2021 prediction: Decarbonisation

To enter 2021, we have highlighted some of the trends and themes we expect to see across civil infrastructure over the coming year. Of these, common visualisation, collaboration and decarbonisation come out top of mind for an industry focused on resetting, recovering, rebuilding and reimagining a better-built future. For the final blog in our 2021 predictions series we deep dive into what decarbonisation is, the importance of it, and how as an industry we can achieve it.

The 2020’s mark the decisive decade of whether or not the world will succeed in meeting the critical climate emergency. The global warming of the planet, caused by carbon emissions, has resulted in a pressing need to invoke action for climate change mitigation before it is too late. Doing nothing or doing just enough is no longer going to cut it.

As part of the UK Government’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, over the coming years, all industries including civil infrastructure will have to be more focused on reducing their environmental impact to build towards a circular economy that minimises wasted materials, reduces one-time data usage, reduces data storage in data centres, while also reduces the loss of our natural environment–meaning what we build is more in harmony with the world. Finding sustainable solutions to our current construction practices has never been so important.

What is Decarbonisation and why is it so important?

Decarbonisation is the process of removing or reducing CO2 outputs. Future ambitions are to eventually convert to an economic system that sustainably reduces and compensates the emissions of carbon dioxide to create a CO2-free global economy.

The aim of decarbonisation was agreed at the Paris climate deal in December 2015, in order to “limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels". At present the built environment accounts for 45 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, therefore we in the construction industry are called upon to do our bit.

If we take no action at our current rate of carbon emission, global temperatures could increase by 4°C or more by the end of the century. Failing to reduce carbon emissions will inevitably result in catastrophic impacts such as food and water shortages, sea-level rises and mass displacement, scientists have warned. With COP26 taking place in Glasgow this coming November, it will be a good indicator of the progress which has been made so far as well as the progress to be made.

Decarbonising the Construction Industry

In construction, decarbonisation is being approached through several means, from low carbon concrete to reducing wasted materials. At Sensat, we believe that by embracing the third wave of digital, the infrastructure industry has the opportunity to harness the power of technology to make smarter, more sustainable decisions. Alongside this, Sensat’s vision is to build a sustainable world where human development is in balance with the natural environment.

Sensat CEO, James Dean, comments, “The best way to go about a move towards a more sustainable built environment is to understand our data in order to make effective planning decisions. With a data-led focus, a visualisation platform and a more collaborative mindset, together as an industry, we can be more in balance with our natural world, and we see this influencing infrastructure direction.”

In Sensat’s recent poll questioning construction industry professionals revealed that respondents identified sustainability as either being a medium (29 %) or high (75%) priority on their company's agenda. When exploring the efforts companies are making towards more sustainable approaches, recipients reported that their companies are using fewer or more eco-friendly materials (32%), trying to reduce travel (16%), and trying to reuse data (11%) in a move towards decarbonisation. Our results are indicative of the positive steps being made towards data-driven sustainable futures within construction. However, more can always be done.

“While the pandemic has helped shape construction and our working practices in 2020, it also accelerated the next wave of civil infrastructure driving a shift towards data-led transformation, visualisation, collaboration and decarbonisation that we will see take hold in the coming year. 2021 will be the start of things to come,” said Dean.

As a gesture to creating a more sustainable environment, over the festive season, we hid ‘Bruce Spruceteen’ (our festive tree) around our website so that for every tree found and clicked we would donate a tree to be planted. To start 2021 off, and with your support, we have donated 500 trees through One Tree Planted. The native broadleaved trees will be planted in Scotland to help restore lost and degraded habitats.

This trend of decarbonisation will not just be a trend for this coming year, but an ongoing focus that all of us in the construction industry must gear towards. Through the decarbonisation of our industry, we have a chance of shaping a more sustainable future.

To find out more about decarbonisation in the construction industry you can watch our data-driven sustainable futures webinar on-demand. Alternatively, download our insight paper, 'Navigating what’s next in civil infrastructure'.