BRANZ CEO Chelydra Percy says that, while the building industry faces a huge challenge in reducing its impact on the environment, there are several steps businesses can take to start making changes now.
THIS ISSUE of Build focuses on renovations and retrofitting, which couldn’t be more timely. If New Zealand is to meet its net-zero carbon economy ambitions, the building industry will increasingly be required to upgrade the vast existing building stock to meet new energy performance standards. And our work won’t stop there ...
Reducing environmental impacts
As leader of the Construction Sector Accord’s Environment workstream, I spoke at Constructive 21 about the size and scale of the challenge to reduce the environmental impacts of the building industry.
We are currently building a roadmap to provide the sector with an initial set of actions for us to work on to achieve our environmental aspirations, including net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The work we’re doing on the roadmap has shown me that what is needed is big change – changes that are not easy, quick or cheap. But that’s no excuse to wait until we have all our ducks in a row. We simply can’t afford to delay action.
Getting committed to action
As I shared with the Constructive audience, we all need to get off our butts – to use the vernacular! In the short term, our challenge is to identify the immediate actions we can take in our own businesses to reduce environmental impacts.
In terms of our sector’s environmental impact, three stats stand out for me:
- 20% of New Zealand’s carbon footprint is linked to construction.
- The construction process creates 4.4 million tonnes of waste each year.
- 50% of our landfill is made up of construction waste.
It’s a huge challenge to reduce the amount of construction waste going to landfill. It will require a lot of effort and coordination if we wait for each local authority to change its waste collection and management systems.
While ultimately that needs to be done, in the meantime, what could we all – on an individual basis – do to minimise waste throughout the construction and building life cycle? Maybe it’s utilising a service like Green Gorilla or All Heart NZ, even if it costs more.
These are the sorts of questions we need to ask ourselves.
Acting now on an individual basis rather than waiting for an industry-wide solution to emerge is essential if we are to build momentum.
What can I do?
So here are three starters for 10 – things that you can do right now that won’t cost much (if anything) and will make a difference well in excess of the effort required.
Measure your carbon footprint
Some business guru said, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.’ I agree. We can start with measuring our carbon footprint. Knowing and certifying your carbon footprint will increasingly become the norm or a necessity, much like being a licensed building practitioner is today.
Clients are going to demand it. Staff increasingly want to work in environmentally responsible businesses, and in a labour-restricted market, it might make the difference between retaining and losing someone. Ultimately, not doing this will impact our social licence to operate – and that’s going to happen sooner than you think.
When you start measuring your carbon footprint, you quickly realise that the actual numbers are less important than what the measuring process leads to – stimulating us to find ways to improve our performance and enhance our environmental credentials. It becomes a virtuous circle.
Know your stuff
Learning about and being able to talk knowledgeably about environmentally friendly and sustainable products and ways of working will pay real dividends. If we are committed to reducing the environmental impacts of our work, we need to get buy-in from clients – particularly if it is going to cost a little more. Being able to explain the benefits of above Building Code insulation may encourage a client to change their specs.
Similarly, being able to answer a client’s questions or provide a rationale for something as simple as why they should pay to have an extra waste bin on site helps move the needle that little bit further.
Using your skills, knowledge and experience with sustainable products or techniques can also act as a differentiator that gives your business a competitive edge.
Take action on site
The third activity that will have an impact well beyond the input effort is to take action on the building site.
Sweat the small stuff – focus on precision measurement to avoid wastage. Buy better products that you will use less of or that feature less packaging. Never waste a journey – pack the ute with rubbish when you leave and dispose of it responsibly. In this way, you can reduce the number of emissions-creating trips. BRANZ has e-learning modules and lots of resources to help identify waste minimisation on site, and it’s worth checking out our website for ideas.
By asking ‘How could I do this better?’, there are probably a thousand small things you can identify that will improve environmental outcomes within your business. It might take a bit of thinking, planning and a commitment to change, but what a difference you will make.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.