Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener

An article by Katherine Adams, Technical & Research Associate, ASBP

On 19th October 2021 the Government launched a policy paper for their Net Zero Strategy, entitled Build Back Greener. This is the overarching strategy of how to reach the UK’s 2050 Net Zero target and the interim milestones of a 68% cut by 2030 and 78% by 2035.  It is the first such national strategy in the world. It builds on the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which was produced in November 2020.

Highlights from a products and materials perspective include:

Steel – to reach the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee to ‘set targets for ore-based steelmaking to reach near-zero emissions by 2035’ review aspects of Hydrogen-based steelmaking, CCUS and switching to Electric Arc Furnaces by working with the newly constituted Steel Council (page 129).

Timber – develop a policy roadmap on the use of timber by working with key construction stakeholders, including the Green Construction Board, Construction Leadership Council, Home Builders Federation, and Federation of Master Builders;  drive an increase in the use of certain modern methods of construction, some forms of which can encourage use of sustainable materials such as timber; work with Homes England and delivery partners to explore ways to increase timber use in the delivery of housing programmes; Increase public demand for sustainably sourced timber through procurement policies; and encourage research into barriers to uptake of timber, including looking at timber strength grades and the fire resistance of engineered timber structures (page 178-179).

Embodied carbon –  support policy measures that inform consumers of the embodied carbon of industrial goods – measures across different sectors will be explored, but opportunities have been identified in the construction, automotive and electronics sectors. Government aims to support action in the construction sector by improving reporting on embodied carbon in buildings and infrastructure with a view to exploring a maximum level for new builds in the future. There is recognition that there is potential to reduce embodied carbon by way of material substitution where appropriate, such as in timber usage and resource efficiency approaches, amongst others (page 130).

Waste and resource efficiency – supported the Green Construction Board to produce a Routemap to Zero Avoidable Waste, published in July 2021. Establish frameworks which minimise virgin resource use and maximise recycled, reused, or remanufactured content and continue to assess all, fiscal and non‑fiscal, policy options to meet these objectives. Support companies to identify Industrial Symbiosis opportunities through facilitation of a cross sector network to boost take-up of circular economy initiatives (page 130-131).

Biomass – will be an important component of our pathway to net zero but the exact role is yet to be determined. The Biomass Strategy, due in 2022, will look to address this. The sustainability, and wider environmental impact of growing and using biomass, including on air quality, will be key factors in establishing its role (page 172).

Research and innovation – published Net Zero Research & Innovation Framework which sets out the critical net zero research and innovation challenges across the UK that require development over the next 5-10 years, and presents timelines of short, medium, and longer-term priorities (page 209). The Framework includes key research and innovation needs such as (linked to materials):

  • Collaborative R&D with the commercial forestry and building sectors to increase supply and demand of timber in built infrastructure
  • Establish robust estimates of the abatement delivered by harvested wood
  • products in use through carbon storage and product substitution
  • Advanced technologies and new manufacturing processes, such as new steelmaking technologies to produce “green steel”
  • Application of low carbon construction techniques, skills and materials for new transport infrastructure – concrete, steel, road surfaces, etc.
  • Reduce the impact of extraction and use of raw materials. Development of alternative, renewable feedstocks, along with a step change in the use of recycled material into new products.
  • Advanced manufacturing technologies to create lighter, cheaper and less resource intensive materials
  • Reduce the impact of a product in use, including light weighting, eco-design for disassembly, remanufacture or recycling of end-of life parts or products, or products made with reused/recycled and alternative materials, increasing product lifetime or re-use
  • Business model innovation (leasing, product service systems or pay as you go) that supports more efficient use of resources
  • End of life: Advanced separation and sorting of waste that enables more and higher quality recycling; design and produce biodegradable and compostable materials with properties comparable to difficult to recycle materials such as engineering plastics
  • Development of new construction technologies, materials and techniques that can improve productivity, carbon performance and reduce waste, such as the use of digital design and offsite manufacturing technologies to create a larger range of building types.
  • Research and innovation to optimise the design and specification of buildings to reduce the materials needed in construction or repurposing, and/or to look at innovative ways of reusing waste material into new configurations (by recycling cement, steel and other carbon-intensive materials into new building material).
  • Research into embedding a focus on measuring and mitigating embodied and operational carbon emissions into the procurement and management of public sector infrastructure and construction projects

Note, there are more needs related to issues such as energy efficiency and retrofit.

Funding – expand cross government portfolio of net zero innovation support, delivering at least £1.5 billion during the next spending review period. This will accelerate the commercialisation of low carbon technologies, systems, and business models across the economy (p210).

Procurement – The Procurement Policy Note on Taking account of carbon reduction plans in the procurement of major government contracts comes into effect from Autumn 2021. This will impact over £50 billion of procurement spend. For qualifying contracts, it requires suppliers who are bidding on central government contracts (over £5 million p/a in value) to commit to achieving net zero by 2050 and to detail their organisation’s UK greenhouse gas emissions via the publication of a Carbon Reduction Plan. The Social Value Model requires government to expressly evaluate environmental, social and economic benefits, with these factors comprising a minimum of 10% of the evaluation score for qualifying procurements (page 257).

Awareness – help empower people to make informed choices about the goods and products they buy and services they use by exploring how we better label these with their emission intensity and environmental impact. We are also exploring the use of product labelling to show the durability, repairability and recyclability of products, as well as their environmental footprint with a view to stimulating demand for better quality items (page 278).

Please note there are also commitments related to heat and buildings, transport, natural resources,  waste and fluorinated gases and green finance which are not covered here. The Heat and Building Strategy has information on how buildings will become net zero.

The Treasury also published Greening Finance: A Roadmap to Sustainable Investment. Of interest is the proposed UK Green Taxonomy (based on the EU Taxonomy), to determine which economic activities count as ‘green’ and a requirement to report against the Taxonomy.

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