Sustainability Challenges

Climate change is already having an impact on the built environment and construction is one of biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate change challenge

Greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in the average annual temperature in the UK being around 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial period (most recently defined as 1720 – 1800). This has already resulted in hotter summers, more storms and more severe floods, all of which will increase in frequent with a continued rise in temperatures. Depending on how much emissions are cut, the rise could be between 1.5°C to over 4°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

Cost of floods

According to the Environment Agency, the total costs of the 2015/2016 floods was estimated at £1.6bn. PwC estimated that that insurance losses from storms Ciara and Dennis in February 2020, would be between £150m and £200m.

Waste and other environmental challenges

Other environmental challenges include air pollution, deforestation, threat to biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources and increasing waste generation. On this last point, for example, the UK generated 41.1 million tonnes of commercial and industrial waste in 2016 alone.

Construction’s impact

The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total energy consumption and 19% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Construction, demolition and excavation also produces around 120 million tonnes of waste a year, which is nearly 60% of all UK waste.

Energy efficient retrofit

Making existing homes more energy efficient is perhaps the greatest challenge to emissions in the built environment, particularly since the UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe. Trustmark estimates that 24 million properties will need to be retrofitted with energy-efficiency measures, including roof and loft insulation.