10 recommendations for construction to reach net zero by 2050

01 May 2023 Consultancy-me.com 7 min. read

The construction industry is a major contributor to climate change. In the run-up to COP 28 in the UAE, advisory firm Accuracy has released a report outlining 10 ways how the sector can drive forward its sustainability agenda – with the ultimate aim of achieving net zero by 2050.

Worldwide, the construction industry is responsible for about 39% of global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This includes emissions from the production of construction materials, the energy consumed during construction activities, and also the energy used by the buildings themselves over their lifetime.

While the need to green the construction landscape is evident, players in the sector face an uphill challenge. Much of the construction value chain builds on hard-to-abate segments (concrete, steel, heavy transport), and on top of that, the industry will have to drive the transition at a time of unprecedented growth.

10 recommendations for construction to reach net zero by 2050

In order to accommodate huge population growth in the next few decades, experts estimate that around 230 billion square meters of new floor area will need to be added to the world's building stock, which is the equivalent of adding a whole city the size of New York every month for 40 years.

“If we hope to achieve net zero by 2050, the construction industry will have to adopt environmentally friendly practices at a very fast pace,” said Zulema Sanchis, a Director at Accuracy.

In a new report penned by Sanchis and a number of co-authors (including Middle East based partner Juan Sáez and director Mathew Hazenberg), Accuracy provides a recommendation framework outlining how the construction industry can realize decarbonization and reach net zero by 2050.

As per the report, 10 key areas that need to be addressed in the near term are:

Develop policies to incentivize carbon emissions reduction
New building projects should look to prioritize the use of sustainable materials and energy efficiency in building design and the transportation of materials to site. Retrofitting existing buildings, rather than building new ones, should be incentivized by governments through a system of rebates for improvements to energy efficiency.

Embodied carbon reduction strategy

More regulation for carbon emissions reporting
Compulsory carbon reporting would force companies to more closely examine their carbon footprints and reduce their emissions. By tracking the environmental impact across their supply chains, companies can set improvement goals in line with government targets and measure progress towards them.

Encourage the use of low-carbon materials and technologies
More regulations on low-carbon materials would make a huge impact on the construction industry. These could take the form of mandatory requirements, incentives, and voluntary programs. For example, carbon budgets can be established, which would limit the total amount of carbon emitted during the entire lifetime of a building, forcing companies to use low-carbon materials in construction projects.

Promote sustainable design practices and green building standards
Green building standards should be used to encourage sustainable design. These assessments facilitate the evaluation and certification of the environmental performance of construction projects based on criteria such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and materials used.

One of the most widely recognized green building certifications is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a voluntary program that awards sustainable design.

LEED certification process

Increase investments for sustainable building
To achieve ambitious targets, substantial investments will be needed. While governments have already started to invest in the energy transition, the construction industry has not yet fully followed. Innovative financing mechanisms can be used to mobilize private sector capital for climate-related investments.

One example of this is public-private partnerships, which involve collaboration between government and the private sector to finance sustainable construction projects.

Better financing options for sustainable building
Additional financing options for sustainable building projects will be critical in lower the carbon footprint of the construction industry. These can include things green bonds, green loans, and sustainability-linked loans. Standardization of sustainability practices will be important: The current lack of standard definitions makes measuring performance difficult.

“Sustainable finance and investments are intrinsically connected to the successful transition to a green economy in the construction sector,” according to Accuracy partner David Chollet.

Establish carbon pricing mechanisms to incentivize low carbon adoption
Initiatives such as carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes are increasingly seen as a crucial tool for addressing climate change. By forcing companies to internalize the cost of carbon pollutions, these pricing methods can create financial incentives for companies to reduce their carbon footprints. For example, voluntary carbon markets allow companies to purchase carbon offsets for their emissions.

Carbon pricing mechanism

Raise public awareness of the environmental impacts of the construction industry
Education among the general public will lead to the end consumer making an informed choice of a sustainable building for their home or business. Awareness campaigns can help to raise awareness of high emissions of the construction industry and the benefits of sustainable building practice.

“Education, as a mechanism of inducing social transformation, offers an effective alternative that creates long-lasting results,” said Damien Gros, a partner at Accuracy.

Provide training and education on sustainable building practices
Educating individuals and organizations on the environmental and health consequences of carbon emissions can inspire action. Non-profit organizations, construction companies, and government bodies can collaborate to design and deliver training programs that help professionals stay up to date with the latest sustainability practices, the report notes.

Collaborate with universities for research on sustainable building technologies
Research partnerships in the construction industry can accelerate the pace of progress by helping develop superior sustainability methods and standards. By building ties with academic and research institutions, construction companies can gain access to cutting-edge research in sustainable building practices.

Such initiatives have already been developed in some countries. For example, some partnerships for sustainable building in Europe have been created to take advantage of regional opportunities for specialization in eco-construction and integration of renewable energy.

Moving to action

In summary, Sanchis said: “These 10 recommendations provide guidance for stakeholders across the entire construction value chain on what needs to be done to achieve the sector's sustainability goals. By implementing the recommendations, leaders can help accelerate the transition to a more sustainable, low-carbon future and ultimately facilitate the industry's goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.”

Headquartered in Paris, Accuracy is a financial advisory firm founded in 2004 by a group of former Arthur Andersen consultants. Today the firm has 18 offices around the world and more than 400 employees dedicated to management consulting, transactions, disputes, and restructuring services.