When is progress no longer progress?
If there is one thing that can be said of 2020, it was the year that ushered in unprecedented change. As the pandemic gathered momentum, the severity of our global situation became glaringly apparent. The time to step back and consider our impact on the environment, both individually and collectively, was clearly long overdue.
We are now in a state of climate emergency, and it demands to be addressed. Billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere every year, and it is driving us further towards collapse. As it stands, we are accelerating towards climate change on such a significant scale, scientists deem it an “unacceptable risk.” It is estimated that we are currently at least one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This is enough to profoundly impact sea levels, as glaciers and ice sheets melt at an alarming rate. If nothing changes, entire districts of cities near the coast such as New York, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai will be underwater within our lifetimes, displacing millions of people. In order to avoid the irreversible effects of climate change, global temperature should reach no more than 1.5°C higher than preindustrial levels, as outlined by the 2015 Paris Agreement. For this to be possible, we need to rapidly decarbonise our industry. Construction is currently responsible for nearly 40% of the energy-related carbon dioxide emissions which are rapidly destroying our ecosystems. The strain we are currently putting on our natural resources is, evidently, completely unsustainable. In order to be a truly modern company, Multiplex needs to do what we do best — put our money where our mouth is, and become an active force for good. This begins with our involvement with Contractors Declare (UKCD), an industry-wide initiative launched in June 2020, which is spearheading a shift towards conscious construction: “to create buildings and infrastructure assets that have a more positive impact on the world around us.”
Multiplex is proud to be Chair of the UKCD for 2021, as well as one of the founding signatories. UKCD is part of a global movement, including most European countries, the USA and the UK, which commits the construction industry to work towards ‘net zero’ carbon. The term ‘net zero’ refers to a state in which the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere are equal to their removal. In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, ‘net zero’ is the state at which global warming stops. This is the ultimate goal, and can be achieved if we act now. UKCD aims to raise awareness of the climate and biodiversity crisis we are currently experiencing, and to galvanise companies into action. This is not about lip service, this is about restructuring the construction industry from the inside out. Our strategy at Multiplex, One Decade to Act, is based on taking “practical, evidence-based steps founded on climate science, research and collaboration.” So far, we have taken steps towards being a more environmentally responsible company. In December 2018, Multiplex became one of the first contractors in the world to set a science-based target in line with limiting global warming and have it approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative. In 2019, we launched our net-positive sustainability strategy, outlining targets and actions across five key areas: positive climate impact, zero waste and circular economy, net positive biodiversity and air quality, responsible supply chains free from modern slavery, and building with an emphasis on sustainability and wellbeing. Since joining together with other leading construction contractors to form UKCD in 2020, we have outlined our goals for the next decade. For example: by 2022, 100% of onsite electricity will be powered through renewable energy tariffs, and we will offer our clients net zero enabled designs for all new buildings; by 2023, onsite emissions will be reduced by 50%, and powered by 100% renewable energy through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA); by 2025, we will produce zero onsite emissions; and by 2030 we will create zero transport emissions, and achieve a 90% reduction in waste intensity. As part of UKCD, Multiplex pledges to advocate for a shift towards more regenerative construction. By practicing what we preach, Multiplex will set the precedent for faster change within the industry, with a view to: “meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries.” The research and technology needed to execute this shift already exists, so the process begins now. On Wednesday 22nd September between 10:00 and 11:30AM, UK Contractors Declare will be hosting a webinar in partnership with the Supply Chain Sustainability School to explore how the construction industry can decarbonise the built environment. Actions such as accelerating the shift towards low embodied carbon building materials, particularly through the concrete and steel sectors, will be detailed. You will hear from: Callum Tuckett, Managing Director at Multiplex Europe; James Cadman, Lead Consultant at the Action Sustainability and Supply Chain Sustainability School; Munish Datta, Director of Membership and Operations at UKGBC; Elaine Toogood, Head of Architecture at The Concrete Centre; Neil Tilley, Senior Technical Sales Engineer & Business Development at ArcelorMittal; and Clara Bagenal George from the London Energy Transformation Initiative and Elementa Consulting.
It is vitally important to stress that climate change is an immediate concern at every level of Multiplex, in every level of the construction industry. In order to redress the existing environmental damage caused by construction related carbon emissions, and to move forward in a meaningful way, a significant shift in our collective behaviour is necessary. This starts and ends with the people in our company and in our wider industry — we have the power to change the script. Action amongst our employees, clients, peers, collaborators and supply chains is essential in order to achieve net zero. There are many steps we will take towards this objective as a company. As a priority, we will push for higher Governmental investment to support the transition into more climate-conscious construction, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will set targets for our own emissions and for the projects we design and build in line with the 1.5°C scenario, and will expect the same from our key supply chains. All new projects that we embark on will be measured against the aim to contribute positively towards alleviating climate and biodiversity breakdown. We will also strive to use nature-based solutions and encourage our clients to echo this approach by making our research and findings accessible. The commitments we make as a company will have climate mitigation and adaptation principles at the forefront, with a view to maximising biodiversity and air quality enhancement as a non-negotiable part of all future projects. The partnership we have with our clients, designers, engineers and supply chains provides an opportunity to influence the industry from within, and work together towards more responsible construction. Collaboration is the basis of progress, and the only way to enact real change on a large scale. Transitioning to a circular economy can be achieved in conjunction with our partners — we know that waste can be reduced at every stage of a build’s lifespan, from construction to operation, and finally deconstruction — and we will enact this. The basic principles of reduce, reuse, recycle underpin this seismic shift — wherever possible, we will strive to upgrade existing projects to extended their lifespan, as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build. We will also support and promote the use of life cycle costing, whole life carbon modelling and post occupancy evaluation/performance measurement. In order to reduce both embodied and operational resource use for the assets we design and build, this will become standard procedure.
By 2030, we hope to have reduced embodied carbon intensity by at least 40%, through our own work and our encouragement of environmentally responsible practices throughout the construction industry. Positive change has a knock on effect, and by holding ourselves accountable, Multiplex has the ability to get the ball rolling. We can, and should, set the standard for conscious construction. Progress is no longer progress when it is at the expense of the world we live in. By committing to UKCD, we pledge to do better.
Blog written by Pavan Patel and Claire Murray