Tinkering around the edges won’t be enough to achieve Aotearoa’s 2050 climate change targets. The new Construction Sector Environment Roadmap for Action shows how success depends on people at every level of the building sector becoming involved.
TO ACHIEVE OUR country’s 2050 climate change targets and environmental goals, the construction industry is going to have to rethink almost everything we do. We’re talking reducing carbon emissions and resource usage, developing new design paradigms and construction methods, eliminating building site waste and almost every other facet of the building system.
Everyone must be involved
Some changes in our industry, like upgrades to the Building Code, are carried out by the government. Others come with the better-performing products that manufacturers are introducing now.
With the move to zero-carbon building, it’s completely different. Everyone must be involved – there is no other way.
‘The size and scale of what is being asked of us is huge,’ says Chelydra Percy, Chief Executive of BRANZ and leader of the team that developed the roadmap. ‘It will take determination, steadfast commitment and courage to achieve the level of change required. The first step in any radical change is the creation of a movement and the joining of forces. We need to come together to light that spark – each and every one of us has a part to play.’
Why the roadmap?
New Zealand has committed itself to reaching a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, along with other environmental sustainability goals.
A little while back, scientists from BRANZ and Massey University developed a carbon budget – a measure of how many green-house gas emissions a new house can be responsible for while the country is moving towards the 2050 net-zero carbon goal.
Unfortunately, they found that the average new house is multiple times over budget – there is far too high a level of emissions in its construction and operation.
So in terms of achieving net-zero carbon – not to mention reducing resource usage, minimising waste and developing more environmentally friendly design and build methods – we’ve got enormous ground to cover by 2050. How will we get there?
Four priorities for change
That’s where the Construction Sector Environment Roadmap for Action comes in. The roadmap sets out clearly what we’ll need to do ‘to reimagine all aspects of the building system’. It was created by the Environment workstream of the Construction Sector Accord. (Launched in 2019, the Accord is a joint industry/government initiative working on key challenges facing the construction sector.)
There are four priorities in the roadmap:
- Changing mindsets by improving awareness of what’s needed and committing ourselves to reducing emissions in our sector and better protecting the environment.
- Scaling up the great work already being done by some so that all our work across the whole industry is on the right track.
- Demonstrating impact by measuring the progress we are making contributing to the country’s climate and environmental goals.
- Incentivising and aligning to ensure environmentally sustainable building practices become what we do every day.
This is where you come in
In practical terms, what can you do?
We need to get people to better understand the value of environmentally sustainable construction and what can be done. We need to raise awareness of good practices by construction companies, their clients and home occupants. Start with practical action:
- Share good examples we see. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel! If you hear of one company that strongly encourages its clients to adopt water-efficient designs, for example, encourage other companies – including your own – to pick up the idea.
- Bring emissions into the discussion when it comes to buying new equipment, building materials and so on. If there are options with a lower carbon footprint or that use less energy, that’s the way to go!
- Promote tools that are already out there. Know someone who is a whiz using the BRANZ carbon tool LCAQuick? Pass that on. Hear of a client who saw real benefits from going well above Building Code minimums on their new home? Spread the word.
This is about supporting organisations across the industry to adopt the great environmental practices that some are already using. We need to cheer and champion the leaders. At the local level, there are small architectural firms already calculating the carbon footprints of their designs even though this is not yet a legal requirement.
On a much bigger scale, there are developments such as Hobsonville Point in Auckland’s northwest, where the new homes being constructed use 25% less electricity and 32% less water than the average Auckland home.
There are many things individuals can do:
- Encouraging the use of certification schemes and environmental rating tools. Homestar has been going for over a decade now and is in its 5th version. Thousands of homes have achieved Homestar certification.
- Supporting schemes that promote recycling, reuse and waste minimisation. The information and resources you need are all in place.
Incentivising and aligning
This is about getting the settings we operate under to line up so they make it easier to follow environmentally sustainable practices. It’s about policies, regulations, the financial and legal settings and so on. It is up to government and sector organisations, but there are still things individuals can do.
If there is a document open for public comment, make a comment! Comments can often be made online in a very convenient way. The more voices heard from different areas of industry the better.
This is about measuring the progress we’re making and seeing how far we’ve come. Much of this is higher-level stuff about building development measurements and frameworks. One thing that will be required under this priority heading is setting up and supporting an independent body to oversee the roadmap and coordinate its implementation.
Rocky road, smooth road
We’ve never had to do anything like this before. Even with the roadmap in our hands, it won’t be a journey we can just coast along. The recent increase in the requirements of Building Code clause H1 Energy efficiency is just one big change that we will all have to take on board. There will be many more in coming years.
We’re up to the challenges. As Chelydra Percy points out in the foreword to the Roadmap document, ‘We aren’t starting entirely from scratch, and we can achieve quick wins in those areas where we already have good practices in place or that are simple to change. If we increase the pace of these interventions, we buy ourselves more time to develop solutions to the more gnarly, complex issues we face.
‘The construction sector has a rich history of being resourceful and thoughtful when it comes to problem solving and generating new ideas. This is a sound foundation to build on and implement a powerful movement for change.’
There are lots of resources specifically tailored for the construction industry. For:
- sustainable construction, see www.level.org.nz
- climate change resources, see www.branz.co.nz/sustainable-building/climate-change
- climate change tools, see www.branz.co.nz/calculators-tools/
- tools to help reduce construction waste, see www.branz.co.nz/sustainable-building/reducing-building-waste
- one of the longest-established rating tools for houses, see www.nzgbc.org.nz/homestar.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.