Energy, design and COP-27: How can the construction industry keep up with Net Zero targets?

The inside of a modular building, built with sustainability and budgets in mind.

David Harris, Managing Director, Premier Modular, considers how close we are to achieving carbon efficiency, whether we’re on track for net zero targets, and how to take that critical next step to achieve carbon-efficient buildings.

In the wake of last year’s COP27 in Egypt, the construction industry is asking – ‘what can we do to make a difference before it’s too late?’

Can we achieve Net Zero?

Following the events of COP-27, the industry doesn’t seem to be filled the same hope and optimism COP-26 gave. This is unsurprising, as the conference wasn’t able to implement anything game-changing for the future of energy, as it didn’t manage to get a commitment from all parties to phase out all fossil fuels to keep in line with Net Zero goals.

Despite commitments to preserve the goals set at the conference in Paris in 2015, including limiting global warming to 1.5°C, setbacks such as; greenhouse gas emissions rising by 1% in 2022, means these targets are slowly becoming harder to achieve. Many experts are recognising the current context as a point of crisis, which creates an opportunity for immediate action to ensure we don’t veer too far from Net Zero targets.

Although 2050 may seem in the distant future, I believe, we’re reaching a point of no return for Net Zero, which is why it’s time to act to ensure these targets are attainable.

Building’s role

The conference also revealed the construction industry’s disappointing progress towards achieving Net Zero. Despite an increase in investment into building energy efficiency, CO2 emissions were up 5% since 2020.

As the building sector represents 40% of Europe’s energy demand, with 80% of this being from fossil fuels, it’s often been identified as a key area for investment to promote long-term change, which is why our actions in the next few years are so important.

We can all recognise that construction is often resource intensive, producing over four billion tons of cement per year worldwide, which releases as much CO2 as 700 coal-fired power stations. Therefore, it’s clear the building industry is currently not doing enough. It’s time to change how we think about Net Zero goals to ensure we stay on track for our sustainable future. That means;

1.           Investing in sustainability now

Although building floorspace is projected to double by 2060, currently, only 3% of the investment in new construction is green and efficient. This means the buildings we’re building now, which will exist in 2050, aren’t fit for a new, sustainable future.

The renovation rate is currently less than a third of what it needs to be to meet climate goals agreed in Paris back in 2015, and the need for renovation will only increase if we don’t make the decision to invest in sustainable building right now.

2050 is only getting closer, so it’s time to act decisively and invest in sustainability.

2.           Considering energy sources

80% of the buildings that will be in operation in 2050 have already been built, which means we need to consider how we’re fuelling current and future homes, offices and buildings. A major priority should be improving the efficiency of existing buildings, as well as new ones. However, recently we’ve seen insulation installation rates stall, rather than increase at their required rate.

3.           Understanding processes as a whole

A number of sustainability leaders in the building world are encouraging us all to think more holistically about a building project. It’s not just about understanding the design process to create a net-zero-in-operation building, but also about ensuring there’s visibility to monitor sustainable practices with subcontractors and supply chains.

Reports show just over half of construction companies have complete visibility into their own processes, and only 16% have significant visibility over their suppliers’ processes. Therefore, although individual companies might be making the change, if we want to be truly sustainable, it’s important to partner with suppliers who share the same sustainable values across the whole supply chain.

The reality of Net Zero

The construction sector is widely aware of its need to make a difference, but with such weak outcomes arising from COP-27, you can see some are backing off taking significant steps towards climate-changing results.

Different companies and individuals have their own reasons for this; however, construction is facing an age-old problem, which has intensified in the last year: Cost-efficiency.

Last year, we saw a 27% overall increase in the cost of construction materials. That price hike led to both price increases for developments and companies cutting costs to keep their customers happy. That cost-cutting raised the odds against the industry achieving its Net Zero targets as more sustainable materials were priced out of the market.

A modern solution

In the future, making construction projects more sustainable and efficient, while staying within realistic budgets, will bring modular construction more and more into the frame.

Offsite construction takes place in a controlled factory setting. That makes it more precise as a building goes from design to reality. Precision is exactly what you need when making a building more energy-efficient. Modular construction means meticulous seams and connections which retain precious warmth and keeps your utility bills low.

Building a building in a factory is the more sustainable alternative to traditional, in-situ or ‘bricks and mortar’ construction, not only in operation, but also during the build period. Modular building inherently has less embodied carbon in manufacture and also reduces waste. At Premier Modular, zero waste goes to landfill from our factories.

Add to this ‘green’ advantage, the planned nature of modular construction means your project is more likely to come in on budget and on time (up to 50% faster).

Making a difference

Everyone, at every stage in the building process has a duty to make a difference. Following the outcome of COP27, the climate emergency and the current state of the industry, it’s more important than ever to act now and make real change. That’s why, as a business, we’re committing to Net Zero by 2035, so we can play a crucial part in making a better tomorrow for generations to come.

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