Construction heavyweights call on COP26 to drive lasting change in industry

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As we approach 30 days until the world’s most influential climate change event kicks off in Glasgow, the UN Climate Change Conference, some of the UK’s biggest voices in building and construction weigh in on what needs to change for the country to meet its Net Zero target.

The UK is the first major economy to put into law that it will reach Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, and in line with this commitment, George Clarke, Mark Farmer, Yewande Akinola, Elspeth Finch and Ann Bentley share their thoughts on how best to drive the required change, creating a better world for both people and planet.

George Clarke, Chair MOBIE, comments: “The housing industry needs to adopt a clear and consistent long-term strategy if the UK is to meet its Net Zero targets. Yes, we’re starting to see the industry focus more on whole-life value, which is being driven by progressive innovators working together, but still more needs to be done.

Take new housing models for example, Mills Power Architecture’s IDEMA Panel House project, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is a repeatable model for desirable, quick-to-build net-zero housing; however, we desperately need to see this underpinned by practical government initiatives for moderate-income families to make ecological improvements to their existing homes.

With COP26 quickly approaching, the UK has to take advantage of this platform to implement change and give the housing industry what it desperately needs – a green, ecological revolution. We’re weeks away from hosting what is arguably the biggest influential event when it comes to climate change, and it’s an event that needs to inspire the next generation of architects, planners and builders to think of tomorrow, not today. It’s crucial that we send the right message to the younger generation – we’re relying on them to help us transform the industry.”

CEO of Cast Consulting and Government MMC Housebuilding Champion Mark Farmer says the built environment still has a long way to go and calls on COP26 to be the turning point for the industry.

Mark Farmer said: “With COP26 almost upon us, increasing focus is being placed on how the UK is going to play its part on the international stage in attacking climate change. This narrative has to have a built environment decarbonisation strategy at its heart with 40% of all carbon emissions in some way linked to the construction sector.

“Six years on from the Paris Agreement, COP26 has to provide a turning point, not only for our planet, but for the industry as a whole. Whilst some progress is being made in tackling operational carbon within the built environment there is still a long way to go – particularly in reducing embodied carbon. Once such government and industry funded initiative, AIMCH, is already looking to create scalable industry-led solutions to reducing carbon emissions within homebuilding and is a great example of showcasing the UK as leading the way; however, the industry must continue to challenge itself, with improved resource efficiency and productivity central to fighting climate change.”

Innovate UK Clean Growth and Infrastructure UK Ambassador, Yewande Akinola, stresses the importance of a cohesive approach in industry.

Yewande Akinola MBE, Innovation and Technical Lead, Laing O’Rourke, said: “In the lead up to COP26, firstly I am pleased that a day has been dedicated to the Built Environment. We are aware of the significant emissions that the built environment generates. My hope is that the discussions and debates help the collective design and construction industry understand how a cohesive approach can be adopted and deployed. We cannot afford to continue to consider architecture, design, supply chain and construction as separate entities in the push to tackle climate change. We also cannot afford to have ‘any single points of failure’ and as such all aspects of the built environment must be able to offer tangible progress. I suspect that there would be great concerns around remaining profitable as organisations evolve their delivery models to become more sustainable but hope that the concerns lead to conversations around the adoption and scaling of relevant technologies.”

CEO of IAND, Elspeth Finch MBE, believes the public sector has to make a commitment to ensure the supply chain can play a key role in supporting the UK’s target of meeting Net Zero by 2050.

Elspeth Finch MBE, adds: “As we edge closer to COP 26, I see the opportunity to unlock the innovation potential from SMEs to meet the Net Zero Challenge, as the digital transformation in the infrastructure and construction sectors is happening at pace. There are new materials and technologies that can reduce emissions, resource consumption and costs.

At IAND we see there is a unique opportunity for the public sector to use procurement as a lever to unlock this potential to support the growth of innovative SMEs across the UK and meet Net Zero goals. This means creating new partnerships with suppliers to build sustainable cities & business ecosystems that deliver a low carbon future for all.”

Global Board Director at Rider Levett Bucknall, Ann Bentley, focuses on the urgency for the industry to act now if the UK is going to advance towards its carbon zero goal.

Ann Bentley, comments: “We all know that that change needs to happen now, not in the future, when it comes to the sustainability agenda. In the construction sector we understand what we must do, we have clear Government Policy set out in the Construction Playbook and through the UKRI funded Value Toolkit we have a clear and consistent process for implementation. Instead of best practice and standardisation happening as the exception, now is the time to make them the norm then we will really advance towards our carbon zero goal.”

Mike Pitts, Deputy Challenge Director – Transforming Construction at Innovate UK, said: “Projects from UKRI’s Transforming Construction Challenge pave the way to the industry’s future. Data is flowing through the industry and digital technology is accelerating change, demonstrating at scale the improvements in the build process and integrating renewable technologies at a building level. COP26 is the opportunity to share knowledge and skills between nations, to fast track the UK to reaching Net Zero by 2050.”

Innovate UK’s Transforming Construction Challenge is working to accelerate the adoption of manufacturing and digital processes, helping clients, contractors and the wider supply chain move together to revolutionise the industry.

The challenge has funded projects that span the next generation of net zero UK school designs, car parks that connect digital, energy and mobility systems, through to Net Zero quick-to-build housing inspired by flatpack furniture and the Rubik’s Cube.

UK Research and Innovation is working with industry to host Build Better Now at the Built Environment Virtual Pavilion for COP26 from 31st October to 12th November 2021 to enable maximum participation from around the world.

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