Collaborate to achieve net zero

Following the publication of the Carbon Reduction Code for the Built Environment, Dr Jennifer Schooling calls for commitment to collaborative action to achieve net zero.

Dr Jennifer Schooling calls for commitment to collaborative action to achieve net zero.

Carbon reduction is more likely to happen when all organisations within a value chain commit to work together to reduce their footprint and save costs. This collaborative approach has informed the development of the Carbon Reduction Code for the Built Environment Issue 1.0, jointly published by the Construction Leadership Council and the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) at the University of Cambridge on 15 June.

The idea for the Carbon Reduction Code came from a CSIC roundtable in March last year, just as the world was being shut down by Covid. Representatives from across industry and policy combined to discuss how we in the built environment and construction sector could address the challenges of achieving net zero – and ideally absolute zero. 

In discussion it became clear that progress made since the 2013 Infrastructure Carbon Review has not been transformative enough to reach the government’s net zero 2050 target. Indeed, most of our carbon budget is already spent and carbon now being released into the atmosphere will remain there for the next 200 years. Every tonne produced now compounds the problem. While new technologies, materials, and carbon capture to achieve net zero are being researched, time is running out while we await their arrival. Rapid progress must be made using technologies we already have.

On a positive note, our roundtable participants were keen to progress the discussion, and take action. We held monthly meetings of the Achieving Net Zero Cross-Industry Working Group to explore challenging yet practical ways to move the sector forward.

We wanted to collectively enhance and strengthen existing initiatives with a commitment to report carbon emissions and reductions and share roadmaps to support each other. The Carbon Reduction Code for the Built Environment Issue 1.0 forms part of the Construction Leadership Council’s Construct Zero initiative and enshrines a commitment to report progress, good or bad, on an annual basis. 

The first two pledges of the Code are to aim to reduce our emissions by 75% by 2030 (from 2019 baseline, or nearest year for which data is available), and to share our roadmaps to reach net zero by 2050, publishing progress against that roadmap annually. These mechanisms enable us to share in successes and supportively hold each other to account to overcome challenges. 

There are other commitments. Some are targeted at clients to encourage innovation around carbon and sharing risk. Others are aimed at the supply chain to support zero carbon initiatives where they exist or, if not, to propose carbon-efficient solutions as part of a project. The Code has been trialled across different organisational scales, including the National Association of Construction Frameworks, the Environment Agency and the Skanska-Costain-Strabag joint venture working in partnership with HS2. Feedback from these trials will help to develop the Code which is expected to be updated as carbon targets change and progress towards net zero carbon is achieved.

While the Code’s reporting mechanism provides a point of difference from existing initiatives, it is designed to work alongside them. The Code recognises that we must start making meaningful change, and we have to start making it today. Not tomorrow, not next week and certainly not next year. I urge you to visit the CSIC website to read the Code to understand what is required and register interest. By working together towards a greater good we all make progress.

Collaboration and commitment will be key to success, and with alignment of ambition across all parties we can progress towards net zero carbon at the pace required. The Code provides an encouraging, supportive and collaborative approach to reducing carbon. It is essential that our industry reduces carbon emissions and the more organisations that sign up to the Code, the more we will achieve.

Click here to read more about the Carbon Reduction Code for the Built Environment Issue 1.0.   

Click here to read the Carbon Reduction Code for the Built Environment Issue 1.0.

Dr Jennifer Schooling is director of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.