The IPCC stresses the importance of “immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors” in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C (IPCC, 2022).
The built environment and construction sector account for a significant proportion of global carbon emissions at 38% (CIC, 2021). Even the materials used in the construction of buildings alone are estimated to make up around 9% of total energy-related emissions (UNEP, 2022).
Clearly, action needs to be taken within the built environment to limit the impact that emissions from the industry have on the planet.
However, currently, the buildings and construction sector is not on track to achieve decarbonisation by 2050, and to do this would need to reduce its emissions by over 98% from 2020 levels (UNEP, 2022).
The following article provides examples of where the sector can draw inspiration on decarbonisation methods from analogous industries that are themselves decarbonising in various ways.
Taking inspiration from innovative ideas that are being applied to reduce carbon emissions in other industries provides a learning opportunity that can spark new ideas and accelerate action.
A famous example of where applying innovation across sectors was hugely successful is the moving assembly line made famous by Ford Motor Company.
This revolutionary method of production actually had its origins in the animal "disassembly" lines of Chicago's meatpacking operations.
The article below will look at four industries: shipping, agriculture, aviation and automotive, to consider which innovations could act as inspiration to achieve net zero in the construction sector.
Lesson 1: Collaborate and prove concepts - Shipping green corridors.
In order to tackle emissions from shipping that make up 3% of global CO2 emissions, the shipping sector needs to switch to clean fuels (T&E, 2023).
Green shipping corridors are a proposed solution to accelerate the adoption of decarbonisation practices in the global shipping industry.
UK-led Clydebank Declaration was launched at COP26 in 2021 in Glasgow. The 24 countries who signed the declaration expressed their commitment to hastening the development of green shipping corridors.
The signatories have committed to establishing six green corridors by 2025 and to supporting the establishment of more routes and longer routes in the years following.
Green corridors are routes between major port hubs where the deployment of zero-carbon shipping fuels and zero-emissions technologies is supported and encouraged by both public and private actions.
The fragmented nature of global shipping, with each individual company and country all moving at different paces, cannot be solved quickly.
However, green corridors focus efforts on specific routes that are large enough to provide sufficient scale and volume for impact. They also provide an enabling environment for all value-chain actors to collaborate with each other providing the infrastructure needed for alternative fuels.
The enabling ecosystem created by green corridors accelerates action as it provides clarity and certainty for everyone involved, reducing risk.
Green corridors effectively work as projects that will prove the concept of zero-emission shipping and lay the groundwork so that emissions reduction solutions in the shipping sector can be rolled out globally.
How to action this lesson
Applying these concepts of collaboration within the buildings and construction industry has the potential to accelerate the speed of sustainable building solutions.
One way the industry could action these lessons is to scale up the implementation of green building zones, whereby all buildings developed in a certain city zone commit to reducing their carbon footprint.
Collaboration is needed across all levels of the value chain to prove the concepts of sustainable building in a way that has real impact. All stakeholders, including local councils, city planners, regulators, architects, developers and contractors, need to come together to create enabling environments for meaningful action.
Lesson 2: Decouple from existing production methods via new technologies - Agriculture
Agriculture is responsible for 80% of global deforestation.
Decoupling from the meat production industry has been a long-held belief amongst environmentalists, which has become much more accessible in recent years due to the rise in plant-based meats.
Plant-based meat is composed of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water and is intended to be a direct substitute for meat, looking and tasting like its conventional counterpart.
The global plant-based meat market is valued at around $7.5 billion and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 15% to reach around $15.8 billion by 2028 (Facts and Factors, 2021).
The production of plant-based meats skips out the process of using an animal to convert plants into meat and instead comes directly from plants, a more efficient and sustainable method.
Plant-based meat uses 47% to 99% less land than conventional meat and emits between 30% and 90% less greenhouse gases (GFI, 2021).
More specifically, when compared with beef burgers, plant-based burgers are associated with up to 98% less greenhouse gas emissions and up to 63% less ozone depletion (Future Foods, 2022).
Clearly, providing an alternative option that does not rely on harmful production processes and does not require a massive change in consumption pattern is an effective way to decarbonise.
How to action this lesson
The construction industry could use innovative alternatives to decouple entirely from the production processes that produce the most emissions.
For example, decoupling from the highly polluting clinker manufacturing process or from the production processes involved in making aggregates.
Much like with alternative meats, the construction industry needs to accept that even if an alternative is not 100% the same and costs slightly more, the benefits of being sustainable are significant.
Governments and investors can help fund these innovative solutions to markets, and regulators can help encourage their adoption.
Lesson 3: Make the changes you can now - Aviation Industry.
In 2022, the aviation sector accounted for 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. These emissions are growing faster than those from rail, road or shipping (IEA, 2023)
However, the industry is difficult to decarbonise due to its reliance on fossil fuels and the fact that current improvements in efficiency will not counter the growth in activity.
Advancements in technology, such as electric-hybrid or hydrogen-powered planes, have great potential to reduce carbon emissions but could take up to 20 years to develop and will be limited in their application initially (Mckinsey, 2020).
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a solution that can be used in aircraft today to reduce their lifecycle carbon emissions.
SAF is a “drop-in” fuel mixed with conventional jet fuel and requires no modifications to aircraft to work. This more sustainable fuel is claimed to reduce lifecycle CO2 emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional fuels (Airbus, 2023).
The carbon emitted in SAF comes from waste streams or sustainably grown crops that would otherwise release its carbon back into the atmosphere as it degrades. The use of SAF enables the carbon from fossil fuels, 100% of which would be newly introduced, to be kept in the ground (WEF, 2020).
Not only does SAF lower the amount of fossil fuels burnt, but it is claimed to also provide a solution to waste management and improve land and air quality by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.
Sustainable aviation fuel is a decarbonisation solution for the aviation sector that is available for use now and doesn’t require the industry to change extensively.
How to action this lesson
It will, of course, take time for technological advancements that are able to disrupt and decouple from entire processes within the industry.
However, in the meantime, the sector can make use of “drop-in” solutions that can be implemented without any required change in production processes.
A good example of this type of solution is our flagship product OSTO®, a carbon-negative like-for-like replacement for traditional lightweight aggregates.
Adopting “drop-in” solutions like OSTO® will enable the construction sector to reduce emissions as soon as possible, which will be vital for achieving net zero emissions.
Lesson 4: Embrace new technology as an opportunity for growth - Automotive Industry
The road transport sector makes up over 15% of global energy-related emissions, with private cars and vans accounting for around 10% of these emissions (IEA, 2023).
Although sustainable fuels do exist in this sector, electric vehicles have emerged as the key technology to decarbonise road transport, with the technology already being deployed.
If the 2050 deadline for decarbonising all industries is met, the manufacturing of internal combustion engines will inevitably cease. 2050, therefore, also acts as a deadline for the industry to ensure they have capitalised on this new technology.
This trend is highlighted by the COP27 commitment of 24 countries and a group of leading car manufacturers to ensure that all sales of new cars and vans are zero emission by 2040 (A2Z, 2022).
Car manufacturers are beginning to capitalise on the shift; for example, in the first half of 2022, over 13% of new car sales globally were electric (Bloomberg, 2022).
Also, the sale of electric vehicles in 2022 grew by 55%, reaching a record high of more than 10 million sold (IEA, 2023).
Embracing new electric technology is a sure way for automotive market players to capitalise on the projected $693.70 Billion value that the global electric vehicle market is expected to reach by 2030 (Vantage Market Research, 2022).
How to action this lesson
As net-zero targets get closer, existing practices within the construction industry will be required to change.
Since buildings and construction are much more broad and complicated sectors, there is not a comparable decarbonisation solution to vehicle electrification in the transport sector.
However, seeing the radical shifts in other industries and understanding the same will occur across all sectors, key stakeholders in construction need to see decarbonisation solutions as an opportunity for growth.
Adopting solutions early and trailblazing the way forward is not only the best choice for our planet but will also reduce risk and vulnerability from impending disruptions to the sector.
What lessons can the construction sector learn from within the sector?
There are many innovative solutions already within the buildings and construction industry itself that, if adopted at scale, would advance decarbonisation efforts.
At Low Carbon Materials, we have created a carbon-negative aggregate that can be used in concrete. Our flagship product, OSTO®, is a lightweight aggregate made from waste that would otherwise be incinerated and can be added to concrete mixes just as traditional aggregate would be.
By reusing waste products, OSTO enables the creation of net-zero concrete, helping to address carbon reduction within the built environment.
OSTO can be used in the exact same way as any other lightweight aggregate and therefore requires no change in process for the creation of concrete. This will enable accelerated decarbonisation action for the sector by reducing the barriers to adoption.
All sectors are, in their own way, attempting to adopt sustainable solutions to mitigate against and adapt to climate change.
Some industries are acting faster than others, but regardless of their progress, cross-industry collaboration is the most efficient way to move forward.
Firstly, increasing collaboration in ecosystems designed for accelerated action has the potential to prove concepts and de-risk processes for construction projects.
Decoupling from traditional and highly polluting production methods via innovative solutions can rapidly reduce carbon emissions throughout the value chain.
Making sure to implement easy emission reduction solutions as soon as possible will kick start progress in the sector regardless of whether a disruptive entire change of process is needed in future.
Finally, embracing the winds of change by adopting new technologies early has high emissions reduction potential and can also provide clear growth opportunities for the construction sector.
At Low Carbon Materials, we create sustainable material solutions for the built environment. To learn more about our work, click here: https://www.lowcarbonmaterials.com/products