Low carbon construction holds key to culture change needed to reform industry

Peter Hansford

As the Green Construction Board marks its third year, chief construction adviser Peter Hansford sets out the 2025 challenge at Ecobuild.

The Green Construction Board has made good progress over the last three years. 

Highlights to date include initiatives such as the Infrastructure Carbon Review, the Switch the Lights Campaign featured this week at Ecobuild, the Built Environment Commitment and developing content for standard training material.

The Green Constuction Board Three Years On report outlines the acheivements to date and plans for the future. Further details are at www.greenconstructionboard.org

Future priorities for the Board include:

  • the development of a PAS to support the measurement and management of carbon in the infrastructure sector
  • identifying what more might be done to unlock den=mad, improve affordability and increase the attractiveness of Solid Wall Insulation – this is a Commission I will be leading over the next three months
  • creating bigger better data on operational energy use in the commercial sector; and
  • ensuring policy makers have a clearer understanding of property investment, asset ,management and valuation processes.

This is all good work which has established the GCB as a key and effective delivery arm for the Construction Leadership Council. And this carbon ambition is so important to the transformation of the industry which the industrial strategy for construction - Construction 2025 - is seeking to bring about.

Construction 2025 has five broad themes:

  • People, including image
  • Smart, including innovation
  • Sustainable, including low carbon
  • Growth, including trade
  • Leadership

Taking each of these in turn: 

People and Image

Addressing the real global challenge of climate change engages people in a totally different way

Sustainability is a key way to engage with young people. Green issues are important to young people so telling them about construction’s contribution in a compelling way is essential to attract the next generation into the industry .

Just as “policing by consent” is a core principle of the justice system, so “development by consent” is a core principle pf our planning system. So “selling” how construction is a force for good is vital - and in the low carbon and sustainable area, the story should be a strong one.

Low carbon and sustainable construction are key drivers to our recruitment and diversity ambitions.

Smart and Innovation

The low carbon and sustainability agenda sets a different challenge and so provokes new thinking and innovation 

The work of the GCB is particularly strong in making the link across the life cycle of built assts and getting people to understand the trade-offs and compromises. Data an BIM makes this linkage visible

So low carbon and sustainable construction are key to our innovation ambitions.


Sustainability is at the heart of the Green Construction Board and its Low Carbon Routemap to 2050. Wider environmental considerations are transforming what we build with and how we build it. So the GCB is central to our sustainable ambition.


It’s clear that many growth opportunities in the UK will be driven by the low carbon agenda. In part this is driven by regulation, but in large part also by consumer choice. We need to respond to that to make the most of new markets.

So low carbon and sustainable construction  are key to our growth ambitions.


The UK has a strong comparative advantage in low carbon and sustainable construction. UK “green” successes – like London 2012 – make the UK industry more marketable.

Climate change issues – both adaptation and mitigation – are likely to offer big opportunities in the global construction market.

So low carbon and sustainable construction are key to our balance of trade.


The GCB, like the Construction Leadership Council, is a partnership between Government and industry. So it contributes to our leadership ambition.

In summary

The importance of low carbon and sustainable construction goes beyond the imperative of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment.

More than perhaps any other issue on its own, it illuminates the culture change which we must achieve if we are to transform the industry.

And we will not meet any of the ambitions in Construction 2025 unless we secure that culture change.


"Low carbon and sustainable construction are key" easier said than done in our ultra competitive ultra conservative construction climate (sorry to use that word). Sustainability starts in the ground. How many construction companies are willing to even consider using the existing ground for construction purposes. Dig and Dump and Cut and Fill are still the chosen option of practically every construction project. I would be very to interested to know how much material has been dumped and how much of this actually paid a Landfill Tax penalty since this regulation was introduced. We have introduced low carbon cost effective technologies to enable contractors to use all existing site soils and materials. Very few contractors even look at this option, depsite its proven success. The GCB and other industry bodies must shoulder much of the blame, firstly for not policing the landfill innitiative and secondly for giving the construction industry encouragement to cut and fill by allowing even Government Tenders to specify the removal of existing soils prior to construction.