Net-zero construction in the UK - 5 key takeaways from Digital Construction Week

Net-zero construction in the UK - 5 key takeaways from Digital Construction Week


With ambitious targets set for 2030, 2040, and 2050 to ensure the UK is net-zero across all industries, the construction sector is at a critical point of transformation. Digital innovation is the agent of change, and stakeholders across the industry are exploring new ways to bring sustainability to the forefront.

Digital Construction Week 2024 highlighted the increasing role of sustainability in construction, and the thought leaders who are driving the change by enabling the journey to net-zero.

Life-cycle assessments are more critical than ever

Global emissions from buildings and infrastructure account for 57% of overall emissions. It has never been more important for the construction industry to showcase their sustainability efforts and make informed decisions about the materials and processes they use. Life-cycle assessments are a critical tool in the wheelhouse.

One Click LCA’s Samuel Boswell joined Shivani Soni, Head of Impact and Innovation at Symetri a One Click LCA partner on the Net Zero stage to highlight not only the importance of carrying out life-cycle assessments, but also what benefits can be gleaned from the data once the assessment is complete. 


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  • Early-stage optimization: LCA's enable building designers to predict carbon impacts,  addressing them before they occur, and adjusting designs to make them more carbon efficient.
  • Hot spot analysis: LCA's provide a breakdown of material and stage impacts, amongst other things, giving designers the ability to compare design elements and choose the most sustainable options within their designs.
  • Prioritizing embodied carbon: Over time, the impact of operational elements within a building will reduce. Building materials will always be high impact, and LCA's provide the transparency needed for materials analysis to be a focus.
  • Effective benchmarking: With data from an LCA, comparisons can be made according to industry standards from Greater London Authority, LETI, RIBA, and more. Further to this, LCA’s provide the data to enable comparison and benchmarking between designs within the same portfolio, and best practices to be put into place.

There is a driving force in the industry encouraging the use of life-cycle assessments, impacted by changing industry regulations, and pressure from more sustainably-aware customers. 

"LCA is essential for understanding the true impacts of a building. It has proven highly effective in reducing environmental impacts, and its application in all building projects will become standard practice." 

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Industry standards need to be more…standard

The construction industry has had regulatory standards in place for decades, so why are they not having more of an impact on construction and productivity?

In a session hosted by ZERO Co-founder, Jonathan Munkley, and featuring panellists from AtkinsRéalis and Wates, the role of industry standards was put in the spotlight, and the general feedback from panellists and the audience alike was that standards are too technically complex, and therefore generating more confusion than clarity.

“If experts are telling us that standards are too technically complex, how can we expect other industry stakeholders to understand and act on them? We need to work as a collective to refocus standards. If you’re frustrated with them, reach out to the standard setters and give them your feedback. That’s how we change.”

A focus on embodied biodiversity

The introduction of biodiversity net gain (BNG) rules, which requires developers to evidence and deliver a 10% improvement in biodiversity as a planning condition to create a larger or better-quality natural habitat than was previously on site, has been a catalyst for change. However, development has impacts that reach far beyond the construction site, and there is now an increasing movement towards embodied biodiversity, defined as 'the impacts on biodiversity as a result of all of the processes that take place throughout a material’s life-cycle' Expedition Engineering and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)

While embodied biodiversity is not a policy in the UK yet, developers are looking at how they can address the impact of their activities on the environment, not just onsite, but in the production, manufacturing and transporting of the materials used. Addressing these impacts not only benefits biodiversity, but is also a smart business decision as construction is inherently linked to and dependent on nature. Loss of ecosystems presents significant financial and operational risk to businesses.

As the biodiversity movement progresses, the onus is on consultants, contractors, and clients to take an ethical approach to the sourcing of their materials, aligned to national and international regulations that are being created. Furthermore, manufacturers should be thinking about how they can provide biodiversity data in the same way that they provide carbon data.


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Materials reuse needs to improve for a better circular economy

Today, only 2% of materials stripped from buildings are reused. 

The construction industry is in the early stages of adopting a circular economy approach. Most existing buildings weren’t designed to be reused or deconstructed. The opportunity to make gains in this area of the built environment is huge, but comes with significant challenges, and the industry needs to be realistic about what can be achieved in the near future.

What can we do to make progress?

Materials reuse is a huge topic of growing interest. Significant change is likely to follow if the industry takes a capitalistic view of circularity. Understanding the bottom line impact of materials reuse and incentivizing this is going to drive the behavior change.

Collaboration is key for decarbonization

In a panel discussion featuring Canary Wharf Group and London Concrete, a renewed focus was placed on the critical role of transparency and collaborating with stakeholders across the industry to make better progress on the journey to net zero.

“Can we decarbonize the built environment industry? Yes, but only if we start now, and if we truly collaborate.”

The key takeaway is that engaging the entire supply chain should be a focus for project leaders, in order to make truly well-informed decisions about more sustainable construction. And it goes beyond the construction process itself. Areas like biodiversity and circularity need to be considered in order to take a holistic approach to sustainability in the built environment. 

What are the next steps? Transparency is key, so open discussion is critical. Engaging in dialogue is the route to solutions, and getting stakeholders to realise the connection between every part of the process is the only way to make significant change. 

It’s a big task, so what can we do now, to make an impact?

Take the first step and join the discussion. 'Lighthouse' projects are happening across the world, so take notice and raise awareness. Don’t get lost in perfection. Choose one improvement. It may not have the biggest impact, but it sends the right signal.



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