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Advancing sustainable construction


Insights from Professor Robert Hairstans on Building a Low Carbon Future.


RICS - Advancing sustainable construction

A recent article released by RICS featuring insights from Professor Robert Hairstans, Founding Director of the Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT) at NMITE and Deputy Head of Research and Innovation for School of Computing, Engineering & Built Environment at Edinburgh Napier University, was published, focusing on fostering a low carbon materials economy.


The discussion revolves around how policy, industry, and education can support the shift towards a low carbon future in the construction sector, emphasising the urgent need to avoid a high carbon pathway due to the sector's significant impact on climate change.


Hairstans highlights the pressing global demand for developed urban environments, with the United Nations predicting a global population peak of nearly 11 billion by 2100. This growth necessitates a doubling of built space by 2060, posing severe land and climate challenges. The United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) 2023 Emissions Gap Report states that global emissions must be cut by over 50% by 2030 to meet the 1.5°C goal, with the construction sector playing a crucial role through the reduction of embodied carbon, which is set to account for nearly half of building emissions by 2050.


The article advocates for increased use of naturally renewable materials like timber, which sequesters carbon, thereby promoting a symbiotic relationship with the natural environment. Circularity, or the principle of maximising the use and value of materials to minimise waste, is identified as essential for sustainable construction and resource use.

This includes rethinking how new housing and infrastructure are designed, built, and upgraded to improve operational performance and reduce carbon impacts.


Policymaking is adapting to encourage the use of sustainable construction materials. Examples include the UK Timber in Construction Policy roadmap and initiatives in France, Sweden, and Switzerland that promote the use of timber and aim to reduce the use of carbon-intensive materials. These policies reflect a shift towards whole life thinking in construction, balancing immediate operational performance with long-term environmental impacts.


The industry is called upon to embrace transformative change, including alternative procurement practices and collaborative approaches that consider whole life carbon performance and broader environmental impacts. The article concludes by emphasising the necessity of societal shifts towards sustainable living to align human activities with the natural environment, highlighting the potential social, environmental, and economic benefits of such a transition.


To read the original article click here.

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