Is offsite construction helping the M&E sector achieve net zero?
The building and construction industry is responsible for 39% of all carbon emissions released into the atmosphere. Operational efficiencies make up 28% of the total (energy needed to heat/power a building) and the remaining 11% is embedded carbon (defined as manufacturing, transportation, and construction phases of a building before it goes into use). (Global Status Report, 2017). Will Tier 1 contractors and subcontractors look to offsite manufacturing to help meet the net zero 2050 carbon emissions target?
What is Net Zero?
The UK Green Building Council defines net zero as “when the amount of carbon emissions associated with a building’s embodied and operational impacts over the life of the building, including its disposal, are zero or negative”1
Is time running out?
By 2030 all new buildings must operate at net zero carbon and by 2050 every building in the UK should be operating at net zero carbon. Since the legislation was passed in 2019, principal contractors have prioritised carbon friendly strategies for new builds.
An example of this can be seen in the UK’s largest diagnostic COVID testing facility construction project, led by a multi-disciplinary collaboration of Mace and Balfour Beatty. The 225,000 square foot laboratory is being built within an existing warehouse building to reduce carbon emissions during its delivery (Clark 2021).
What are the key principles of Net Zero?
- Measure and disclose carbon.
Carbon is the ultimate metric to track, and buildings must achieve an annual operational net zero carbon emissions balance based on metered data.
- Reduce energy demand.
Prioritise energy efficiency to ensure that buildings are performing as efficiently as possible, and not wasting energy.
- Generate balance from renewables.
Supply remaining demand from renewable energy sources, preferably onsite followed by offsite or form offsets.
- Improve verification and rigour.
Over time, progress to include embodied carbon and other impact areas such as zero water and zero waste.
How can offsite construction help contractors adhere to these principles?
Often known as prefabrication or offsite manufacture, ‘offsite construction’ refers to the completion of elements or components of a construction project at a different location to where they will be permanently installed (Design Buildings, 2020).
Offsite construction can greatly aid the fourth principal – improving verification and rigour through embedded carbon. If the methods of offsite construction are practiced, then the carbon emissions from the manufacturing, transportation and construction phases of a building can be reduced.
Early engagement with offsite construction specialists is the key to unlocking the environmental transport benefits. This means that solutions are optimised as early as the design stage of a concept and therefore reducing weight, materials, and volume. All these factors reduce the amount of transport required to get a completed solution onsite. Comparatively, when solutions are fabricated onsite, components are often sourced from multiple sources for price reasons and therefore greatly increase the amount of transport required to achieve the end solution.
Whilst offsite construction techniques obviously remove the need for hot works onsite, offsite specialists often take this a step further by taking advantage of modular systems that do not require hot works at all. In addition to this, cutting and drilling on site is reduced and therefore decreases the amount of waste produced by the site.
As offsite construction often takes place in a factory setting, there is often less requirement for cutting and assembly stations on-site. This reduces the need the labour requirements and thus decreasing carbon emissions.
Offsite construction techniques have been embraced by many of the UK’s leading tier 1 contractors such as Kier Group, Mace, and Balfour Beatty.
For an in-depth review of the offsite construction methodology read our white paper.
In this whitepaper we outline:
- The growth of the construction industry and the M&E sector.
- The history, benefits, barriers, and potential solutions for offsite construction.
- How offsite construction can help the construction industry and the M&E sector meet the net zero target.
Can you afford not to adopt the proven principles of offsite construction?
- Clark, T (2021) ‘Mace and Balfour picked to deliver COVID testing facility’ Source: Construction News [https://www.constructionnews.co.uk/buildings/contracts/mace-and-balfour-picked-to-deliver-covid-testing-facility-14-07-2021/]
- UKGBC (2019) Net Zero Carbon Buildings: A Framework Definition. UK Green Building Council, London. 25pp. [https://www.ukgbc.org/ukgbc-work/net-zero-carbon-buildings-a-framework-definition/]
- Proud Green Buildings (2018) ‘Infographic Advancing net zero’ Source: [https://www.proudgreenbuilding.com/news/infographic-advancing-net-zero]
KIER GROUP, (2020) ‘ The Choice Factory – integrator of manufactured solutions’ Source: [https://www.kier.co.uk/media/4717/the-choice-factory-volume-2.pdf]