The missing piece in the net-zero puzzle


Amelia Woodley is ESG director at Speedy Hire

Net-zero targets are fast becoming a top prerequisite in construction-project tenders as the sector works on cutting emissions to hit the UK Government target for net zero by 2050.

However, there also needs to be a parallel focus on the important role that data plays in tracking progress towards net zero across industry and government policies. Without standardisation, we seriously run the risk of missing the net-zero target.

The need for standardised data

We know businesses are committing to net zero. We also know that the technology is there, through solar, batteries, sustainable fuels and hydrogen. More innovation is important to ensure the transition is as seamless as possible.

“If a product is battery-powered, it is still likely that the energy needed to charge the product is derived from fossil fuels”

The missing piece is the intelligence and data. We need data-led decision making. It doesn’t suffice to conclude that battery-powered products are ‘green’ – the complete picture needs to be understood.

This means noting the impact of how these products are manufactured, the components used in them, the shelf life and, therefore, their comparative emissions throughout its life.

If a product is battery-powered, it is still likely that the energy needed to charge the product is derived from fossil fuels. Data from 2022 data showed that 78.4 per cent of the primary energy consumed within the UK came from coal, oil and gas. Awareness and reporting of this is crucial to ensure the technology and innovation works long term.

There are disparate practices within the industry as there isn’t a recognised standardisation of data. The industry needs to reach a collective agreement and approach on how we measure data to ensure we can measure progress accurately. A common framework for measuring this is critical – a shared language to enhance collaboration seamlessly. The recent announcement by the European Rental Association (ERA) of carbon reporting guidance for the equipment rental industry is a welcome development in supporting the transition to net zero.

Transitioning to net-zero practices encounters different costs, risks and new commercial models. Investment is less focused on the short term, so the whole-life cost of solutions is critical and that can be difficult for businesses to manage in the short and medium term.

The role of government in incentivising and enabling net zero

We cannot underestimate the role the government needs to play in the transition to net zero. The government sets the agenda and is capable of overseeing the necessary significant investment and required changes to infrastructure. For example, we need to see the energy grid utilising renewable energy more to achieve the required gains. This is a trend we’re seeing but there’s more work to be done.

While the onus is on businesses to take the lead and rightly so, there needs to be support for technological investments and adequate incentives for businesses to act. The government plays an important role in supporting businesses by fostering an environment conducive to sustainable practices.

Under government policy it will be challenging for businesses to reach net-zero goals. Current global policies place us towards a 3-degree Celsius world where science tells us we need to stay at 1.5 degrees. Businesses need support to unlock short and long-term opportunities so that net-zero innovations are viable.

The role of contractors

To drive change quickly, requirements should be cascaded across the value chain to boost innovation and collaboration to reach net zero.

In short, we need purpose-led data and insights, as well as technology, to make the right choices to achieve net zero. With changes in innovation, we need to look at business models to ensure they work across the value chain.

There is a dual responsibility of business and government, but the industry needs closer collaboration and better incentives to drive net-zero progress. Contractors are being ambitious by setting net-zero targets, but investment in innovation and greater collaboration across the value chain will be needed to bring meaningful change.

Through collaborative efforts and finding a middle ground, genuine progress towards a sustainable and net-zero future is attainable.



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