As the company announces its transition to low carbon concrete, this could be the catalyst needed for the sector to embrace more sustainable building products

Steve Bennett Dura Products

Steve Bennett is the managing director at Dura Products

The industry has taken a major step forward with Laing O’Rourke, the UK’s largest privately-owned construction company, announcing that it will only use low carbon concrete for all new projects.

The change takes place with immediate effect, resulting in a significant reduction in the company’s scope three carbon emissions – that is the embodied carbon in purchased materials – equalling a carbon reduction of 28% compared to its concrete usage last year, a saving of 14.4 million kg CO2e.

It’s certainly encouraging to see a major player in our industry fully embrace a change that couldn’t be timelier.

The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) recently reported that the climate performance of the sector and the 2050 decarbonisation pathway is widening.

However, with the built environment generating 39% of annual global CO2 emissions, the industry needs to play a bigger role in mitigating them.

Clearly, relying on designing and building developments that boast lower operational carbon – which currently accounts for 28% of the estimated 40% of CO2 emissions emitted by the industry – isn’t the full answer.

Embodied carbon contributes 11% of the industry’s CO2 emissions. It may be a smaller percentage than operational, but it is just as vital to tackle if we are to achieve our sustainability goals. That’s because once it is locked into a completed building, it can never be recaptured.

It’s certainly encouraging to see a major player in our industry fully embrace a change that couldn’t be timelier.

Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) can help measure the embodied and operational environmental impacts of a project – from procurement, construction, operation and end-of-life – to internationally accepted standards.

They also allow designers to compare alternative materials and understand and evaluate which products and parts of the building have the most and least impact. LCAs offer stakeholders a legitimate way to substantiate their environmental claims using credible data.

However, LCAs do not account for the environmental savings gained by specifying building materials fabricated from waste products that would have otherwise gone into landfill.

The material composition of a solution itself is something too often overlooked, yet sustainable materials for infrastructure could be the key for designers looking to reduce the amount of embodied carbon for clients and future-proof projects to ensure they comply with the increasing number of environmental prerequisites.

I hope that with a construction company of Laing O’Rourke’s size making such a significant environmentally-positive move, this could be a catalyst for the whole industry to embrace more sustainable building products, and to take the extra steps and changes needed to embrace a more sustainable future.