Is carbon neutral construction by 2030 a realistic goal?


One of the UK’s leading construction companies caused a stir this year, when it announced that it was planning to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Galliford Try, an Uxbridge-based firm that is one of the largest companies in the industry, revealed that it had ‘pledged to achieve Net Zero carbon across its own operations by 2030, and Net Zero across all activities by 2045 at the latest’. 

There is no doubt that this has to be lauded. It has never been clearer that there is a true climate emergency, and businesses need to be doing everything they can to minimise their carbon footprint moving forward. Construction businesses certainly needed to count themselves amongst this effort. 

The company claims that it has managed to achieve a 62% reduction in its carbon emissions over the period of 2012 to 2020. But now it wants to push on to the ultimate goal of being carbon neutral. But there is no doubt that this has been controversial in the industry. 

Some wonder whether it is truly realistic for construction companies to achieve net zero carbon in such a short amount of time. So, here we take a look at what this would actually mean for businesses, as well as the steps that companies across the industry are taking, to establish whether this is a realistic goal. 

Why construction needs to go green

According to the UK Green Building Council, the built environment is responsible for around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. That’s a huge amount, and it really puts a focus on construction companies to do better with the buildings that they are creating. If they can be built to be eco-friendly, it could make a massive difference to the UK’s carbon emissions. 

But it’s not just the completed buildings that contribute to the carbon footprint. In fact, the building process has a huge toll on the environment. For example, the machinery used in construction actually emits a huge amount. Diesel engines in non-road mobile machinery (such as bulldozers, construction machinery, industrial trucks, forklifts and mobile cranes) alone contributes to 15% of NOx emissions in London

As such, we need to think about carbon neutral construction from two perspectives. The first is the actual methods of construction being eco-friendly. The second is ensuring that the buildings that are constructed do not damage the environment. These are known as ‘carbon neutral buildings’ and it’s important to understand them. 

What is a carbon neutral building?

It’s all well and good talking about carbon neutral buildings as a goal for the industry – but it’s important to actually define what is meant by the term. Indeed, if 2030 is to be a realistic goal, construction companies need to be in agreement in what they are working towards. 

Carbon neutral buildings should use less energy than their traditional counterparts, that much is clear, but how exactly do you create buildings that don’t damage the environment? 

There are actually a number of factors in creating carbon neutral buildings. The first is something known as passive design, which is a method of using the natural surroundings of a building to the best possible effect. For example, it could involve drawing energy from solar panels or wind energy – but it might mean utilising natural shade to minimise heating in the property. 

How can it be achieved?

Carbon neutral construction will take effort on the part of construction companies and will naturally involve some change in operations. 

Galliford Try, the company that has committed to carbon net zero by 2030, has provided insight into what it is doing to achieve it. Some of the measures that the company is taking have included:

  • The use of renewable energy sources 
  • Encouraging the use of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles
  • The use of electric and alternative fuelled plant equipment
  • A focus on connecting sites to the grid as soon as possible to minimise the use of diesel generators
  • Maximising the use of technology to reduce travel 

So, is carbon neutral construction realistic by 2030?

Ultimately, it has to be said that with a combination of changes in business practice in terms of working on construction sites, alongside smarter eco-friendly building design, carbon neutral construction can be rolled out quickly. 

As with all green efforts, it will take businesses being motivated to change their ways. But given the improving technology across the industry, 2030 could certainly be possible. 


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BDC 318 : Jul 2024