Waterman Chief Operating Officer, Craig Beresford, shares his thoughts on how we can maximise our impact on the current climate emergency.

In early February 2020, it occurred to me that an opportunity had presented itself and it was time to rekindle British manufacturing in response to the Government pledges to the country and the emerging Net Zero Carbon agenda. As the Covid-19 pandemic took a grip of the country, forcing us into lockdown, and the huge financial commitment recently made by Rishi Sunak to protect jobs I began to realise there is another option to consider – investment in British manufacturing.

The Government’s requirement to achieve a net zero carbon position across many business sectors by 2050 is further reinforced by the UK Green Building Council calling for net zero carbon in Construction by 2030.

In this case achieving net zero carbon is not just about operational energy in use as it has been in the past. We now need to consider the embodied carbon of which a key part is associated with the manufacture and production of materials and, the transportation of goods from their point of origin to the construction site.

It is worth reminding ourselves at this point that the UK has a history of being highly regarded as a creative and productive manufacturer, which all began with the Industrial revolution in the early 18th through to the mid-19th Century.

This hugely important era created the current Climate Change Crisis by fuelling our insatiable demand and dependency on fossil fuels. It is therefore ironic that we are now having to find ways to be creative without being dependent on coal and gas. With the manufacturing and transportation “carbon cost” metric now an essential part of the net-zero equation, this creates a new opportunity for the UK to establish a low-carbon manufacturing base, and this is something I think the Government should be considering.

To maximise our impact on the current climate emergency, carbon utilisation in construction needs to be at the lowest possible level, ideally at actual/absolute zero. In contrast, striving for net zero carbon in construction does not necessarily achieve the same result as the measurement now includes not only embodied carbon and carbon in construction and use, but also carbon in raw materials, manufacturing of components and transportation of materials and components from factory to site.

As raw materials such as Bauxite, Silca, Gypsum and Iron Ore etc are extracted in a variety of locations around the world, we cannot the control carbon utilised in extracting and processing these raw materials into materials for use in construction components and products. By manufacturing materials and components in the UK from the raw materials, and by using green energy sources in our factories we can reduce the embodied carbon in the manufacturing process in comparison to the same being manufactured in overseas location. There is also the added benefit of reduced carbon in transportation from factory to site.

Today, around 40% of our electricity delivered via the grid comes from renewable energy sources and the Government seems committed to increasing this to a fully green grid. Therefore, when comparing this to countries with no commitment to reducing their dependency on fossil fuels there must be a great opportunity for British Industry.

Imagine if we could stimulate the manufacturing industry through investment and training and create enterprise zones status for areas around the British Isles! This could enable companies to rebuild a manufacturing base for components and simple construction industry products instead of relying on a supply chain of countries around the world with a less ethical approach to climate change and zero carbon commitments. Achieving net zero carbon is a challenge for the large part and for those who struggle there is the option to “buy” their way to a net zero through carbon offset and carbon trading.

To have a greater impact on the climate emergency we should examine ways to drive down carbon to the lowest possible figure by 2050, ensuring the offsetting requirement is absolutely minimised. The climate emergency target is about real reductions in carbon emissions and we should not be content with using offsetting to achieve a net zero position.

The carbon offset levy and the apprentice levy could contribute to the investment required, and reduced corporation taxes in enterprise zones could also encourage manufacturers. Rather than building whole new industries, we have an opportunity to expand and develop existing capability. This could be an effective way to create economic growth offering skills and employment to many of the areas that have historically been in the heartlands of UK industries.

There is currently great emphasis on the science and technology sector as well as the emerging high-tech industries, but we do have the resources to manufacture more traditional products as well. British companies can manufacture glass cladding, curtain walling and highly architectural facades but we have lacked investment in design and factory machinery, and we have fallen behind the best European and now Chinese competition.  We should also be able to make heat exchangers, chillers, pumps, valves, pipe work and cabling, raised floors, BMS systems, lifts and many other mechanical and electrical components if we had the ambition and investment. The best result would see investment in low-tech and high-tech industries with green energy driven factories to enable us to deliver real low embodied carbon products.

It is amazing how much money has been “found” – potentially £300-500bn, borrowed, by our new Chancellor of the Exchequer. If some of this money could be diverted into UK-based green manufacturing it could be a tremendous outcome. We have a unique opportunity to fund and rebuild UK manufacturing and invest in training and technology. This investment is essential to tackle the potential increase in unemployment which will inevitably follow once Furlough support stops. If we have the courage to go for it, it will also bolster our response to climate change.

So, if our country is serious about reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, and if we use our green energy to rebuild and invest in new manufacturing, we can be the country that led the 21st Century Green Industrial revolution. We would be way ahead of other countries and proud to say that Great Britain is not only a Great manufacturing country, it’s a low carbon manufacturing leader with tangible and demonstrable wins in the reduction of carbon employed in manufacturing, product transportation, construction and operation of our built environment and infrastructure.

It is a unique moment which requires the collective input of the Prime Minister, The Treasury, the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Construction industry but, I believe we can make short term wins that would really demonstrate the government’s commitment to the people who voted them in.

Achieving net zero carbon with the least use of carbon possible is a 10-30-year objective but, unless we start now we will only partially succeed and miss the biggest opportunity of our lifetime.

Craig Beresford, Chief Operating Officer or Property – Waterman Group