Getting closer to net zero using concrete

11 Oct 2022

Reflections on the launch of The Concrete Centre Sustainability Series 2022 and an introduction to forthcoming events
This year’s Concrete Centre Sustainability Series has now officially started. At the launch event on Monday 10 October, an audience of 150 construction professionals gathered in the gorgeous surroundings of the Headquarters of the Royal College of Pathologists to hear presentations on recent and ongoing activity and collaboration for ‘Getting closer to net zero using concrete’. 

The theme of the evening, as it is for the whole Sustainability Series, was collaboration and knowledge sharing, and the opportunities and strategies that can be taken today to reduce the carbon of the concrete we are using. 
Over the next six weeks a series of live events will bring together architects, engineers, academics and manufacturers to present and discuss recent projects, new and existing guidance and resources organised around key themes for reducing carbon emissions in the manufacture and use of concrete. Going forward the rest of the live events will be online and recorded so that they become a useful ongoing resource. 

On Tuesday 25th October – our live event follows week 3's theme of Energy Efficiency. The webinar Energy Efficient homes - some contemporary solutions will include presentations by members of the design team for two exemplary housing projects – Max Fordham House, reportedly the first net zero home in the UK, and Howgate Close, nine new homes in rural Nottinghamshire, designed to use passive solar design and provide an efficient thermal envelope. Concrete’s thermal mass is integral to the energy efficiency performance of both projects and its wider potential for further energy efficiency will be explored as well.

Week 4 will see a focus on the industry’s decarbonisation roadmap, and the live event on 2nd November will be a deep dive into the progress of carbon capture in the UK cement sector with an update from those directly involved. 

Week commencing 7th November is all about the specification of low and lower carbon concretes, with a live lunchtime event on 8th November giving an update to imminent revisions to BS 8500 and future plans to be able to reduce the carbon of concrete through amendments to this concrete standard as well as other work the industry and others are doing to accelerate the more widespread use of lower carbon concretes.

The final part of the series will be a focus on precast concrete and masonry, with three talks planned including High Performance Masonry Housing; Precast Concrete: Durability, resilience and circular economy and Low Carbon Precast Concrete and Masonry.

A new CQ Focus produced for the series brings together exemplar projects from the library of case studies illustrating some of the ways to lower the carbon associated with building with concrete. These buildings span several years and of course, because of the time lag between design and project completion, were mostly developed in a very different context with regards to the targets, measurement and reporting of embodied or whole life carbon but still offer much to learn from. 

The launch event week, by contrast, very deliberately featured projects still in progress (Wood Wharf, presented by Johnathan Ly of Canary Wharf Group, and Meridian Water, presented by Rafe Bertram of Enfield Borough Council) in recognition that to accelerate behaviour change we all need to share current evolving best practice and experiences.

The importance of using data was a notable issue raised in the discussions, necessary to help establish and monitor progress and support further improvements. Common to all was also the importance of bringing together all parts of the design, construction, and supply chain early on, under strong direction from the client to achieve their set carbon targets and challenge ‘business as usual’. 
Such collaboration is fundamental to the work of the Green Contruction Board’s Low Carbon Concrete Routemap (LCCR), and in particular the new stakeholder group being set as part of the new Concrete Decarbonisation Taskforce (CDT) introduced at the event by Pete Winslow, co-chair of CDT, a pan-industry initiative mobilised by ICE, MPA The Concrete Centre, The Green Construction Board and IStructE. He, together with Andy Mullholland, chair of the LCCR group that is now also part of the CDT, joined the panel discussion, described the various workstreams in progress tackling different ways to help accelerate the decarbonisation of concrete, including the introduction of a new flex standard for performance-based specification of low carbon concretes, the benchmarking and rating scheme, and optimising and updating BS 8500 standard on concrete. 
To close the discussion each panellist was asked what key advice they would give to specifiers embarking on projects now, to make the most impact regarding carbon savings using concrete. Answers ranged from early discussions with insurers when using more innovative solutions, to clear target setting and teamwork. But to focus on efficient use of concrete…which was fortuitous given that ‘Lean Design’ is the very first theme of the Sustainability Series. The first online event the ‘Lean and material efficient design webinar’ taking place on Thursday 20th October. 

An outline of all the events taking place in the Sustainability Series can be found here, with further information and resources added as the series progresses. So please do register to listen in and take part.  We are all in this together and with collaboration we can accelerate the journey to net zero using concrete.
Written by Elaine Toogood, Director, Architecture and Sustainable Design at The Concrete Centre