25 August 2023

Net zero carbon in construction industry supply chains

To help deliver net zero by 2050, and meet intermediate carbon reduction targets, construction industry supply chains  must get to grips with a multi-faceted and constantly evolving target of what ‘good’ looks like. They must seek to drive change to improve productivity, while also decarbonising, improving sustainability , and promoting culture change  in a rapidly evolving workforce.


The challenges facing the construction industry – especially around demographics and productivity – will not change, either under the current government or future governments. That was the headline message from Fergus Harradence (Deputy Director, Construction at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) when he delivered the keynote address at the Construction Summit 2023.

Addressing productivity and demographics alongside sustainability

According to the Office for National Statistics, the construction industry’s productivity has been largely stagnant for over two decades. By contrast, productivity in the manufacturing and services sectors, as well as in the economy as a whole, has increased over the same period.

Poor construction productivity is evidenced across the globe and the gap between output and productivity has widened over the past decade. There is no easy answer to addressing this issue and the challenge will only increase as the workforce continues to age. Currently, more than a third of UK construction workers are over 50 and by 2066 a quarter of the UK population will be over 65.

Meanwhile, the contribution of the construction industry and the built environment to national carbon emissions is typically put at somewhere around 40%. The sector therefore has a vital role to play in meeting the UK’s legally binding target of net zero by 2050.

However, it should not be forgotten that the target isn’t ‘just’ net zero. There are intermediate targets that must be met too, starting with a 68% reduction by 2030, and a 78% reduction by 2035. Alongside these carbon emissions targets are wider sustainability issues, such as the fact that construction generates 60% of UK waste.

The role of government

Fergus Harradence’s keynote address focused on the role government has to play in supporting the industry. He outlined how the current government has set a clear direction of travel towards a policy-driven, systems-based approach.

The overarching aim is positive societal outcomes, tied to the UN’s seventeen sustainable development goals. Government policy sits under this overall goal, and a strong message of the whole Construction Summit was that the UK has a policy environment that is genuinely envied by other countries.

Ultimately, the vision is to deliver on these policies through a ‘system of systems’, rather than an “organic, laissez-faire” approach – a core part of which is digitalisation and product platforms. He went on to cite the example of the Seismic construction platform, which went from concept to reality in five years, and which is now delivering the £19.2 million Laurence Calvert Academy in Leeds.

Showcasing industry’s progress and vision at Construction Summit 2023

While government policy and regulation can prompt change where it might not otherwise have been forthcoming, it can also take a long time to be made. Businesses are often ready to lead when the government won’t legislate far enough.

That is what led to Tata Steel UK and Constructing Excellence coming together to create the Construction Summit, with 2023’s edition being the first. It represented an opportunity for thought leaders and decision-makers to come together to see where supply chains are making progress. Audiences could learn from best-practice examples, and be inspired by one another to continue their own positive journeys.

The Summit featured presentations across three different strands. Each strand was viewed through the lens of productivity, sustainability and future paths, to give a complete snapshot of where the construction industry is today, and what it is working towards in the short, medium and long term.

For audiences who couldn’t attend the Construction Summit, each strand will be written up into an individual white paper capturing all of the topics discussed on the day. Download the supply chain white paper using the link below.

•    Supply chain
•    Climate change and net zero
•    People and skills 

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