Global warming and infrastructure construction

Global warming and infrastructure construction

How can construction align with the goals of a low-carbon economy?


  • Sustainable construction aims to minimise environmental impact and maximise both economic viability and the social benefits (e.g. employment/empowerment) of construction
  • Sustainable design aims to design buildings and infrastructure that work within environmental limits and are profitable and healthy places to live, work and use

Barriers to change

  • Economic viability is often prioritised (by both private and public clients) over environmental and social considerations
  • Sustainable construction/design can be hampered by uncertain economic environments, rapid urbanisation, lack of effective spatial planning, lack of skills and integration of project teams
  • A ‘compliance’ engineering culture, that assumes – often wrongly – that sustainability will cost more money; and client unwillingness to pay higher up-front capital costs for potential savings in the long term


Du Plessis, C, Sustainable Construction in Developing Countries
DEFRA, Construction waste

Global warming impacts of the construction industry

  • Economic: construction industries have complex links to most sectors of every nation's economy, playing a key role in determining its social and economic progress
  • Social: construction provides opportunities for employment and skills development as well as the socio-economic benefits of the buildings and infrastructure themselves (housing, transport links etc). But consider also factors such as the health and safety risks of construction and use and migration of labour force for large construction programmes
  • Environmental: construction impacts ecosystems, depletes natural resources and leads to CO2 emissions (see example)
Example: the UK construction industry’s CO2 emissions impact
  • Through the UK Climate Change Act 2008, the UK government is committed to a 34% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 and 80% by 2050
  • Since building use contributes about 52% of the UK’s CO2 emissions and construction contributes another seven percent, the construction industry is a major focus for change
  • The waste going to landfill from the UK construction industry in 2004 was about 100 million tonnes, roughly equivalent to one house being buried in the ground as waste for every three built

Design and construct to minimise environmental impact and optimise socio-economic viability