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Fri, 27 November 2020

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Journey to net zero calls for carbon whole truths

Journey to net zero calls for carbon whole truths

Policymakers and those that design our buildings and infrastructure should have the full facts available to them, not just rhetoric, says Chris Leese | Credit: MPA

Chris Leese, Director of MPA UK Concrete | Mineral Products Association

3 min read Partner content

The many tangible benefits of using concrete in construction are often underestimated or misunderstood.

As we plan for economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, delivery of net zero by 2050 is rightly integral to our national response.

The Prime Minister’s call to ‘Build Back Better’ across the UK and especially in its built environment sector is vitally important to delivering improved social and economic outcomes.

But it must be based on clear roadmaps, compelling evidence and industries taking their wider social and environmental responsibilities seriously.

This is critical to preventing a carbon rebound in the short term. It’s also vital to plotting the UK’s journey to net zero.

Policymakers and those that design our buildings and infrastructure should have the full facts available to them, not just rhetoric.

There is currently an awful lot of misperception around the supposed benefits of timber in construction versus the ‘problems’ some campaigners would have us believe that concrete creates for our natural world.

It is usually overlooked that as little as 30 per cent of timber used for construction is grown in the UK, with consequent imports bringing significant carbon miles.

Concrete helps construct buildings and homes with a lower environmental impact across their long lifetimes, thanks to its superior energy efficiency and reduced maintenance needs.

Conversely more than 95 per cent of concrete used in the UK is produced in the UK, and contributes significantly to our local, regional and national economies, as well as providing a resilient local supply chain.

The many tangible benefits of using concrete in construction are often underestimated or misunderstood.

Concrete helps construct buildings and homes with a lower environmental impact across their long lifetimes, thanks to its superior energy efficiency and reduced maintenance needs.

Its durability, longevity and resilience to threats like fire, flooding and rot are important and sustainable characteristics that keep buildings and structures fit for purpose for generations.

The UK concrete industry has made huge strides in reducing its own carbon output, decarbonising faster than the UK economy overall, and is an essential part of the transition to a net zero carbon society.

Together with the cement industry we have reduced carbon emissions by 53 per cent since 1990 and through innovation this process is continuing at pace.

We need to have a more informed and intelligent conversation about the materials we use across the built environment. This calls for more detail on responsible sourcing and a greater focus on lifecycle carbon of all construction materials.

More data transparency and robust standards are needed.

Uncertainties, assumptions and omissions particularly with respect to the carbon miles associated with imported timber products and end-of-life treatment of materials, mean that comparisons across building materials are still fraught with complexity.

All of these factors point to the need for a far more honest, informed and holistic dialogue, so that the entire lifecycle of any product can be better considered.

In this way, we can all be sure we’re making the right decisions along the route to net zero and beyond.

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Inclusive Capitalism

The next decade holds big challenges and it rarely has it been so important to show that capitalism and social progress aren’t opposing forces. Quite the opposite. All it takes is a longer-term view, a more inclusive attitude and for everyone to take that first step.

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