Thomas & Adamson’s David Lane examines the future of construction

Thomas & Adamson’s David Lane examines the future of construction
The Boulevard, Crawley town centre

The climate emergency is one of the most pressing issues facing the construction industry today.

With initiatives such as the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment calling on the construction sector to decarbonise, leaders in the property sector must look towards a more sustainable future.

According to experts, if new buildings are not designed with sustainability in mind, the industry will contribute to the planet’s temperature rising beyond the 1.5-degrees Celsius limit for global carbon emissions outlined in the Paris Agreement.

City Matters spoke to Thomas & Adamson Director and Consultant, David Lane, to learn more about the future of sustainable property in the City of London and beyond.

How much of an impact does the construction industry have on the environment?
By its very nature the construction industry depletes common resources and contributes negatively to the planet.

According to the World Green Building Council, the construction industry generated 38 percent of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021 and here in the UK, the Green Building Council estimates that the Built Environment is currently responsible for 25 percent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions.

However, since COP 26, the industry has taken great strides in recognising the important role it has in mitigating its impact on the planet. We are constantly innovating in ways we never thought possible.

Even in the midst of spiralling costs and global conflicts, the industry keeps pushing forward adapting processes, reusing and reinventing materials to minimise whole life carbon in the built environment.

With a sector as vital to the UK economy as construction, employing a workforce of 2.2 million, the fact that it is proving to be so adaptable to the urgent climate crisis and shifting to sustainable practices despite all the challenges it faces, shows an eagerness to take ownership of its critical role in tackling climate change head on.

Why do we need to create a more sustainable construction and property industry?

If we don’t take action now to hit Net-Zero targets, more carbon will be spent creating more and more buildings designed not with sustainability in mind but rather hitting the lowest possible bottom line.

That will put us well beyond the 1.5 degrees celsius limit for rise in global carbon emissions and place the planet in a perilous spot right now, and for future generations.

We are at a critical juncture. How do we weigh up the practical demand for more buildings of a rising population, against this carbon cost? How do we convince clients to embrace retention over new builds? Or pay premiums for BREEAM plus grade offices? Part of that argument lies in recognising what really matters to Gen Z.

With 52 percent of 18 to 34 year olds preferring to work for a business that is environmentally sustainable and hybrid models of work taking precedence, post-COVID; it is crucial that companies demonstrate their green credentials to recruit and retain talent.

If companies do not adopt Net-Zero practices, they simply won’t be able to compete. And buildings will not be fit for purpose – overheads based on traditional power sources will remain extremely high.

How are Thomas & Adamson incorporating sustainability targets and practices into property development and building projects within the City of London?

Consultants like Thomas & Adamson are key in driving forward change in the industry.

Net-zero targets for most businesses, and certainly in the UK, are just around the corner. So we need to take into account not just the financial but also carbon costs in any new project we approach.

Innovative uses of carbon offset tools and other digital platforms are going to be key in assessing exactly what each project needs in terms of design, equipment and labour to hit Net-Zero targets.

It is anticipated that measurement tools like these will help quantity surveyors take a more holistic approach to incorporate not just the financial costs of a project but also the carbon costs.

Within the City of London, we are currently trialling an automated life cycle assessment software that helps clients calculate and reduce the environmental impacts of a building and infra projects, products and portfolio.

But it’s not just about measuring the impact of new buildings or retrofitting older spaces to include energy efficient facilities.

There needs to be a complete overhaul of work culture in the City to recognise how the needs of the working population have changed dramatically post-COVID and where our built environment fits into that new equation.

What does the future look like for Thomas & Adamson and the construction industry as a whole?

The construction industry has not slowed down. The demand to repurpose and to build new is just as strong now as it was three years ago. We are ongoing in our commitment to deliver over two million square feet of office space.

But our workspaces have been completely reinvented in the meantime, as a result of COVID-19, with new hybrid ways of working we never thought possible.

This means we have a golden opportunity to make sure we build with Net-Zero targets and employee wellbeing at the forefront.

Over the years, regulations have tightened on a progressive basis to ensure that more attention is paid to air tightness, insulation, low energy building services, renewable energy sources, and adaptable building controls to name but a few.

The current drive towards achieving net zero carbon emissions throughout the entire lifecycle of a building has not been a surprise to most of our clients who are already eagerly pursuing this agenda.

We are finding that clients want to work with suppliers who understand the changes to make buildings and construction more sustainable and limit impact on the environment so they can get ahead of the game.

It’s only a matter of time before industry-wide regulations and legislation follows.

How flexible will contractors need to be in the adoption of new methods of working?

The solution to the construction industry’s role in tackling the climate crisis lies in thinking creatively and working collaboratively.

For the past 10 to 15 years contractors have taken the risk on procurement. That’s no longer fit for purpose.

We need to take into account all of the client’s objectives in terms of time, cost, quality and sustainability alongside the general state of the market, to provide procurement advice which is specifically tailored to meet these objectives.

This means being knowledgeable about the current market, keeping abreast of sustainability issues and using our expertise to provide the best advice to our clients. One size does not fit all anymore.

We need to be flexible in our approach to procurement to ensure that the correct parties are involved to be able to influence material and supplier choice at an early stage of the project.

This might involve early contractor engagement to have access to local
supply chains to unlock embodied carbon savings, for example.

Above all, it’s about recognising our client’s role as an employer and having that discussion early on about what they need from their workplace, long term.

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