-carbon ready by 2025. The Future Homes Standard is an initiative which “will require new build homes to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world class levels of energy efficiency” with the aim of retrofitting measures not being needed in the future to make homes greener. This is one tenet of the government’s plan to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.
Much of the government’s emphasis has understandably been on energy efficiency in new homes once occupied (these initiatives are of great interest to our colleagues in the infrastructure team!). However, the construction industry has taken a keen interest in plans to decarbonise new homes and has its own ideas about how it might contribute to metaphorically painting our towns green.
The construction industry came up with the cleverly named CO2nstructZero, an industry body led by the Construction Leadership Council which has sought to develop and share knowledge regarding sustainable construction. It even more cleverly came up with a 9-point plan of its CO2nstructZero Priorities for a green industrial revolution to move the construction industry away from energy intensive, CO2 emitting methods and processes.
The 9 CO2nstructZero Priorities are broken down into three main components: (i) transport; (ii) buildings; and (iii) construction activity all of which will have an impact on the design and construction of homes.
|1.“Accelerating the shift of the construction workforce to zero emission vehicles and onsite plant”|
|2.Optimise the use of Modern Methods of Construction and improved onsite logistics, in doing so reducing waste and transport to sites”|
|3.“Championing developments and infrastructure investments that both enable connectivity with low carbon modes of transport and design to incorporate readiness for zero emission vehicles”|
|4.“Work with government to deliver retrofitting to improve energy efficiency of the existing housing stock”|
|5.“Scale up industry capability to deliver low carbon heat solutions in buildings, supporting heat pump deployment, trials of hydrogen heating systems and heat networks”|
|6.“Enhancing the energy performance of new and existing buildings through higher operational energy efficiency standards and better building energy performance monitoring”|
|7.“Implementing carbon measurement, to support our construction projects in making quantifiable decisions to remove carbon”.|
|8.“Become world leaders in designing out carbon, developing the capability of our designers and construction professionals to develop designs in line with circular economy – reducing embedded and operational carbon, shifting commercial models to incentivise and reward measurable carbon reductions.”|
|9.“Support development of innovative low carbon materials (prioritising concrete and steel), as well as advancing low carbon solutions for manufacturing production processes and distribution”.|
Based on these 9 CO2nstructZero Priorities we have made some common sense based predictions about what we think might change in the construction industry at a practical level to make the industry greener:
- Electric and hydrogen powered vehicles will make deliveries to site and will be used on site. We have all seen lorries fueled with carbon-emitting diesel arrive at site with deliveries of timber, bricks and all manner of construction materials. Cranes, diggers, skips, cherry pickers as well as an array of other site machinery used on site also rely upon fuel which is harmful to the environment. These vehicles will be a thing of the past!
- Modern Methods of Construction such as modular build will become more popular. Whereas traditional construction has relied upon buildings being constructed from the foundations upwards on site, modular construction sees units being mass produced in a factory environment. This uses less energy and less transport as fewer deliveries and people are coming to building sites so there is less of a carbon footprint at the construction stage.
- The design of housing schemes will help people to travel to and from their homes in the most carbon efficient way. For example, we would imagine design teams incorporating links to cycle paths or bus routes with low carbon vehicles. Housing schemes are already being built with fewer parking spaces than in the past to discourage vehicle ownership and use where public transport is available. It is also likely that charging points for electric cars and bikes will be built into new developments to cater for zero emission vehicles.
- The government has already funded schemes for existing buildings, such as the Green Homes Grant aimed at retrofitting homes with lower energy efficiency ratings with energy saving measures. With the rise in energy costs, we imagine this type of scheme will continue to be popular as it has the dual function of saving both energy and money for householders.
- Engineers and scientists will be excited about the prospect of developing new heating solutions, new carbon neutral construction materials and low carbon methods of producing those materials. Concrete is a key material in the construction industry which is carbon intensive due to the chemical processes and energy required to produce it. Experts at Imperial College London for example are already looking into ways of decarbonising cement and they released a report in June 2021 setting out some thoughts about how the construction industry might tackle this. No doubt this research is ongoing as it is a key part of ensuring that the construction industry is emitting less carbon right from the start of a build.
It is evident from our predictions above that the construction industry as a whole has a part to play in making our urban landscapes greener. CO2nstructZero notes on its website that a lot of organisations are already contributing to this green industrial revolution and that it is a collective effort. 70 businesses have signed up to become CO2nstructZero Champions and 90 have already become CO2nstructZero Partners, showing a commitment to working collectively to achieve the 9 CO2nstructZero Priorities. Collaboration is clearly the key to painting the town green and the more who join in, the merrier the celebrations will be in 2050 when the net zero target is reached and our homes are green.
Laura Campbell is an Associate at Sharpe Pritchard LLP.
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