More work needed to tackle decarbonisation in the construction sector, reveals RICS sustainability report

This year’s RICS Sustainability Report has highlighted a lack of progress in measuring carbon emissions.

The 2022 study — which collated sentiment from almost 4,000 chartered surveyors, around 1200 of which are from the UK — revealed that 76% of UK professionals make no operational measurement of carbon emissions on projects.

This figure is in line with the whole of Europe, but slightly higher when compared globally (72%). 

In addition, more than half of the UK respondents also said that they don’t measure embodied carbon — out of those that do, less than 14% use this to select the materials they utilise in their projects. 

According to the report, the biggest barriers to reducing carbon emissions are the lack of established standards, guidance and tools, as well as the high costs or low availability of low-carbon products.

Alongside this, contributors also highlighted cultural issues and established practices as challenges.

While construction professionals in the UK are beginning to embrace digital tools and technologies to complete sustainability-related analysis for construction projects, these are predominantly used to assess energy needs and costs, rather than reduce embodied carbon or to measure the impact on biodiversity.

On a more positive note, the sustainability report highlighted some improvement in the push for sustainability made in the past year, notably in the commercial real estate sector.

The majority of respondents (55%) noted an increase in climate risk assessments by investors on their built assets, suggesting that climate issues are now rising up the agenda and could be influencing the behaviour of key market players.

According to the report, occupier and investor demand for green buildings continues to rise in the UK, which is impacting both rents and prices, with a significant share of contributors seeing a market premium for sustainable buildings, and citing that non-green real estate assets are subject to a ‘brown discount’. 

For those buildings that aren’t classed as green or sustainable, 48% of respondents noted a reduction in rents, and around half also cited a reduction in sale prices in the UK.

Kisa Zehra, sustainability analyst at RICS, said: “It is of benefit to all to embrace climate strategy.

“Behaviour change is happening, with higher rents and prices being seen for the more desirable sustainable properties, and climate risk assessments by investors on their built assets rising across the globe — however, measuring all forms of carbon is also critical to the changes we need to see from the built environment. 

“Barriers to progress cited in the report have included a lack of established standards, guidance and tools, but it is equally fair to say that the industry must adopt these tools and standards where they are available and should make carbon assessment and management an integral part of business practice.

“RICS will continue to promote research, and demand policy changes while working together with industry, governments and our professionals to increase the impact of the built environment on positive climate strategy.”

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