Fuelling a 1.5°C Ready Construction Industry

Low carbon fuels, electrification and teamwork can help slash emissions

  • 26 Aug 2021
  • by
  • Simon Gorski
A landmark report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that our climate is changing in unprecedented ways in every region across the globe.

The report draws on years of research by over 200 of the world’s leading scientists, who have observed increasing frequency of extreme weather and climate such as heatwaves, droughts and flooding. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the IPCC report as: “a code red for humanity”. 

But the report also included some cause for hope. Scientists believe that if the world takes swift action, then deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases could stabilise rising temperatures. And that the worst impacts of climate change can still be prevented, but only if we stop temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

As our world has already warmed by about 1.1°C it is clear that the margin for change is small, and that the consequences of taking no action would be catastrophic.

The built environment sector is currently responsible for a whopping 40 per cent of global carbon emissions. That is because, traditionally, our industry builds with carbon-intensive materials such as steel and concrete. Construction sites have used liquid fossil fuels such as diesel and petrol, and buildings have been powered with energy generated from burning fossil fuels.

We are part of the problem, and that means we have a huge role to play in limiting global warming to 1.5°C. It is absolutely vital that we radically reduce the carbon emissions from our industry.

At Lendlease, our mission is zero carbon. And we have set two very aggressive targets – Net Zero Carbon by 2025, and Absolute Zero by 2040. To reach Net Zero we will reduce emissions produced directly from the fuels we burn (scope 1), and from the power we consume (scope 2) as far as possible, before offsetting the remainder. To reach Absolute Zero, we will eliminate all emissions, including those generated indirectly from our activities (scope 3), without the use of offsets. 

That 2040 target is our ‘moon-shot’ goal that will take great teamwork, investment and transformation across our business and our supply chain over the next decade to achieve. 

However, where we have direct influence over the emissions we produce today, we are taking swift action to eliminate them – and we are encouraging our entire industry to do the same. 
Here are just some of the ways our industry can reduce emissions:

Switching from diesel to low-carbon alternatives 

It’s time to wave goodbye to diesel from fossil fuels. Alternative fuels now exist on the market that are less polluting and they don’t require full-scale changes to existing machinery.

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) reduces CO₂ emissions by up to 90 per cent when compared with red diesel and can be used as a ‘drop in’ replacement. That means that HVO can be used in existing machinery without any need for engine modifications.

At Lendlease we’ve introduced an Alternative Fuels Policy that will help us eliminate liquid fossil fuels from our UK construction sites. The policy will see all new projects use alternative fuels like HVO instead of diesel and petrol, with existing projects having until 1 January 2022 to comply.

We’re already seeing HVO being successfully used across our projects - from powering onsite accommodation at Glen Parva Prison in Leicestershire, to fuelling piling work at Elephant Park in London. The process is being widely supported by our supply chain and like-minded subcontractors, without whom we wouldn’t be able to make the progress that we are.

Opting for electrified machinery where available

But our ultimate goal is for all construction machinery to be powered by renewable electricity. And the market for electric vehicles, including construction machinery, is moving at speed.

Small equipment like one tonne excavators, which we have been using on our renovation work at Manchester Town Hall, are now readily available on the market. When you use renewable electricity to charge the machinery, we are effectively able to conduct works with zero scope 1 carbon emissions, whilst also slashing air and noise pollution too.

There have also been recent advances in hydrogen technology, which are helping to build capacity for the use of electrified heavy-duty machinery and we look forward to trialling those in the future.

The construction industry and its supply chain need to work together to build both the capacity and the demand for electric plant going forward. It’s something that we’re committed to at Lendlease.

Teamwork is the solution

There’s no longer time for ‘business as usual’. The construction industry must play a leading role in the fight against climate change, and I encourage everyone with involvement in our sector to show their commitment by signing up to the Race to Zero ahead of COP26 this November.

It’s not a race that any one organisation will win on its own, but one where we all take collective responsibility to reduce our emissions enough that we avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The construction sector must be 1.5°C aligned and ready to build a future fit for generations to come.