Some of the UK’s top engineers are calling upon the government to discourage the demolition of buildings in favour of re-using them instead in a new report. The report is from the National Engineering Policy Centre (NEPC) with the guidance of the Royal Academy of Engineering and aims to draw attention to the carbon emissions generated by the construction industry.
The report warns of “embodied emissions”, meaning the CO2 emitted during the construction of buildings, both via the building process and the making of the materials needed for it. The making of materials such as brick and steel generate large amounts of CO2, and cement alone is responsible for 8% of global emissions. The report also sought to raise awareness of the existence of embodied emissions, noting people may not be aware of the carbon impact of construction projects – even those as simple as building a house extension.
Recommendations for the construction industry moving forward instead include giving greater focus to re-using buildings, using renewable energy to power machinery, and recycling materials where possible. One of the report’s authors, Professor Rebecca Lunn from Strathclyde University, said: "Our biggest failure is that we build buildings, then we knock them down and throw them away. We must stop doing this."
The report urges the government to change its mentality to construction, with fellow author Professor Mike Cook telling BBC News, "We have to radically revise the way we look at things. The most important thing is to maximise the use of existing road infrastructure by using smart motorways to maximise every inch of tarmac." Prof Cook highlighted the government’s £27bn road-building programme, proposed expansions at Heathrow, and HS2 as projects that should be rethought and asked whether they truly give benefit to future generations.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has called for the government to alter VAT rules that currently mean that in some instances it can be cheaper to rebuild rather than refurbish a building, with managing editor Will Hurst stating, “We've got to stop mindlessly pulling buildings down.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has said, "We are committed to reducing emissions from the construction sector, and have set up the Construct Zero programme to support the industry to achieve their climate commitments", and wished to draw attention to the Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, proposed earlier this year.