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  • Aidan Lewis

Achieving Net Zero in the Construction Supply Chain

With the built environment accounting for approximately 40% of annual global CO2 emissions, more needs to be done to reduce the sector’s environmental impact. This webinar explored what can be done as an industry to reach net-zero in the construction sector. Read on to hear what our expert panel had to say.

How can we drive decarbonisation in the Circular Economy?

Brittany Harris, Co-founder & CEO, QFlow

There is something fundamental getting in the way of driving sustainability in the construction sector, and it’s something we highlighted when initially reaching out to construction firms and major companies - data capture and input.

This is a universal problem that seems to be impacting companies across the global construction sector. Mainly, current data capture processes are either time consuming and laborious, or there is a lack of knowledge and training on how to best utilise data capture platforms. And this is where improved digital processes are vital to decarbonising the sector. By digitising and automating these tasks, we’re able to showcase carbon usage across a build and highlight where raw materials can be repurposed across a project life cycle.

Additionally, it’s helping to upskill staff and reinforce the importance of decarbonisation across the sector. When we started in 2018, sustainability was a ‘nice to have’ in a company. Now, we’re seeing clients rising to the challenge and looking to streamline their supply chain. Data is key to all of that. Through effective data collation, we can help companies reduce materials waste and explore avenues for harnessing additional materials that would otherwise be disposed of. Redistribution of materials and assets is vital if we are to achieve net-zero in the construction supply chain.

Isabelle Gough, Co-founder & CEO, Cercula

As Brittany highlighted, gathering and collating data is a crucial pain point across the industry. There's already so much admin and red tape in place that adding another layer is something that nobody wants to do. Unfortunately, it's a necessary evil that we need to take seriously. Every year, the construction sector is responsible for 50 million tonnes of CO2 – more than aviation & shipping combined. Most of that is locked into the design phase, so the earlier we address it, the cheaper it is to remove it from the construction process.

This means that we need those carbon metrics and data insights in the room to make our design decisions. The digital lag across the sector is a massive limitation to this. There needs to be a more significant industry effort to improve digitisation to drive better insights and ways of working.

We need a non-product-specific data benchmark to help drive sustainability & carbon reporting. Currently, the processes are too complex and varied across products and projects, so there's no centralised source of truth. Suppliers' data is undoubtedly improving, with more and more firms rising to the sustainability challenge. The drawback, however, is how varied the data being collated is. There's no clear benchmarking or universal process for all companies, meaning analysing the data can be a huge task. A shift towards a more collaborative, open-sourced data collection processes is vital for long-term sustainability across the sector. Data needs to be easy to access and understand.

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions in the housing sector

Christopher Mortensen, Co-founder & CPO, Modulous

When first starting in the industry 20 years ago, I faced an uphill battle as many of us did. The climate change discussion was not on the radar like it is now. We’ve certainly seen a shift in recent years, with the climate crisis, sustainability, and low carbon design now sitting at the forefront of how we design and construct.

Having these discussions at the forefront will be vital in reaching net-zero. We’ve designed with sustainability and carbon as an afterthought for so many years. We need to transition to putting sustainability at the heart of every project, factoring this into every design and build to ensure long-term benefits. There’s a lot of talk about the increased cost of sustainable products and processes, but the premium on sustainability is only paid when it’s an afterthought. By factoring sustainable products into the design phase, we can truly understand a project’s carbon footprint before we even build. Utilising digital assets and models is central to understanding the full life-cycle impact.

Another big challenge is the ever-changing construction regulations. It’s not uncommon for sustainability regulations and guidance to change with new political cycles, completely rewriting the goal we’re all working towards. For the sector to truly reach net zero, we need government bodies to take a firm stance and put more long-term guidance in place for construction firms.

The role of contractors in the net-zero discussion

Conor McCone, Carbon Manager, Skanska

The problem with traditional construction is just that - it’s traditional. We’re an industry that is slow to move, and change takes time; these are big ships that we’re trying to turn. How we collect and utilise data has always been a problem, and it’s not uncommon for the construction sector to rank last for digitalisation in yearly studies. There needs to be a collaborated effort within the construction supply chain to harness the intersection between traditional companies and technology, which is why platforms like beta are key for communication.

Traditionally, construction projects have taken a top-down approach. We design a project, cost it, and work to ensure we don’t go over those costs. Actual material usage is often unknown until a project is complete, which is a severe issue for sustainability and efficiency. Now, we’re working to transition to a bottom-up approach, with actual site data feeding into a central hub that can be used across the entire business. From this, we can highlight areas for improvement, with a greater focus on sustainability and efficiency; this must become the norm for construction firms to ensure we’re all working towards the same sustainability targets. To achieve net-zero, we should be forming strategic relationships across the sector and improving our communication. Without information sharing and improved collaboration, we cannot meet net-zero.


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