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We need to keep building towards sustainability

The construction sector should not use the Scottish government’s abandonment of its interim climate change target to slow its commitment to achieving Net Zero

By Graham Mercer

Sustainability has been a central theme in the construction industry for decades. The movement began in the 1960s, gaining further momentum in the 1980s as the industry responded to growing environmental and social challenges.

With buildings responsible for 40% of global energy consumption and 33% of greenhouse gas emissions, the emphasis on sustainability is well justified, especially as the world aims for net-zero emissions by 2050.

So, there was widespread disappointment and concern when it was announced by the Scottish government last month that it was abandoning its interim target of reducing carbon emissions by 75% by 2030.

Many companies which have changed their commercial frameworks, often at great expense, to align themselves with this target, will be justified in feeling a sense of frustration.

The 2030 target was introduced in 2019 by former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Ministers have missed eight of their last 12 annual targets and were recently informed by the Climate Change Committee that the 2030 target was unattainable.

The SNP had viewed Scotland as a world leader in climate action, with a more ambitious target than England’s 68% reduction by 2030. The party still aims for Scotland to achieve net zero by 2045, five years ahead of England’s 2050 target.

Ashley Campbell, policy and practice manager for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland, said was disappointing that the Scottish government had decided to drop the target and criticized the lack of support for the housing sector.

The abandoned target had included a policy to ban all fossil fuel heating in homes by 2045 under the Heat in Buildings Bill.

Campbell added that it was essential for the Scottish government to a clear direction for energy efficiency and decarbonisation, supported with accessible advice, information, and assistance to ensure people can make informed decisions about upgrading their homes.

The industry itself also needs clear instruction, not only about the direction, but also about the pace of change needed to ensure that it maintains the right level of momentum to meet the 2050 target.

At Rearo, we follow the five principles of sustainable construction, sustainable design, energy efficiency, waste reduction, and use of sustainable materials.

We make a point of obtaining reputable certifications from recognized third-party organisations, to provide credibility and validation for our sustainable practices, and we have regular performance verification.

For this we use real-time data monitoring and analysis to verify the performance of sustainable initiatives and we produce comprehensive and transparent environmental reports, disclosing all aspects of a project’s environmental impact and the methods used to mitigate it.

We ensure that all staff, from executives to on-site workers, understand and commit to genuine sustainable practices with continuous education on the latest sustainability standards and technologies is essential.

Technology plays a crucial role in verifying and ensuring genuine sustainability in construction. Real-time monitoring systems, IoT devices, and advanced data analytics allow for continuous performance tracking of buildings and systems. This not only ensures compliance with sustainability claims, but it also identifies areas for improvement, thereby enhancing overall performance.

To help us achieve our environmental goals, we have enlisted the expertise of Ken Maxwell, a sustainability specialist at Scottish Enterprise, to help guide us through our net zero action plan.

Ken’s team has developed a qualitative tool that assesses our stance on key sustainability targets. Although this tool doesn’t calculate our carbon footprint, it provides a critical snapshot of Rearo’s environmental position.

Last year, we published a measurable carbon footprint report, led by our support services manager Daniel Danso, who underwent Net Zero Academy Training to enhance the strategy. This report allowed us to compare data from 2022 and to set precise targets for 2024.

We made steps to reduce waste, removing seven of the 30 polythene protective wraps on our Selkie panel decors.

All panels in the range used to be packaged with the wrapping as standard, but was it unnecessary, except to protect certain textured surfaces. After testing, we were able to remove the plastic packaging, saving around 1000sq metres per week or 50,000 sq metres of plastic per year. By January 2023, 98.46% of our physical waste was recycled.

Transforming to a more sustainable way of working cannot always be cost free and, occasionally we have had to absorb additional expense, for example when we transitioned from using urea formaldehyde to safer polyvinyl acetate glue.

In other instances, we have been able to lower costs, for example when we shifted timber sourcing from Russia to Ireland, shortening our supply chain and reducing its environmental impact. We have also started using more sustainable medium density fibreboard (MDF) as an alternative material.

Our green team and environmental committee, launched in 2022, have been pivotal in driving its sustainability efforts.

The committee has been working on the Zero Waste Scotland Green Champions certification and exploring eco-friendly options for wall panels. The team has introduced various green practices, including a digital-first, paperless office approach, recycling collection points, and the installation of energy-efficient machinery.

The future of sustainable construction

The construction industry must move beyond mere intentions to verifiable actions to meet global sustainability goals. This involves a cultural shift towards transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement.

By integrating advanced technologies, adopting rigorous verification processes, and committing to genuine sustainable practices, the industry can close the gap between design intentions and actual performance.

Graham Mercer is managing director of Rearo Laminates, a Glasgow-based company, specialising in the manufacture and supply of bathroom and kitchen surfaces for UK trade and retail markets.