Although the UK's Net Zero Strategy was launched in October 2021, there is a commonly held belief that its message is slow in seeping into the construction supply chain. The UK's built environment accounts for approximately 30% of the UK's total carbon emissions , with much of this attributed to the materials and processes that are used in the construction process.
It is estimated that 80% of 2050's built environment already exists , so it is perhaps possible that the reason for the belief that the supply chain is not overly interested in pursuing opportunities for implementing low-carbon alternatives to existing building materials is due to the comparatively low impact that it will have on the achievement of government targets.
Indeed, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has already expressed concerns that the Net Zero Strategy contains insufficient measures aimed at reducing carbon emissions from existing buildings and a lack of industry-wide metrics for measuring progress against targets.
So, with the odds stacked against it, how can the supply chain be educated to better play its part in the journey to Net Zero, and does it really need this input?
1. Industry-wide collaboration.
Leading industry organisations BBP, BRE, the Carbon Trust, CIBSE, IStructE, LETI, RIBA, RICS, and UKGBC have already joined forces to create and champion the innovative Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard . This standard aims to deliver a single and widely agreed methodology for assessing and implementing carbon reduction strategies in UK construction.
This standard will allow construction firms and their supply chain to prove their net zero claims and to maintain progress towards the achievement of the Net Zero by 2050 target. Although a large number of industry organisations are already a part of this movement, there is plenty of scope for others to join, to participate in discussions and to work together to create a viable future for the UK's construction industry.
2. Supply chain education.
Education should not be a one-way street. Whilst the setting and communicating of environmental goals and best practices is essential for contractors, sub-contractors and manufacturers to understand what is required of them, they must be given the opportunity to contribute to these decisions.
Educating the entire supply chain as to how best to achieve challenging environmental targets will require input from every single contributor to it. A comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by the supply chain is necessary, as is the reporting of environmental impacts of construction company decisions to develop an overarching strategy which will bring the desired success.
3. Impact assessment.
In order to generate and embed green initiatives into construction, it is necessary to first assess and analyse the impact of current and planned measures. This not only allows the most damaging measures to be prioritised for rectification action but can identify the point at which changes will make a meaningful difference, allowing low-impact measures and mitigations to be paused, saving time and money.
4. Green certifications.
Rewarding the supply chain for their part in helping construction companies to achieve green certifications such as BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method)  and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)  on their retrofit and new build projects is a powerful method of driving change.
Not only does compliance with these certifications increase the reputation of all those involved in the project, but the clear guidelines provided for sustainable construction are simple to follow and to comply with.
In conclusion, educating the supply chain does not mean that leaders in construction organisations dictate their requirements to manufacturers and suppliers of building materials. Rather, the principles and importance of net zero are communicated in a manner which encourages participation and collaboration in designing for sustainability.
By welcoming the knowledge and experience of those involved in the supply chain, it is possible for the UK's construction industry to influence future design decisions, implement appropriate retrofit measures and create a powerful force for good, contributing to the government's carbon reduction targets and plans rather than merely accepting its fate.
The journey to Net Zero is well underway and by instilling a culture of collaboration and environmental awareness, it is possible that the UK's construction industry can lead the way, demonstrating the incredible things that it is capable of.