Decarbonising construction | Wates

Social distancing and local lockdowns won’t save the world from warming. But amid this global crisis, we have a chance to build a better future.

Andrew Barraclough, Group Design Director at Wates Construction, discusses in the blog below how offsite manufacturing can support the carbon agenda, decarbonise our skylines and fight climate change.

Andrew Barraclough, Group Design Director at Wates Construction,

There are many words that spring to mind when I think about how to describe 2020. Mad, unimaginable, tragic…a year that’s brought change to every aspect of our lives.

Yet while illness swept across our planet, and newspapers reported of an ever-growing death toll, nature, it seemed, began to heal.

As motorways cleared and construction drew to a halt, the air in our cities became cleaner. The canals in Venice ran clear. Carbon emissions fell. It appears that whenever industrial activity declines climate pollution tends to plummet too.

The debate around carbon and the contribution offsite manufacturing can make has never been so prevalent.

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I recently took part in a paneled event for Construction News

The outcome? While there is clearly some fantastic work going on across our industry tackling fundamental issues around measurability and data, there remains a distinct lack of joined-up thinking. There is a general lack of knowledge and understanding about what we are trying to achieve and how we can get there.

The construction industry’s response to the coronavirus crisis proves it is both resilient and adaptable. From a shortage of labour due to an infected workforce and less operatives able to attend site, to contractors electing to close sites completely and consultants choosing to furlough staff overnight the entire industry had to change.

We had to question and reconsider almost every aspect of our operations and evolve to overcome restrictions introduced by the government to tackle the impact of COVID.

Our tendency to self-limit was overcome by a business-critical need for transformation and as a fellow panelist said:

“Massive changes can be made very quickly if you force yourself to have a burning platform”.

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From a carbon perspective, the platform is burning.

It is burning, not just because offsite can help drive those economic efficiencies that are so important for any successful business, but as because carbon reduction in the construction industry is critical to tackling the climate crisis and offsite has to play a huge part in this.

Offsite can no longer be considered a nice to have but must be embraced into the culture of a transforming construction industry and that will only be possible if there is a clear unifying strategy and plan that everybody can work towards.

In my mind there are real similarities to where we were a decade ago when we started on the BIM journey. There was a major hearts and minds piece that had to be undertaken to make sure the industry moved together on the issue and this was enabled by a clear strategy that had funding behind it. The result was its exponential acceleration into industry use to the point where it now has almost fallen off agenda for discussion.

Next year the Government has promised to outline its plans for achieving net carbon in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, which will undoubtedly bring the huge challenges we face globally to the forefront of everybody’s minds.

To be clear, the coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy on every level. But this global crisis offers us as an industry a unique chance to change. We’ve proved we can adapt, so what if offsite can use the lessons learnt during the coronavirus pandemic to help shape our future for the better?

What if our response to this health crisis could actually reduce carbon emissions?

Let’s hope that this pandemic is a catalyst for real environmental change within the construction industry one that offsite manufacturing can support, guide and develop. We need systemic change in our infrastructure, or the environmental gains we’ve seen could prove temporary, with emissions roaring back sooner rather than later.

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