Mark Edwards SBE0127
Written evidence submission by Mark Edwards MEng(Hons) CEnv MIEMA CEng MIMechE
Not at all. The Government’s response and development of policy to address embodied carbon in the built environment has been, and continues to be, woefully lacking.
On the wider agenda of addressing embodied carbon in the built environment, there has been a complete lack of leadership shown by the UK Government. In order to make meaningful progress towards the 2050 target, the UK Government needs to take accountability, take action and drive progress across the sector.
The opportunities are too numerous and varied to provide a suitable response within the limitations of this written response.
In the short-term, activity should be prioritised on reducing/replacing the materials that have the greatest carbon impact. In the built environment, this is concrete and steel.
The opportunities to reduce the impact of both these materials are made more complicated due to the international sourcing and the impact of Brexit. This is particularly true for current low-cost sources of cement replacement materials. This should be a priority for Government intervention on the grounds of resource scarcity.
There are significant opportunities to export low-carbon expertise, including innovation in low-carbon construction materials, for the benefit of UK plc.
There is certainly a role for nature-based materials. However, their development and large-scale deployment needs support from the Government in order to get the market to respond. Current economic forces are not sufficient to incentivise a move away from “business as usual”.
Planning can play a crucial role in ensuring a more sustainable built environment. However, more stringent monitoring of planning conditions is required including the exploitation of “loop-holes”.
There are examples of localised good practice, such as the GLA’s S12 policy. However, on the whole, embodied carbon is not considered which represents a significant deficit in the ability of the UK Government to meet the 2050 net zero target.
There are sufficient standards and guidance available for the calculation of embodied carbon. The gap that needs to be addressed is the consistent application of the guidance, and the lack of prescriptive assessment boundaries and defaults that are typically prescribed within a national methodology. This gap makes it difficult to compare different buildings. Additionally, given the project-based nature of the industry, this represents a barrier to continual improvement.
An appropriate regime of measurement, monitoring and reporting at an industry level is also required so that industry and government understand its performance. This would also provide the industry a consistent focal point around which to coalesce and allow individual projects and organisations to better understand their role in decarbonising the sector.
The carbon impact of installing and the subsequent operation of these systems can be considered by undertaking whole-life carbon assessment.
Reuse and refurbishment provide opportunities for circular economy principles to be applied to decrease carbon impact.
This requires government intervention as the construction industry’s economic model is based on new build: the constant cycle of demolition and building. By breaking this cycle, the benefits of carbon reduction and resource security mitigation will be realised. However, the development and large-scale adoption of a more circular approach needs support from the government in order to get the market to respond. Current economic forces are not sufficient to incentivise a move away from “business as usual”.
Furthermore, policy needs to move away from concentrating on end-of-pipe waste solutions and considering the sustainable use of materials in the first place.
I have over 15 years’ experience working in the built environment with over 10 years’ spent focussing on resource efficiency, circular economy and carbon reduction in the built-environment. I have significant experience in overcoming the challenges of practical implementation of carbon reduction in the complex context of the built environment.
I have worked for third-sector industry organisations, including WRAP and UKGBC, contributing to improving the industry. I am currently a member of several industry working groups, including:
– Whole Life Carbon Network
I have contributed to the industry standards/guidance related to resource efficiency and carbon reduction, including:
– The ongoing UKGBC Net Zero Whole Life Carbon Roadmap
– Embodied carbon: Developing a Client Brief
– Delivering Low Carbon Infrastructure
– UKGBC’s circular economy guidance for clients
– The last three MI-ROG white papers
Climate change is the most significant crisis that mankind is facing. The UK has taken a world-leading stance, but it is crucial that further action is taken now to ensure the 2050 net-zero target is met. Progress has been made on the low-hanging fruit, however, significant change is required across the entire economy, including in the built environment, to deliver the reduction indicated by the CCC in the 6th Carbon budget. By taking action the UK can not only reduce the carbon impact but also realise significant economic benefits.
I believe this inquiry is timely and I would be happy to provide further support to aid the UK Government in tackling the sustainability of the built environment.