Sir Robert McAlpine                            SBE0055

Written evidence from Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd

This submission was received from Simon Richards of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd after a request from Tony Ward Chair of the City of London Construction Livery Group.


This evidence submission has been coordinated by Martin Gettings FIEMA CENV, Director Sustainability Canary Wharf Group, Chair WCoC Climate Action Group, and Chair Supply Chain Sustainability School Climate Action Group.


How can materials be employed to reduce the carbon impact of new buildings, including efficient heating and cooling, and which materials are most effective at reducing embodied carbon?


  1. Depends on the parameters set for embodied carbon. If looking at stage A1-A3 then there is lot which can be done in the material manufacturing process to reduce embodied carbon. For example, specifying steel which is produced in an Electric Arc Furnace rather than traditional Blast Furnace. The former can be run on renewable electricity rather than burning fossil fuels which greatly reduces embodied carbon. However, there are limitations on what EAF steel can be used for as well as the supply is mainly in mainland Europe i.e., British Steel industry have not invested in EAF facilities for construction products.


  1. Short supply chains help reduce carbon (A2 and A4 phase of whole life carbon) Therefore local sourcing of materials will reduce emissions. However once freight industry decarbonises then emissions associated with this will reduce significantly.


  1. Where possible looking to use carbon sequestering materials is the best option. For example, maximising the use of wood in structural elements make a big impact on the embodied carbon. Insulation materials like straw or hemp can also be used, however their typical lifecycle and renewal requirements need to be taken into consideration.


  1. Reusing materials have a much lower embodied carbon as the carbon to manufacture them has already been spent.


  1. Specifying high-recycled content in products e.g. in concrete mix designs or steel. With steel for example virgin steel can have an embodied carbon footprint 5x higher than high-recycled content steel.


What role can nature-based materials can play in achieving the Government’s net zero ambition?


  1. Very important role, however there are barriers which will need to be broken down. For example, using CLT Timber structures, currently it is difficult to get them insured. There is also the barrier that we know and understand traditional building materials. We know how they perform, how long they last, are confident in the availability and price. The unknowns associated with nature-based solutions erect barriers for adoption at scale in construction. They should be incentivised.


What role can the planning system, permitted development and building regulations play in delivering a sustainable built environment? How can these policies incentivise developers to use low carbon materials and sustainable design?


  1. The role planning / building reg etc play in this cannot be underestimated. Policies should force developers to accurately report whole life carbon emissions of developments. A benchmark dataset can then be established.


  1. Going one step further it could be possible to place embodied carbon and operational carbon targets on developments for example housing having an:
      1. embodied carbon target of 500kgCO2e/m2
      2. energy use intensity of 35kWh/m2.yr
      3. space heating demand of 15kWh/m2.yr
  2. Hard targets are needed to push developments to be better. If sustainability is a criterion for planning, with actual figures to achieve then developers, designers, contractors will all be focussed to deliver on the requirements. The aspirational nature of sustainability commitments should be removed.


What methods account for embodied carbon in buildings and how can this be consistently applied across the sector?


  1. Whole life carbon assessment in line with the RICS Whole life carbon assessment for the built environment should be used for forecasting, monitoring and reporting.


  1. At SRM we use a tool called OneClick LCA to help us do this. It allows us to assess the impacts of our designs and report it accurately


  1. Its important to set the scope of any carbon assessment and be consistent with that measurement across the sector.


Should the embodied carbon impact of alternative building materials take into account the carbon cost of manufacture and delivery to site, enabling customers to assess the relative impact of imported versus domestically sourced materials?


  1. Yes, especially if we want to incentivise British made materials.


  1. The key is to have the whole picture. A picture which is third party verified through things like EPDs. We have trialled “Material Passports” which include this kind of information and provide an understanding of the material properties outside performance and cost.


  1. Embodied carbon needs to take into account the manufacture and delivery, otherwise we are picking and choosing what element of carbon to report. A whole life carbon approach needs to be taken


How well is green infrastructure being incorporated into building design and developments to achieve climate resilience and other benefits?


  1. Not enough and will need to radically change if we are to reach the Government ambitions to be NZC. For example, the infrastructure required for electric vehicles is still not where it should be, and people see it as a barrier to purchase a pure electric vehicle currently. There are issues with the technology still developing, however there is more that we can do to install the necessary infrastructure. Key is making sure that this infrastructure is adaptable and able to be easily modified or replaced with advancements in technology.


How should we take into account the use of materials to minimise carbon footprint, such as use of water harvesting from the roof, grey water circulation, porous surfaces for hardstanding, energy generation systems such as solar panels?


  1. These will all reduce operational carbon emissions and reduce whole life carbon emissions associated with the buildings. Carbon emissions associated with water are minimal, however energy generation should be looked at in detail. A transition to a model where 100% of annual energy requirement is generated through on-site renewable energy would be ambitious, but significantly reduce emissions.


How should re-use and refurbishment of buildings be balanced with new developments?


  1. Carbon emissions associated with demolition and newbuild can be sinificalty avoided with refurbishment.
  2. Refurbishment should always be the first option. However, this needs to be balanced with the functional adaptability of existing layout and the marginal gains which can be made in refurbishment of existing fabric and heating and cooling strategy.


  1. In certain instances, the building orientation and form do not allow refurbishment. However, in these instances, they should be replaced with highly sustainable newbuilds. A sliding scale of carbon benchmarks could be explored which incentivises reuse over new build. Tax incentives could be given.


  1. New technologies should be embraced and encouraged. We are geared up for new build markets, retrofit solutions and business models are not as established or common.


What can the Government do to incentivise more repair, maintenance and retrofit of existing buildings?


  1. Tax breaks
  2. Bring in legislative requirements
  3. Loans to developers, material manufactures and supply chains
  4. Invest in R&D innovation to encourage entrepreneur and competition
  5. Invest in a training highly skilled and well paid labour force


Skills: What new skills does the industry need to address all of the above?


  1. There is a skills shortage across the industry, however from the list, the following are in high demand:


May 2021