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5 Ways Construction Can Meet Net-Zero

  • by: Steve Grisdale
  • On: 7, Jun 2023
4 min read

The construction industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, contributing to 23% of air pollution, 40% of drinking water pollution and 50% of landfill waste around the globe. The United Nations Environment Program states that the global construction industry produces 39% of gross carbon emissions yearly. This includes emissions from the production of construction materials, the energy consumed during construction, and the energy used by the buildings themselves over their lifetime, so it’s clear the problem exists across the entire construction process.

If the industry is going to reach net-zero, it will need to make drastic changes.

What does reaching net-zero mean?

Net-zero is the target of balancing the production of greenhouse gasses throughout a construction project, by finding ways to reduce emissions and absorb any created, leaving the overall environmental impact at zero.

Finding this balance in the construction industry is difficult, given the use of tools and machinery, as well as the production of building and site materials.

Any route for the industry to transition to net-zero emissions will require radical thinking, beginning with accurate measurements of all carbon sources in order to understand the scale of the issue, and where best to make reductions.

 Technology will play a vital role in this, first by helping industry leaders to understand what needs to be done, and then by powering the transition to a cleaner construction sector.

How the construction industry can lower emissions

Emissions and carbon footprint tracking

The industry can’t improve emissions if they aren’t being measured and logged. Some companies are already working on tracking systems that can track emissions and overall carbon levels across the lifecycle of a build. 

This would allow businesses to track every piece of material, eliminating job site waste while ensuring reliable data on the final product and its carbon impact. Smart buildings have been paving the way for this for some time, and integrating systems like this into every aspect of the project would allow construction companies to track and control their carbon budgets with precision, helping each subsequent project to have less of a destructive impact on the planet.  

If this data were published, it would also help to encourage other businesses to do the same, showing off their green credentials to investors and workers.

Low-carbon building materials

 More regulations on ensuring low-carbon materials are used during construction would make a huge impact on the industry’s pollution levels. These could take the form of mandatory requirements and incentives around carbon budgets, limiting the total amount of carbon emitted during the entire lifetime of a building. This would encourage construction companies to use low-carbon materials in their projects.

 Concrete alone is responsible for nearly 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, but there are many other materials we could be using that have far less impact on the environment, such as recycled plastics, and bamboo instead of traditional lumber.

Use green energy in construction and tools

Given the widespread uptake of renewable energy, there is now more choice in how projects are powered. Solar power can be easily integrated into projects, powering generators to save on fossil fuels, and is commonly used for lighting towers and other elements of the construction site.

 Tools can be powered with rechargeable batteries, and should be recycled or responsibly disposed of at the end of their lifecycle. Even small changes like these would have a positive impact.

Modular construction

Modular structures are built like components in a factory, then put together and assembled on-site, allowing for far greater control over the emissions released during construction.

This allows modular construction to emit up to 45% less carbon than traditional construction methods.

Project management technology

 Lastly, with greater understanding and control over the build from start to finish, construction companies can expect their carbon emissions to be reduced thanks to better oversight.

 Project management software is making great strides in efficiency in every industry, across every type of project. It can play a similar role in construction, allowing industry leaders to start reducing their emissions at the very start of the project.

 The construction industry is making progress on reducing its carbon impact. Whether the industry will be able to reach net-zero in time will depend on how it adopts new technology, but also on whether industry leaders are willing to step up and lead by example. As more and more companies begin to work towards reaching net-zero, we will hopefully see a shift across the entire industry for the better.

Read more about new technologies in civil engineering and infrastructure, or learn about the impact of the energy crisis on fossil fuels.

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