Energy, Design & COP27: How can the construction industry keep up with net zero targets?

Following COP27, the construction industry’s continuing to ask – ‘How can we make a change, before it’s too late?’ David Harris of Premier Modular, discusses our progress towards net zero targets and the critical next step needed to ensure carbon-efficient buildings for the future.

Can we achieve net zero?
COP27 left the industry with less hope and optimism than COP26, as it failed to achieve an all-party commitment to phase out all fossil fuels to maintain progress towards net zero goals.

Setbacks, including greenhouse gas emissions rising by 1% in 2022, have made previously-agreed targets much more difficult to achieve. This leaves a critical opportunity for immediate action to ensure we stay on track for net zero targets.

Although 2050 seems far into the future, we’re reaching a point of no return for net zero. That’s why it’s time to act now.

Building’s role
COP27 also highlighted the construction industry’s progress – or lack thereof – towards achieving net zero. Despite an increase in investment into energy efficiency, CO2 emissions across the industry were still recorded as up 5% from 2020.

With the construction industry representing 40% of Europe’s energy demand, it’s a critical area for investment to prompt long-term change. That means:

  1. Investing in sustainability now
    Despite the industry’s projected growth, only 3% of investment in new construction is green and efficient. That means the buildings under construction now – which will exist in 2050 – aren’t supporting sustainability targets.
    The current renovation rate is below a third of where it needs to be to meet the climate goals – and the need for renovation will only increase, as the industry continues to invest in inefficient buildings.
  2. Considering energy sources
    80% of 2050’s building stock already exists, which is why we need to consider how we’re fuelling current and future homes. A major priority is improving efficiency for existing buildings. However, instead of increasing, we’ve recently seen insulation installation rates stall.
    To drive greater efficiency for existing and new homes, and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, to achieve net zero, we need to electrify homes. That means we need to ensure there’s also no gas boilers in operation by 2050.
  3. Understanding processes as a whole
    We need to think holistically about building projects. When it comes to ensuring net zero, it’s not just about the design, but also about ensuring we’re monitoring sustainable practices throughout the entire supply chain.
    However, reports show only half of construction companies have significant visibility of their own processes, and only 16% into their suppliers’ processes. So we need to ensure we’re working with suppliers – throughout the supply chain – with the same sustainability values.

The reality of net zero
With such weak outcomes from COP27, some construction companies are taking a backseat in making sustainable changes. There are different reasons for this, but the industry is also facing an age-old problem – cost-efficiency.

In the last year, we’ve seen a 27% increase in material costs. That’s led to companies cutting costs. This has raised the stakes against the industry achieving its net zero targets, with more sustainable materials being priced out the market.

A modern solution
Making building projects more sustainable and efficient – while meeting realistic budgets – is bringing modular construction to the fore.

Taking place in a controlled factory setting, offsite construction is more precise as a building goes from design to reality. That precision is critical for energy efficiency. Modular building means meticulous connections and seams, which retain warmth and keep bills low.

Manufacturing a building in a factory is the sustainable alternative to traditional, in situ construction – not only in operation, but also throughout the build. Modular building also reduces waste.

Adding to this, the planned nature of modular means your project is more likely to meet budgets and timeframes – up to 50% faster.

Making a difference
Everyone – at every stage of the build process – has a responsibility to make a difference. That’s why, as a business, we’ve committed to being net zero by 2035. It’s critical we act now, so we’re collaboratively creating a better tomorrow for generations to come.

David Harris is managing director of Premier Modular