What is the construction industry doing about climate change?
If you’re confused by the headline, you’re forgiven. After all isn’t the environment and climate change the job of environmentalists? Sure they may conduct the research and advise what could and should be done. The problem is, no-one’s been listening. And they should have. For decades scientists have been warning against the effects of climate change and yet the reality hasn’t really hit home.
Even the UK Government declaring a climate crisis has many people shaking their heads – what are they on about now? When there’s a summer heatwave, or winter blizzards knock out communications and infrastructure, or towns and cities get flooded, it’s the same people that are bewildered, saying “It’s not normal!” Here’s the reality check – deny all you want, this is going to be the new normal.
What does this have to do with construction?
The construction industry as a sector generates one of the highest levels of waste and are guilty of producing 11% of global carbon emissions. The industry has been slow to adopt new technologies and methodologies that can contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of a site. There are some forward thinking companies moving in the right direction, factoring in many elements impacted by climate change into their operations and project design, but they are by far the minority.
When natural disasters strike its buildings and infrastructure that are most affected. Engineers are now faced with the task of designing for extreme flood proofing and weather damage because each year the storms get worse and current infrastructure is getting increasingly damaged.
Construction is part of both the problem and the solution.
The industry is going to have to change whether they want to or not, new legislation is going to demand it. Ultra-low emissions laws in city centres impacts construction work as heavy duty trucks are no longer allowed in those zones. Potential new laws on waste management will require contractors to limit and reuse construction waste or face fines.
There is a growing trend towards embracing the circular economy – one where waste is eliminated and instead becomes a renewable resource. It’s already happening with building rubble being crushed to create new concrete aggregates, and rubber tyres being repurposed as road surfacing material. And these are important initiatives given that concrete accounts for 7% of global carbon emissions. There needs to be wider adoption of these and similar ideas.
The technology already exists and has been tested, now if the broader industry would just wake up to the opportunities that exist, we might stand a chance at reducing the impacts of climate change.