Why the Net Zero Carbon targets affect us all
If you haven’t heard about Net Zero and what it means for the UK and the rest of the world, then I believe I can suggest some positive lockdown reading for you. The UK Government set its mark by becoming the first major economy in the world to pass legislation to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, and several industries have since made efforts intended to meet these ambitious targets. One of these is the construction industry, articulated most prominently through the Contractors Declare movement (2020). I work in Construction Tech, and therefore the following views are made with this in mind.
Whilst this year has posed immense challenges, hidden in the background are equally big opportunities. The global construction industry needs to build 13,000 buildings each day between now and 2050 to support an expected population of 7 billion people living in cities. An estimated $94 trillion in infrastructure investment is needed in the next 20 years alone to support this urban expansion, and all the while working towards our Net Zero ambitions that we have now committed to fulfilling. It is no easy feat, but one which has important global ramifications.
As such, it’s important that we can all work towards this in a consistent manner, and align sustainability objectives with commercial objectives in order to achieve our end goal. Therefore I propose 3 steps as a useful starting point to support anyone looking to meet Net Zero ambitions:
Step 1: it’s about cost, not carbon
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of different professionals in the built environment and sustainability space, and the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is also the simplest; don’t focus on carbon, focus on cost. If we look at driving down cost inefficiencies then we will also drive down our carbon emissions. We all know it’s not quite as simple as this in isolation, but when we consider that 13% of materials used in construction go direct to waste, it’s not hard to imagine the cost savings that could be achieved if we only halved this figure. And when we reduce waste, we also reduce our carbon emissions; saved through less energy consumed during waste recovery and manufacturing for new materials and more.
Step 2: focus on existing inefficiencies
It’s very easy to want to spend time and energy on new, innovative materials and techniques, and whilst this absolutely has a place in driving forwards our Net Zero ambitions, within construction we can start by looking inwards and assessing our current performance in new ways. Ensuring deliveries are optimised, minimizing material wastage, and aligning goals with the supply chain so that erroneous deliveries are minimized as much as possible can support efforts in delivering projects on time and within budget.
Step 3: find the budgets
For any startup supporting the construction sector, make sure to look for the right budget. This isn’t always easy, especially if carbon or Net Zero is your end game, but my suggestion would be to position yourself in focusing on the inefficiencies described in Step 2 (in whatever shape these come) and look at fixing these. By extension, we should see carbon savings which simply require quantification, rather than chasing.
Ultimately we are all impacted by the worlds’ ability to meet Net Zero, and other targets yet to come (it’s not all about carbon…). There has been a positive shift in the way the construction industry has adopted these targets and committed to driving change; you can see it in the way they talk, the metrics they capture, and the people they employ. Personally, I’m optimistic we can step up to the challenge, and particularly in a sector which remains primed for technological innovation (not necessarily disruption). We have a lot of work to do over the next 29 years, but first let’s work our way through the simple stuff, and prepare ourselves for the leaps and bounds along the way.
For other founders or those engaging with the startup landscape outside of the construction industry, it may be worth preparing for a world which values carbon in a similar way to other goods and services, and who knows what our future P&L accounts may need to accommodate as we edge closer to 2050.