With 2030 presenting a hard deadline for mitigating the worst, most irreversible effects of global climate change, the clock is most definitely ticking. Within the next decade, according to a report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need to drop our carbon emissions by half on a planetary scale. In fact, in real terms, the cliff edge we’re approaching may be a lot closer than we realise. As International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol warns, we may already be in the final year where a course for hitting that target can even be set. With COVID-19 lockdown measures easing up around the world, a potential “carbon rebound” risks putting the required 50% reduction irretrievably out of reach.
Given that the UK’s built environment is responsible for an estimated 45% of the country’s total carbon emissions on its own, it makes sense to focus a significant amount of attention, investment and innovation there. Building efficiency is becoming an increasingly high priority throughout the construction sector, and rightly so. Innovation has always been a crucial factor in energy efficiency and sustainable “green” construction, and with pressure mounting and the world paying attention, there’s never been a more critical moment to push back the boundaries of what we can accomplish in the sector.
Sustainable construction techniques tick all the boxes for bringing carbon emissions down and improving energy efficiency. We’re talking about more than just good insulation and the occasional solar panel here, of course. Across the entire industry, innovative businesses are switching to more sustainable materials, finding better ways to transport them and reducing the waste they generate. The resulting buildings are becoming more efficient to put together and power – and less expensive to live or work in. Along the way, we’re learning to do more with our existing resources and manpower, while technologies from machine learning to augmented reality are expanding what it actually means to work in construction. Older processes and techniques are falling away, while workers are building new skill sets to adapt and progress. As the world drags itself out of a pandemic-induced lockdown, it’s essential that we continue leaning into sustainable, energy efficient construction to avoid an explosion in carbon output that takes the 2030 carbon reduction target permanently off the table.
With “green architecture” becoming the new industry catch phrase, it’s worth looking into the ways that design can support the efficiency of construction from first principles to final product. Green architectural projects will typically feature fairly self-evident innovations like water-saving plumbing and energy-efficient lighting or heating systems. Beyond those relatively “visible” decisions, though, there’s a lot of innovative work going into refining, and even redefining, how the sector operates. From the earliest planning stages, thought is being put into limiting the environmental impact of a construction project. That includes everything from using local vegetation for landscaping to drastically reducing wasteful long-haul transportation options by sourcing local materials like sustainably harvested wood. At the same time, with about 90% of the UK’s existing building stock set to be still in use by 2050, moves are being made to retro-fit that stock with more energy –efficient technologies. At every step, the goal is to reduce waste and maximise the benefits – both to the end user and the environment as a whole.
Innovation, as ever, is the force driving these changes – whether that means new forms of glass that filter harmful solar radiation while harvesting energy or using modular and off-site construction techniques to reduce construction times and increase cost-effectiveness. As an aggressively innovative industry, construction has a key role to play in the global “green recovery” that we need to meet our 2030 commitments. Climate change is a threat that’s arguably more pressing and all-encompassing than anything else we’ve faced, and the green revolution taking place within construction is right at the cutting edge of our attempts to tackle it. That’s why innovation matters – and why RIFT continues to fight to bring its full benefits to UK businesses.
Get credit for your efficiency innovations with research and development tax credits claim assistance from RIFT. Find out more about R&D tax credits for the construction industry or contact RIFT R&D today to find out how we can help you maximise the benefits of going green.