What UK construction bosses think is most important for sustainable design

A new report by engineering consultancy Patrick Parsons, based on interviews with 100 senior executives of UK construction firms that have been collectively involved in £26.6bn projects last year, has demonstrated the industry’s increasing focus on sustainable design.

The findings of the Sustainable by design report indicate that construction firms are acknowledging the importance of using design and engineering to reduce projects’ carbon footprint, water use and waste. Over three quarters (77%) of respondents believe that sustainability planning in the early-stage design, engineering and construction is important.

The senior executives were asked to evaluate the importance of specific areas of sustainable design. The area around energy-efficient systems and design utilising natural light, smart windows, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) held the top spot in terms of importance, as just over half (51%) of respondents deemed it as “ very important”.

In terms of the number of “very important” votes, it was followed by: reducing water and sewerage waste (47%) and sourcing materials with lower embodies carbon such as timber, clay and stone (35%).

The report also found that the majority of respondents expect the focus on sustainable design to increase further over the next three years. For this period, more than half (53%) of the industry experts believe the importance of energy efficient design will increase significantly. Just under a third expect the same will happen with waste reduction.

This is unsurprising, as the construction firms have already identified significant commercial benefits from using sustainable design and engineering. Eighty-three percent say projects designed with green credentials have given them a competitive advantage, while two thirds claim sustainable design is adding value to current developments.

More than two thirds (68%) of respondents said that they expect the added value from enhanced sustainability in construction design to increase by between 10% and 20% over the next three years.

Despite the increased importance paid by the industry on sustainability and the measures that are being put in place by individual firms, there are certain challenges that the industry must overcome in order to reach net zero.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said that building material supply chains to reduce carbon must improve if they are to achieve net zero, while 63% said that existing planning regulations need to change to support the sector if it is to hit this target. The lack of alternative materials which have a lower carbon footprint was also considered by the majority as a significant barrier to overcome.

“The industry must collaborate to overcome the obstacles to improving sustainability in construction, and the Government needs to lead the industry on the issue, with planning regulations which encourage carbon neutrality,” the report stated.

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