The Environmental Impact of Concrete

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Concrete is the most widely used man-made material in existence. It is second only to water as the most-consumed resource on the planet. But, while it may have shaped most of our built environment, it also has a huge carbon footprint.

According to Chatham House, cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. To put that into perspective, if the cement industry was a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. It contributes more CO2 than aviation fuel and isn’t far behind the global agriculture business. Following this research, architects have been urged to reconsider their use of concrete given that the UK has set a 2050 target to reduce its carbon emissions to 80% less than it was in 1990, so we need to be doing everything we can.

It’s no surprise that cement is so widely used, it’s a remarkably good construction material. A mix of sand, gravel, a cement binder and water, concrete is widely embraced by architects, structural engineers, developers and builders. It’s affordable, which is always a bonus, and you can produce it almost anywhere. Perhaps it’s not about reducing how much cement we use but more looking into how it is produced. Research from Chatham House found that more than 50% of emissions are linked to the process for producing clinker, one of the main ingredients involved in the manufacture of cement. There are alternatives to cement such as the waste from steel production, although there is not a huge supply. Obviously, I don’t think we need to stop using it, but I do think the industry needs to take this into consideration and industry workers need to be more efficient when using it.

The IPCC’s latest report warned that the world has just 12 years left to moderate CO2 emissions and halt devastating global warming, so it’s not just a case of ‘trying’ to be green, it’s getting pretty serious and I certainly don’t want our industry to be the one of the main causes given everything we’ve been doing over the years to improve.

We recognise that we work in one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what we do, we have potential to cause a lot of damage but that means we also have the most potential to make a difference on protecting the environment. Companies are always thinking of new innovative ways of being efficient and we’ve really stepped up our game in the last few years. Offsite construction is now becoming the norm, we’ve got PopUp Houses, plastic roads, even a ‘bubble’ building here in Newcastle, all of which are slowly making a difference.  While the aesthetics of a building are still important, we need to consider the materials we’re using and their wider impact – hopefully we’re all in agreement on that.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

What can we expect for 2019?

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Happy New Year to you all – I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas break and are raring to get started. I cannot believe it’s 2019 and another new year is ahead of us, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 12 months have in store– I think it’s certainly going to be a busy one! While you can never predict exactly what the year ahead holds, there are a few things I expect to see, Brexit being the biggest change, but I won’t hold my breath on that.

Let’s start with a positive. The Construction Products Association (CPA) predict that output will accelerate in by 2.3% in 2019 and 1.9% 2020. House-building is forecast to be the primary driver of growth for the whole industry. In private housing, first-time buyer demand, enabled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, continues to boost sentiment and encourage an increase in housebuilding activity outside London. There are ambitious housebuilding targets both in the public and private sectors. But luckily, we are seeing growing interest in offsite manufacture, digital and sustainable construction. Compared to other industries we’ve been slow to adapt to the digital age, but the smart building tech industry has grown significantly, and the pace of change is now inevitable.

For many years we’ve struggled with a skills shortage and with less people coming into the industry we’re now struggling with an ageing workforce. Organisations that can attract and retain a young workforce are likely to score well in bid processes, as they can provide some evidence on delivery capability. As budgets get tighter, clients are looking to added value within bids as a way of getting something extra. Monetising your added-value benefits is important to demonstrate the financial value and there can be other benefits too – social value, for example, which is obviously a really big deal. Certainly, things to think about going into the year.

The North East industry had a good 2018 with many of our projects/companies being recognised at the National Constructing Excellence Awards. Seven of our entries came away as winners or highly commended, it was a very good night for the North East, one I’m extremely proud of.

We’ve overcome some tough challenges in the last year alone and that only proves to me that this industry can achieve anything! The demise of Carillion resulted in a poor performance for the industry at the start of last year, which combined with the bad weather, was estimated to have lost UK construction £1bn in productivity, surely 2019 can get off to a better start.  So, let’s get our heads down and have a good year – bring it on 2019, we’re ready for you!

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.