The greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation options for materials used in UK construction

Giesekam J, Barrett J, Taylor P, Owen A (2014). In: Energy and Buildings, vol. 78, pp.202-214.


The UK construction industry faces the daunting task of replacing and extending a significant proportion of UK infrastructure, meeting a growing housing shortage and retrofitting millions of homes whilst achieving greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions compatible with the UK’s legally binding target of an 80% reduction by 2050. This paper presents a detailed time series of embodied GHG emissions from the construction sector for 1997–2011. This data is used to demonstrate that strategies which focus solely on improving operational performance of buildings and the production efficiencies of domestic material producers will be insufficient to meet sector emission reduction targets. Reductions in the order of 80% will require a substantial decline in the use of materials with carbon-intensive supply chains. A variety of alternative materials, technologies and practices are available and the common barriers to their use are presented based upon an extensive literature survey. Key gaps in qualitative research, data and modelling approaches are also identified. Subsequent discussion highlights the lack of client and regulatory drivers for uptake of alternatives and the ineffective allocation of responsibility for emissions reduction within the industry. Only by addressing and overcoming all these challenges in combination can the construction sector achieve drastic emissions reduction.