Following the COVID-19 lockdown, many UK industries have taken a hard hit after months of closures and furloughing of staff. The top three most impacted industries are education, hospitality and construction. This report will specifically evaluate the construction industry in light of a green economic recovery plan post-lockdown, assessing the ways the construction industry can profit from green growth going forward. The construction industry accounts for 40% of global emissions and 45% of UK emissions, and is also accountable for 60% of UK waste, so there is a key role for engineering to find innovative ways to reduce these environmental costs.
Activity in the construction industry has declined by 70% since the start of the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, according to the construction purchasing managers index (PMI), with most housebuilding projects and other building sites being put on hold for the safety of employees. The government is trying to incentivise all construction workers to return to work, although many still say it’s too unsafe to go into people’s homes or travel to work on public transport. However, across the country there are major national construction projects that have been continuing despite lockdown. These include the Hinckley Point C Nuclear Site and HS2 railway sites which have been given a £5bn investment to boost activity between North London and the West Coast Main Line. There is also a £47bn framework for developments on public land.
However, in order to make sure an economic recovery plan for the sector includes a greening strategy, it will take more than reopening sites and going back to business as usual. Policies on the built environment have long needed to adapt to new risks, and opportunities for change, posed by climate change by introducing new green standards for buildings. These standards could include flood risk protections, greater insulation on housing to reduce fuel consumption, using low carbon building materials and recycling more of the waste that comes from old sites for new construction projects. These standards need to view climate risks on a local level. A green recovery plan should consider how existing buildings and infrastructure can meet these standards, and take advantage of lockdown to refurbish empty sites on a large scale. Refurbishments could improve the energy efficiency of large office towers, or focus on paving cycle lanes and walkways to support the already growing awareness of green transport and the importance staying active that has accelerated during lockdown. Developing these solutions and their implementation is an opportunity to create safe working environments for construction workers, provide new skills to the labour force, and begin using a more integrated community planning approach to UK construction projects.
The good news is the industry itself is ready for a green economic recovery plan, as the Construction Leadership Council recently published the document titled Roadmap to Recovery: An Industry Recovery Plan for the UK Construction Sector’ and are working with the government to assess how this will be delivered. The plan includes improving resource efficiency, building safer buildings, and increase productivity across the industry. However, in a recent speech the Prime Minister outlined his plans to reduce planning barriers to speed up construction projects, which carries the risk of removing green regulation such as environmental impact assessments. It is important to remember that we are still in a climate crisis and this would not be a long-term solution, and lead to greater costs down the line.
Activity Rating: ** Right Direction
Please send the following message to the policymaker(s) below:
I have recently read your report the ‘Roadmap to Recovery’. I think it is fantastic that you would like to take the opportunity to move the construction industry towards a greener future. At Climate Scorecard we would like to offer some technical suggestions on how to take these discussions forward with the government to succeed in your goals.
To begin, the current halt on housebuilding projects provides an opportunity for the labor force to refurbish existing buildings, ensuring they are energy efficient and well insulated. It may also be an opportunity to introduce ‘living walls’ and improve green spaces in urban areas. Further, when greening the construction industry, it is vital to go beyond reducing emissions, and begin planning for climate risks, such as the higher probability for extreme weather such as heatwaves and flooding. We believe a community approach is required to address the complexity of the tasks ahead, as new standards introduced need to be specifically designed to the communities at risk, which differ up and down the UK. For example, it will be significantly hotter in London than Edinburgh.
In order to create a fair playing field for competitors in the construction industry, regulation needs to be introduced that ensures high environmental standards for both low-carbon construction and climate risk aversion. We believe this approach will lead to both job creation and green growth, whilst creating a greater sense of place for communities.
Thank you for taking the time to consider these actions,
Contact Details for the Construction Leadership Council:
Address: C/o Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 1 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0ET
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Zara Holden