Building(s) for the Future

Robert Macdiarmid, Director of Sustainability, Countryside Partnerships

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report came out in August last year, there was no mistaking the stark warnings being made. In the simplest terms, time is running out to minimise the catastrophic impacts of climate change and rising global temperatures. As the headlines read at the time: it’s code red for humanity and for the planet.

Heating and powering homes accounted for 22 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. The UK government has announced a new target for all new-build homes in the country to be highly energy-efficient and zero carbon ready by 2025, powered by renewable heating solutions. It will come into force with the introduction of the Future Homes Standard.

This target, which many are describing as the ‘green building revolution’, is aimed at protecting the environment by reducing energy use and fossil fuel carbon emissions. The transition to a low carbon economy has changed the need to adopt new technology in our homes from being desirable to essential. The way we build and operate our buildings now and into the future will need to evolve rapidly. But advances in technology alone are not enough—behaviours, culture, regulations, and policies all need to change.        

Technology is helping to make the construction sector more sustainable—from how buildings are designed and constructed to how we operate and interact with them in the real world as tenants, residents, and neighbours. Having greener homes and a lower environmental impact is now sitting near the very top of Brits’ property priorities with almost four in every five people considering how environmentally friendly their property is before deciding where to live. In this scenario, Modern methods of construction (MMC) is presenting an unrivalled opportunity for us to build sustainable, safe and affordable buildings and infrastructure of a higher quality and with greater levels of predictability. To leverage the comprehensive benefits of MMC we need to fundamentally rethink how we design and deliver buildings. Antiquated and unsustainable delivery models are more broken than ever, and greater collaboration will be vital if we are to deliver positive change across the industry. Countryside was one of the earliest adopters of MMC, with housing policy, housing needs and the future of the supply chain in mind, we have invested in strengthening our MMC capabilities and has set a target to build 50 percent of our homes to be built using MMC by 2025, at which point Countryside will have produced 20,000 homes this way.

The current challenges the industry faces around material availability and price increases make solutions that provide greater efficiency and predictability increasingly attractive. Labour shortages are one of the most significant causes of delay at the moment. This is leading to project delays, price increases and an even greater uncertainty. This has been the result of decades of failure to invest in and attract talent into the construction industry. This is compounded by a combination of Brexit and the pandemic which have made it more difficult to rely on established labour resources. The need to reform the construction labour model through embracing MMC simply cannot be ignored.

Greater investment and take up of MMC will enable us to take a more controlled and predictable approach to achieving net zero. It will require all parties to work together towards that common goal, to set aside current contractual practices and established ways of working so that we are able to deliver collaborative solutions.

As things stand, the construction industry cannot take advantage of all these benefits. Lack of demand aggregation and standardisation are impeding the market from realising the economies of scale that will unlock the economic and environmental benefits.

MMC also provides a major opportunity for contractors to better interact with supply chains, assuming the role of a “systems integrator” to ensure that they are fully engaged in the process and that all parties involved can capitalise on the knowledge that manufacturers bring to the table.

These approaches require long-term partnerships with specialists and manufacturers, both of which will be integral to the successful delivery of MMC. To truly deliver an integrated proposition, we will need to ensure that each part of the supply chain is engaged while making sure that we value the expertise and knowledge of respective parties.

“Technology is helping to make the construction sector more sustainable—from how buildings are designed and constructed to how we operate and interact with them in the real world as tenants, residents, and neighbours."

As the world adjusts to a new era in hybrid living, people want to be more connected to their homes and live more sustainably: now is the time for the industry to continue to shift and future-proof to stay apace with this rate of change.

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