New research reveals lack of clarity around built environment carbon emissions

In accordance with new research, almost all (58 %) of built environment professionals believe the sector has already been doing enough to tackle its carbon impact.

This is regardless of the known proven fact that the built environment contributes 36 % of total global energy-related CO2 emissions, with recent available data showing that CO2 from operational energy usage of buildings reached its highest level yet in 2019.

For its  City of Tomorrow  report, building performance analyst IES spoke to an array of professionals employed in the built environment sector about the existing status of sustainability targets and methods, including engineers, facilities managers, contractors, developers, architects and planners.

The report revealed that only 29 % of those employed in the sector felt that it ought to be doing more to lessen its carbon impact, and 13 % were unsure if current efforts will be enough.

The research shows that this complacency could stem from the lack of awareness round the full extent of the built environment’s carbon contributions.

It’s been demonstrated that the built environment contributes almost 40 % of the UK’s total carbon footprint, when asked to estimate this figure yet, 80 per cent of these incorrectly surveyed answered, with 45 % underestimating the full total percentage. Six % guessed only between 1-10 %.

When asked which facet of the sector they believe may be the place where most sustainability gains could be made, 51 % of these surveyed said construction. However, only 22 % said operation/energy use, and 4 % said materials development just.

Don McLean, CEO of IES, commented: “While it’s great that knowing of climate issues generally is currently pretty widespread, and 79 % of organisations in the built environment sector are actively working towards net zero, it’s clear that more must be achieved to communicate the built environment’s role in carbon emissions to those employed in the sector.

“Specifically, we should raise awareness of environmentally friendly impact of buildings’ operational energy use, with the available data showing that emissions from building operations remain a huge problem, that efforts up till now effectively have didn’t tackle. 

“Reducing the emissions created through the construction process is needless to say essential, however due to the fact 80 % of the buildings which will be around in 2050 are designed already, optimising the operational efficiency of these in existence is simply as already, or even more important.”


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