Has your company embraced “green” initiatives?

For the last decade or so, there has been a shift toward more sustainable practices in construction and the longer term benefits of “going green.” We’re now more aware than ever of the impact human activity has on the environment, which is fueling demand for solutions.

As we’ve found here in the UK, so far there have been mixed results when it comes to sustainability in construction. Is it something to be embracing right now? We took a look at some current data:

Is there sufficient demand?

First of all, let’s look at the residential construction industry. You may have heard a long-held belief that there is simply not a lot of demand from customers for purchasing sustainable homes, however, recent data challenges that thought.

A report released by Redrow found that, of the 1730 prospective homebuyers they surveyed, 63% desired a sustainable home and 38% definitely intended to buy one. 82% were willing to pay more for such a home, countering a popular belief that people don’t want to spend more on sustainable homes, or prefer cheaper options.

Here’s an important point for electrical contractors:

“Those surveyed ranked lower energy bills as more important than a garden, parking space, amenities, external appeal/design of home, and fittings and appliances when choosing a home.”

It’s also worth noting that 60% of those surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed that they’d be more likely to buy from companies building sustainable homes, suggesting that advertising your expertise in green techniques may be worth your while.

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While still emerging as an option, high-rise living is also seeing developments in the green space. The Beacon building, under construction in Hemel Hempstead, is planned to be a zero-emission residential and mixed-use high-rise. Residents are to get free electricity and hot water for five years through a high-density solar farm on the exterior of the building. Energy and heat conservation are central concerns for the building and it is set to use initiatives such as recycling unused shower heat.

While The Beacon is currently somewhat of a novelty in the UK construction scene, as far as future opportunities, watch this space. There are already high-rises being constructed to greener standards in other parts of the world, and it is something which may catch on further in answer to consumer demand, environmental regulations and a need for conservation in our cities.

What should firms consider on green projects? Get our quick tips here

Commercial construction

Data on green development in the commercial construction space shows that the UK lags somewhat behind other nations. Worldwide, there has been a surge in green building, which is often being led by countries that are developing in that area, such as India, China, Brazil and Mexico.

In the UK there is still a perception that green commercial construction is expensive and the domain of high-end buildings. Still, 38% of those surveyed expected to be involved in the construction of green public sector buildings, such as schools and hospitals.

From the wider market, there is still considerable demand for BREEAM (the UK-based certification standard for green buildings) or LEED (its US-based counterpart). Clients are looking for firms which are certified to these standards and in many cases, are willing to pay more for sustainable design and materials.

Source: Architect’s Data File

Overall, the third edition of the Electrical Contractors Market Report – UK 2017-2021 Analysis

Identifies the “green opportunity” as a key growth area for electrical contractors:

“A key area of growth in recent years has been installations aimed at improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, driven by legislative requirements and building regulations. There has been a rapid expansion in the range of LED lighting products on the market, and with increasingly sophisticated control systems for both heating and lighting, this has been the major growth area in demand for electrical products.”

Solar energy

Green construction demands go hand-in-hand with the increasing popularity of renewable energy sources. Solar is having a significant impact, thanks to some unprecedented sunny spells making it possible.

In June 2017, solar power smashed previous UK national records by providing nearly a quarter of all electricity needs:

National Grid said the thousands of photovoltaic panels on rooftops and in fields across the UK were generating 8.7GW, or 24.3% of demand at 1pm on Friday, smashing the previous high of 8.48GW earlier this month.”

Overall, the UK has seen the lowest power demand in 8 years, with a combination of more energy efficient consumer goods and the marked impact of the solar fleet credited with this achievement.

Does this signal more opportunity in solar for electrical firms? The government sold off its “Green Deal” loan scheme, reportedly due to low uptake, however there is cautious optimism from the industry that it may work out for the better under private sector ownership. Solar is one option put forward to homeowners under this scheme, offering them a better deal on the cost of installation. The new owners of the scheme have vowed to do a better job of marketing and awareness of the initiative, so this is a “watch this space” at this stage.

At a regulatory level, it is acknowledged that there is still “work to be done” to meet renewable energy targets, although cost declines in solar are keeping the technology competitive. This has lead to some encouraging installation numbers.

Technology brings opportunity

The construction industry has been one of the least digitised sectors up until very recent times. Technology has enabled some jobs to be made easier and completely reinvented others. We’re seeing software assist with manual tasks (such as doing take-offs with Countfire), and digital technology enabling smarter buildings.

This latter point has helped to fuel opportunity within green construction.

Buildings are becoming more intelligent as technology becomes more affordable, which means that sustainable initiatives can be incorporated into “smart” buildings. Energy usage can be controlled using automated processes for things like heating, air conditioning and lighting. As the report 2021 Vision: The Future of the Electrical Contracting Industry states, electrical contractors could develop their skills and knowledge of heating and lighting control techniques in order to provide energy efficiency services.

Challenges for construction

As briefly mentioned, the UK Government Green Deal scheme was relatively short-lived, which tends to be blamed on a lack of awareness of the scheme among homeowners and possibly a lack of knowledge around the real benefits of incorporating green construction initiatives. For construction, one challenge certainly lies in disseminating that knowledge and perhaps answering to the popular myth that green initiatives are too expensive to implement.

Another challenge is the process of construction itself. The industry as a whole is said to generate 25 – 40% of the world’s carbon emissions, while also being a large consumer of raw materials globally. Smart planning and sustainable design could reduce energy consumption and pollution, but requires a new approach to project management and new training for crew members.

Going green can result in long-term benefits for people and the environment, but the compromise is the costs that must be managed in order to implement sustainable initiatives. Construction is still a very traditional industry and tends to be a slow-mover when it comes to embracing new technologies – this in itself is another challenge. With a global agenda focusing on issues such as climate change, construction firms may find that embracing “green” is not only more necessary, but that it makes sense for their own public image.

What to consider for green projects – get our quick tips here

Final thoughts

There’s no doubt that going “green” represents significant opportunities for construction firms, with electrical contractors playing a key role in implementation.

While the UK has seen some setbacks in the last couple of years, particularly with the failure of the Green Deal at a government level, global trends indicate that sustainability is here to stay. Increasingly, government regulations are playing a role too, seeking to curb carbon emissions.

In the future, it may be a case of “go green or go home”, between customer demand and energy goals and regulations. For now though, construction firms have choices to make: keep your current status quo or upskill and embrace the green opportunity?

Featured image photo credit: zakzak7 via Visual Hunt