The Future of Construction in a Carbon-Conscious World

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The climate crisis is often viewed as a large and unmanageable issue. And though it may seem like a governmental issue, from my perspective, governments are only part of the solution. Visionaries within companies can also make a big difference, if they have the will to do so.

The construction industry is a major emitter of carbon and one of many industries that remains relatively unregulated. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, manmade buildings account for nearly 18% of total U.S. carbon emissions - or nearly four percent of global carbon emissions with heating and lighting accounting for the major portion of these emissions.

Going Green in the Construction Industry

While in the past pollution fines have been low and environmental regulations not as stringent, this is beginning to change as construction companies are starting to realize that by reducing pollution, they can not only improve their corporate reputations, they can also decrease costs associated with environmental regulation.

In addition, companies are realizing that measures that reduce pollution can be relatively inexpensive and cost effective. For instance, tax credits are increasingly being used to encourage building-efficiency improvements. As part of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005, tax deductions of $1.80 per square foot were passed into law for investment in equipment that reduces annual energy and power consumption by 50%3.

The Benefits to the Consumer

Consumers also stand to win from improved energy efficiency since energy savings result in warmer, better-insulated homes with lower fuel bills. For instance, typical areas of energy loss include flooring, windows, doors, walls, and roofs.

A climate consultant can help calculate how much energy is being lost and pinpoint areas where heat loss is most predominant. Solutions generally focus on sealing gaps, eliminating draughts, and the use of insulation to improve thermal performance. While these solutions can be relatively simple, a climate consultant can help to maximize energy-efficiency improvements and advise on how best to implement them.

Carbon Offsetting for the Construction Industry

While methods that reduce energy consumption through improved building and housing-efficiency standards should continue to be the first steps in reducing the construction industry’s overall carbon footprint, in instances where consumption cannot be reduced, carbon offsetting can play a major role in limiting the level of greenhouse gas emissions that are emitted because of these activities.

Carbon offsetting occurs when individuals or businesses “offset” their unavoidable emissions by purchasing carbon credits. These credits are created when a low-carbon technology (solar, wind, hydro) in effect replaces fossil-fuel-based technologies. Carbon offsetting is therefore a financial mechanism that accelerates the reduction in the net level of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere by accelerating the uptake of low-carbon technologies.

Working with The CarbonNeutral Company

Once an organization reduces and balances its CO2 to net zero, it is entitled to carry the CarbonNeutral® brand, a renowned trademark. A consultant can help a client to become CarbonNeutral by understanding his or her carbon risks and helping him or her to work through a carbon-avoidance-and-offset program to achieve identified commercial objectives. An action-and-implementation program, coupled with auditing and verification, is a required step in this process.

How to go CarbonNeutral®: A look at Berkeley Homes

Berkeley Homes is a construction and home builder in London who sought the help of The CarbonNeutral Company in order to fully reduce and offset the carbon emissions associated with building a 518-unit residential development called West 3.

The objective behind Berkeley’s carbon-neutral mission was to address the environmental impacts of construction, improve the environmental positioning of the company, and improve the corporate positioning of the company among corporate and public consumers and stakeholders.

Step One: Measure

The CarbonNeutral Company helped Berkeley to measure its carbon footprint. Clients may not be aware that the amount of CO2 produced by anything can be measured - from a single piece of paper to an entire company or manufacturing process. In this case, The CarbonNeutral Company helped Berkeley to measure its carbon emissions on the West 3 site.

Step Two: Internal reductions

Once its footprint was calculated, Berkeley prioritized, with the assistance of The CarbonNeutral Company, how best to reduce emissions. By switching all of the Berkeley Homes to renewable energy and connecting all of the new apartments to a green electricity tariff, 1700 tons of carbon were reduced, or 18% of the total project emissions, during the development stage of the project. This helped Berkeley to reduce overall project costs and improve the bottom line.

Step Three: External reductions (carbon offset)

For unavoidable emissions, Berkeley then paid for reductions achieved externally through carbon-offset projects. For every ton of carbon produced, the company then purchased the equivalent in saved carbon emissions by investing in carbon-offset projects. Berkeley’s remaining 7000 tons of carbon were neutralized through a combination of forestry and climate friendly energy schemes, making the company CarbonNeutral®.

Green Building for the Future

The Berkeley example showcases what can happen when a construction company is taken through the entire carbon-avoidance program with the help of a climate consultant. As companies enter the “green” era in the United States, the strategic advantage and differentiation that going carbon neutral can provide is becoming increasingly apparent.

Something as simple as adding green electricity to a newly built home or office complex not only has a strong impact on consumer purchasing decisions, it can also provide a compelling and competitive business advantage. A climate consultant can help with this process by achieving identified commercial objectives and ensuring that an action-and-implementation program is successful and ultimately achieves what it was designed to achieve.

About the Author

Mark Armitage is president, US, of The CarbonNeutral Company. Armitage has more than 20 years of experience working in senior and board-of-directors-level marketing and commercial roles across the leisure, retail, and service businesses at companies such as British Airways, Avis, Trusthouse Forte, Granada Group and NBrown. Armitage can be reached at
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