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08 Jun 2022

MPs insist action must be taken to drastically lower building lifecycle emissions

The built environment is responsible for approximately a quarter of all UK greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) warns there has been a lack of government impetus or policy levers to assess and reduce emissions. 

The government, in addition to committing to net zero by 2050, also promised a 68% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. With only eight years to achieve such a reduction, the industry is asking for clarity about how these commitments will be met.

Over the past 14 months, MPs have heard from a range of experts on the best strategies to decarbonise the built environment. Published by the EAC, the subsequent report insists that the government should act swiftly.

The EAC's call to action outlines the need for emission regulation in the form of whole-life carbon (WLC) assessments. Examining levels of emissions during the construction, maintenance and demolition of a building as well as the energy used during its day-to-day operation has been proven to help tackle the climate crisis. Several UK local authorities and European counterparts, such as France and the Netherlands, have established mandatory WLC assessments. All have confirmed the policy works with few barriers to its introduction.

Sustainability Director, Dr Martyn Kenny, recently said,

"Tackling carbon requires an industry-wide approach and early supply chain engagement to shape and embed whole-life into designs from the outset.”

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, RT Hon Philip Dunne MP, added,

“More needs to be done, and baseline standards for action need to be established. Mandatory whole-life carbon assessments, and targets to crack down on embodied carbon, provide part of the answer.”

The report identifies the importance of the prioritisation of retrofit and reuse. Compared to new builds, existing buildings are vital resources that have been irreversibly produced with a considerable carbon investment. To exemplify this, following the high-profile closure of John Lewis in Sheffield city centre, academics belonging to the University of Sheffield calculated that rebuilding the superstructure, rather than retrofitting the building, would emit over 4,300 tonnes of carbon - equivalent to the carbon emitted by 4,000 flights from London to New York.  

Findings such as the above encouraged the EAC to oppose the recent amendments made to permit development rights that have created an incentive towards demolition and new build. To reduce levels of CO2 the government will need to review these reforms and ensure provisions are in place to promote retrofit and reuse.

Philip Dunne MP stated,

"Our buildings have a significant amount of locked-in carbon, which is wasted each time they get knocked down to be rebuilt, a process which produces yet more emissions.”

Where retrofit is not feasible, the report suggests, the next step towards lowering emissions can be found in the use of more efficient building materials. Although there are sufficient low-carbon products to meet current demand, there are insufficient incentives to further develop and utilise them. The EAC welcomed the government's investment into low-carbon cement and stressed the potential of timber due to advancements in research, sustainable sourcing and subsequent tree planting schemes.

The report carried out by the EAC asserts that to decrease carbon emissions produced by the built environment, the chronic skills gap must also be recognised and addressed. Without the relevant green skills, net zero ambitions will fall flat. Therefore, the government have been urged to publish a retrofit strategy and upskilling programme that will ensure a place for green jobs and educational opportunities that will produce the necessary professionals.

As evidenced by the report, the lack of government response, procurement policies or clear timeframes are three of the biggest roadblocks to making vital adjustments. The EAC ask for their advice and recommendations to be actioned without hesitation to allow the industry time to prepare and execute solutions.

Advanced technology and the digitisation of the industry will play a huge part in implementing the fundamental changes required to align with carbon reduction targets.

Twinview's innovative features help achieve these reductions by delivering insights into how a building is performing. Graphical user interfaces, in the form of customisable dashboards, provide immediate access to the information that matters most. By generating carbon emission records and reports, Twinview enables data-informed decision-making whilst employing machine learning to recommend changes with sustainability in mind.

Alike to WLC assessments, digital twins are proven to help tackle the climate crisis and can often be found together.  As the EAC calls for WLC assessments to be actioned nationwide, calculating and recording building emissions may soon become a requirement. Twinview's comprehensive platform can store the entirety of a building’s lifecycle and securely log carbon emission data during construction through to operation.

The EAC report urges the industry to realise net-zero targets and promote a more sustainable, greener built environment for all.

Your commercial building is constantly producing data that is often going unused or underutilised. With an energy crisis ongoing, Twinview uses your siloed data to make meaningful changes in your building about energy-spend. Book a demo to find out more.