An industry taskforce, called the Innovation and Growth Team (IGT), was commissioned by government to consider how the construction sector could meet the low carbon agenda.
Its report said the construction industry had engaged positively with the sustainability issue with many examples of cutting-edge practice. But the Climate Change Act calls for the net UK carbon account in 2050 to be at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline, which will require a ‘quantum change’ in the industry’s response to this challenge, says the document.
The report highlights four themes that government and industry need to engage on to rise to the carbon challenge:
- The potential size of the market – meeting the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions will affect every aspect of the built environment. The scale of the necessary change is considerable but there is much that could be done now, particularly with the existing building stock.
- Opportunities for SMEs – transforming the built environment to low carbon could provide the industry with a 40 year programme of work and act as a springboard to growth for more than 200,000 small businesses in the sector.
- The wider green economy benefits – the green economy represents an area of substantial potential growth for the UK. Creating a low carbon construction industry would develop skills and expertise that would be of great value to other sectors.
- Stimulating demand – there would be little point in developing the necessary capacity and skills if the demand for low carbon was not there. Government and industry need to work closely together to identify the best ways to stimulate the market for low carbon and energy efficiency measures.
Chief construction adviser Paul Morrell, who led the IGT, said: “Meeting the low carbon agenda is both a challenge and an opportunity for the construction industry. It will require radical change to the way we do business as well as government action to meet the scale of the challenge. There are no easy answers. I hope this report will mark the start of a detailed collaboration between industry and government to address this complex issue.”
The report will now be considered by the government, which will respond to the recommendations next year.
Builders and contractors groups were swift to welcome the report. The Federation of Master Builders called it “the right road map” but added that success depends on the government. FMB director of external affairs Brian Berry said: “The IGT report is bang on about what needs to be done to bring about the green revolution in the built environment and achieve the UK’s legal obligation to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The government, as well as the industry, needs to act on the recommendations and demonstrate its credentials to be the greenest government ever.”
Berry continued: “It is very encouraging that the report finally acknowledges the importance of creating demand in the market to retrofit existing buildings. The recommendation to apply additional fiscal incentives to deliver the Green Deal is an essential one because without such incentives this flagship policy has little hope of success. Cutting the rate of VAT on energy efficient repairs would be the most obvious and simplest choice to kickstart the retrofit market.”
Berry concluded: “The report is a business plan for the entire construction industry over the next forty years and offers a much needed sense of direction and aspiration to an industry struggling as a result of the recession. The government is relying on the transition to a low carbon built environment to deliver economic growth as well as carbon savings. It now needs to act quickly and adopt the report’s findings to get things moving and to deliver the growth desperately needed.”
John Wilson, technical officer of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said: “We welcome the findings of the Low Carbon Construction report. In particular, we welcome the recommendation that a group bringing together industry and government should be formed to resolve issues relating to long-term funding of the development and maintenance of carbon compliance tools.”
“There is a significant opportunity for construction in the new low carbon economy. In the context of civil engineering, carbon is a complex issue throughout the construction process, but contractors appreciate the key role the industry must play in reducing carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. We would like to see the government take on board the recommendations of this report as a way of demonstrating its commitment to a low carbon economy.”
Construction Products Association chief executive Michael Ankers said: “The biggest challenge undoubtedly lies in making our existing buildings more energy efficient. Whilst energy efficiency products and solutions have been available for some time, there is still a need for the consumer to understand and grasp the opportunities to considerably improve the carbon performance of their homes. We particularly welcome the recommendation that an existing homes hub is established similar to the Zero Carbon Hub that is working so successfully to develop the programme for delivering all new homes to a zero carbon standard by 2016. This is an excellent example of industry and government working together and we look forward to a similar mechanism being established for the existing housing stock as soon as possible.”