Implementing net zero-aligned circular economy approaches to infrastructure and construction could cut costs and boost resilience, according to AECOM
The UK's infrastructure and construction sector has the potential to cut its carbon emissions in half, reducing costs in the process, by adopting net zero emission-aligned circular economy approaches that would drive the wider use of low carbon materials, according to research by multinational engineering firm AECOM.
Infrastructure is responsible for 16 per cent of the UK's total carbon emissions, as well as a further 37 per cent attributable to the material and energy required to build, maintain, and operate infrastructure, explained AECOM.
As such, it said implementing circular economy approaches to avoid waste of materials through reuse and recycling offered significant opportunities to heavily reduce emissions, while also cutting costs and building a more resilient supply chain.
Moreover, it estimated adopting circular economy principles could significantly enhance productivity across the global construction industry, and contribute a further £35bn to the UK economy alone by 2036, particularly within the built environment.
But, in a white paper released by the firm yesterday, it argued collaboration within and across different sectors between both businesses and public sector organisation would be key to achieving these benefits, as well as building in circular economy approaches throughout the design process.
"Infrastructure is often seen as the backbone of economic recovery, however, to ensure this is done mindfully, with a focus on legacy and resilience, we must encourage circular economy principles from the very beginning in both our design approach and delivery," said Robert Spencer, AECOM's UK and Ireland director for sustainable development. "By doing this, we can bring in innovative solutions and materials whilst significantly reducing costs and contributing to a stronger economy and more sustainable relationship with both nature and society."
While bigger swathes of the public and policymakers are now aware of the dangers of the climate crisis, many focus on the 55 per cent of emissions caused by energy and fuel consumption, yet the remaining 45 per cent chunk is generated by the production, use, and disposal of products.
Wayne Hubbard, chief executive at London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB), said a "profound shift" was therefore needed in order to keep the UK on track towards a more resource, efficient, net zero emission economy by 2050.
"This isn't a choice between the environment and the economy: but it is a choice between the old linear, wasteful economy, and the new resilient and sustainable circular economy," he said.
Hubbard added that circular steel, cement, plastic, and aluminium approaches could cut global CO2 emissions 3.6 billion tonnes, by 2050.
"This report shows that the time to act is now: as we start our recovery from the coronavirus crisis, we have a real opportunity to build back better," he said.
The report comes in the same week as the timber industry launched a new campaign to promote the climate benefits of using wood-based construction materials.
Dubbed the Wood CO2ts less campaign, the initiative aims to increase awareness of timber's environmental credentials and highlight how using wood from sustainably managed forests is one of the simplest ways to help reduce carbon emissions.
Members of the timber industry collaborating on the campaign include Wood for Good and industry bodies Swedish Wood, Confor, the Timber Trade Federation (TTF), Structural Timber Association (STA) and British Woodworking Federation (BWF).
"The government set a target for the UK to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 but it's not feasible for all sectors of the economy to become carbon neutral," said Sarah Virgo, Wood for Good campaign manager. "To reach net zero, we need to compensate for these emissions by finding ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere. The simplest way to contribute to this reduction is to consider wood first, instead of other materials.
"If we are to meet government targets and reduce climate change, we must act now. Everyone involved with the design and construction of a building, new or old, can play their part in tackling the climate emergency."
With less than a month to go to the world's first Net Zero Festival, BusinessGreen can today confirm over 100 top business leaders, politicians, academics, and campaigners are set to appear at the virtual summit
Bryn Baker of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance argues much of the finger-pointing in the wake of the recent Californian blackouts has been wide of the mark
All the latest green business news from around the world this week
Two companies team up to identify emissions associated with the thousands of tonnes of fruit produced by Bardsley England each year