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When it Comes to Carbon, Business Understands ‘Why’, Just Not ‘How’

3rd October 2017

When it comes to managing carbon, the construction sector understands why it should be doing something, but not how - according to an industry-wide survey of contracting organisations and supply-chain companies, undertaken by the Supply Chain Sustainability School, in association with The Carbon Trust and UK Green Building Council (UKGBC).  

Findings show that although business is clearly sold on the importance of carbon reduction and efficiency, it is proving slow to turn intention into action and implement strategies, or put in place key practices. Whilst most companies measure carbon and have targets, more than a third do not, with very few working towards formal standards.

The figures support a growing sense of concern that the industry is currently failing to get to grips with responsibilities around carbon, as well as the opportunities involved, leaving firms exposed to future business risk, argues Chair of the Supply Chain School, Shaun McCarthy OBE: 

“The Government’s Construction 2025 strategy calls for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions. Industry support for the target in principle is not, however, adequately manifest in practice, with the Survey revealing a clear disconnect between aspiration and action.

As a result, we are facing the need for a step change in our approach to carbon - in terms of both what we build and how we build it - before disruptive players enter the marketplace to profound effect."

The commercial business case for carbon management nevertheless remains strong and clear, especially as the likes of infrastructure clients become more demanding, raising expectations for subcontractors and suppliers, concludes Associate Director at The Carbon Trust, Dominic Burbridge:

“Main contractors recognise that, in many cases, where there is carbon there is cost. Around 95% of the UK’s construction spending is channelled through these main contractors. Over the next five years this will amount to some £400bn, across the 600 projects that are in the National Infrastructure Pipeline, so the cost reduction opportunities from taking action on emissions are enormous.”

What is needed, going forward, is a combination of courage and conviction to drive transformation, plus clarity of purpose to set and achieve meaningful goals, concludes Cat Hirst, Director of Learning & Innovation, UKGBC:

“Our industry recognises that carbon reduction is good for business. What we need now is ambition and bold leadership to make the step change - incremental reduction in carbon just isn’t enough. 

“Through our global network, UKGBC is working with industry to deliver 100% net zero carbon buildings by 2050, and this clear target will provide us with a focus that businesses can get behind, and against which supply chains can deliver.”

Given the range of advice, guidance, learning resources, project programmes, networks, assurance and certification available through the School, The Carbon Trust, UKGBC and others, the call to construction is to turn good intentions into sustainable actions and bridge the disconnect on carbon.

Key Figures & Findings from the Carbon Survey
Top-line data shows strong support from respondents for carbon management, in principle: 

  • Almost 9 out of 10 (89%) believe carbon reduction and efficiency is good for business;
  • Most (59%) now measure carbon, although over a third (34%) still do not.
    Breaking down the responses in detail, however, reveals a level of disconnect between aspiration and action amongst companies measuring carbon, with failure to account for supply chain impacts common, in practice:
  • Almost 9 out of 10 (89%) actually know what they measure;
  • However, nearly 7 out of 10 (69%) measure just their own direct impact; and
  • Only 2 out of 10 measure their supply chain, too.
    Ultimately, the typical approach to achieving carbon targets in construction at present appears to lack the necessary rigour:
  • More than half (56%) have targets for carbon; but
  • Fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) are working towards formal standards.

 Please click here to view the Carbon Survey Info graphic 


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