Should construction be aiming beyond net-zero?

Regeneration Ellis Fox Blog

The term net-zero has become synonymous with reducing carbon emissions, waste and the overall carbon footprint of companies and building sites. Several main contractors have made public commitments to achieving this in their operations and this is commendable.

By definition net-zero strives to balance the amount of greenhouse gasses produced and those removed from the environment. It’s admirable in the way that it aims to not make things worse than they already are. But at this point, that’s not enough. Not when we’re already consuming more natural resources each year than are available.

We’re already beyond the tipping point and trying to hold steady will still result in collapse. We have to find ways counter balance the human impacts development has had on the planet.

The problem is that even if net-zero is achieved, all it means is that we’re basically treading water. We’re not contributing to improve the environment in any way, or restoring what has been destroyed. The concepts of biodiversity loss, for example, remain largely untouched by net-zero efforts. Yet increasing scientific studies show that there is a direct link between biodiversity loss and the climate crisis.

Severe weather conditions are increasing in frequency and having a direct impact on infrastructure and the ability of companies to operate. Machinery and workers alike are unable to cope with the extreme temperatures. This is impacting productivity and profits. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider strategic business efforts and gear them more towards regeneration and circular economy efforts.

The circular economy is likely the best starting point as it looks at keeping resources circulating within the existing economy. The benefit to the planet is that it slows the demand on virgin resources and conserves what little we have left.  This way of thinking may not align with the economic scarcity theory driven by a desire for greater profits. But the reality is that that monopoly style thinking is outdated and unsustainable.

In construction there is already a concerted effort underway to recycle and repurpose materials. There is also a great deal of innovation taking place with regards to using waste to recreate new forms of aggregates for use in road building, concrete mixing, and insulation, for example.

The next steps are looking at regeneration, particularly relating to biodiversity loss. How can the industry give back? Improve the environment and start to rebuild the natural resources to reverse the effects of the climate crisis.