Government lags behind construction industry in commitment to sustainability

Press Release
7 October 2014

The Government needs to take a stronger lead on sustainability according to the latest Sustainability Report published by NBS.

NBS Sustainability Report 2014The survey, which was completed prior to David Cameron’s recent pledge to build 100,000 new homes exempt for the zero carbon homes standard, found that almost half of the industry (48%) believes that all new buildings should be zero carbon.

Almost three-quarters of respondents, which included consultants, clients and contractors, support significant increases in public spending to make existing building stock more sustainable, with less than a third agreeing that “the Government is on the right track with sustainability”.

Specific demands included the removal of VAT on refurbishment projects and the introduction of grants for sustainable retrofit.

With regards to legislation, the recent changes to Part L were generally welcomed with 68% of those taking part believing they will help the industry make progress towards the design and construction of zero carbon homes and buildings and 65% saying they will ensure thermal efficiency standards are met. That said, a significant number (46%) do not think Part L goes far enough.

NBS Sustainability Report 2014 InfographicThe industry’s commitment to sustainability is without question, with 91%, 89% and 80% of respondents rating environmental, economic and social sustainability respectively as important or very important.

In contrast, only 13% said that sustainability targets were ‘always’ achieved on projects, although a further 40% did report that it was ‘usually’ the case.

At the same time, there has been a small fall in people’s confidence in their knowledge and skills around sustainability with only 9% feeling ‘very confident’ against 12% in 2012 and 21% feeling ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ confident up from 15% in the previous survey. This might, the report suggests, be down to the perception of complex and frequently changing legislation.

"This report is being published at a particularly interesting time as the various political parties make commitments ahead of next year's election, many of which will impact on our industry. With buildings accounting for around 40% of total energy consumption in the EU, and more if embodied energy is included, we should not underestimate the impact we can have on the sustainability of the way we live.

"Our survey uncovers deep commitment to improvement, and suggests some ways that we can bring it about. But there is still a great deal of progress to be made if we are to meet our 2050 emissions targets. At NBS, we will continue to chart that progress, and through our design tools we will continue to provide design knowledge to support it.

Richard Waterhouse, Chief Executive, RIBA Enterprises

"What this survey has made clear is that there is a deep level of personal and professional commitment in the construction industry to creating sustainable buildings. There are frustrations, around fragmented and contradictory standards and guidance and a desire for the Government to take a greater lead and tighten up statutory requirements rather than loosening them. It will be fascinating to see what emerges from the next survey in 2016."

Adrian Malleson, Head of Research, NBS

Sustainability is one of the four streams at Digital Thinking, Smart Building, a major industry conference with speakers covering topics including new metrics for sustainability and off-site construction as a sustainable alternative.

Related resources

Download the free NBS Sustainability Report 2014 (.pdf, 2.9Mb)

Download the free NBS Sustainability Report 2014 infographic (.pdf, 4.3Mb)