Our 40% Sector

Within FutuREstorative I explored the 40% impact that the built environment has on climate change, on the environment and the people who work in or are affected by the sector.

Somewhere, somehow, in recent years the built environment sector has picked up the label of being the 40% sector, based on its (mostly) negative impact on the environment. Whilst many of the 40% ‘claims’ may be seen as anecdotal, even urban myth, they are very close to research based evidence, performance data or published papers.

Over recent years a number of events and conferences have been held to explore the 40% figure. Perhaps there is even a sense of pride in the 40% tag, rather than a sense of guilt. We should not and cannot be satisfied with targets of reducing carbon by 40% by 2025, for example, or reducing waste to landfill by (just) 50%, as stated in recent strategies.

We need the thinking, courage, leadership and aspiration within the whole industry to turn this around – with aspirations to become the 40% net-positive sector. To consider this impossible is to view impossibility as a fact, not an opportunity or challenge.

Here is an update from an earlier 2016 post with the background facts and figures that led me, and others, to call the built environment the 40% sector. (References including those cited in FutuREstorative are included at the end of this post.)

  • The built environment generates around 40% of all carbon emissions in the UK.
  • Construction accounts for 40% of the total flow of raw materials into the global economy every year (1)
  • 40% of a nation’s health costs are attributable to the built environment.
  • In 2014, 41% of total US energy consumption was consumed in residential/ commercial buildings – about 40 quadrillion British thermal units.(2)
  • Construction consumes over 40% of Europe’s energy and resources.
  • The built environment accounts for 36% of EU CO2 emissions and 40% of total EU energy.(5)
  • Lighting represented about 25% of energy use in 2010 and nearly 40% of carbon emissions within the non-domestic sector.
  • In 2050, capital city carbon will represent nearly 40% of the built environment’s emissions (versus 18% in 2010).
  • 40% of construction carbon is locked into material and waste transportation.(6)
  • Due to its significant environmental impact, the construction sector is now increasingly quoted as the “40% industry”; 40% of all energy and material resources .. 40% of CO2, 40% of waste from building and demolition (5)
  • 40% of the occupational cancer deaths and cancer registrations were from the construction industry (IOSH)
  • 42% (349MtCo2e) of UK carbon footprint attributable to built environment (UKGBC)
  • According to the latest Global Status Report from the Global Alliance for Building and Construction (GlobalABC), it is responsible for approximately 40% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are found particularly in the construction (embodied carbon) and the operation (operational carbon) of buildings. (WBCSD)
  • In developed economies , the building sector accounts for up to 40% of total energy use, 30% of raw material use, almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions and up to 40% of solid waste generation (6)
  • Buildings account for around 40 per cent of UK energy consumption UK Gov Construction Sector – Industrial Strategy
  • Buildings and construction are responsible for some 40% of energy consumption and related GHG emissions globally (Global Climate Action Summit)
  • Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU (7)
  • 30-40% traffic on road is construction related (WRAP)
  • 47% total construction cost consumed by waste and inefficiency (CALIBRE)
  • 37% total construction time is non productive (IBE partnerships)

Global Resources used in buildings (Willmott Dixon} (8)

  • Energy 45–50 %
  • Water 50%
  • Materials for buildings and roads (by bulk) 60%
  • Agricultural land loss to buildings 80%
  • Timber products for construction 60% (90% of hardwoods)
  • Coral reef destruction 50% (indirect)
  • Rainforest destruction 25% (indirect)

Estimate of global pollution that can be attributed to buildings(Willmott Dixon} (9)

  • Air quality (in cities) 23&
  • Climate change gases 50%
  • Drinking water pollution 40%
  • Landfill waste 50%
  • Ozone depletion 50%
  • The US construction sector contributes to 23% of air pollution, 50% of the climatic change, 40% of drinking water pollution, and 50% of landfill wastes
  • Research by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the construction industry accounts for 40% of worldwide energy usage, with estimations that by 2030 emissions from commercial buildings will grow by 1.8%.
  1. http://www.businessandbiodiversity.org/construction.html
  2. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=86&t=1
  3. https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-efficiency/buildings
  4. http://www.constructco2.com
  5. (UNEP 2003 in Country Profiles on the Housing Sector: Russian Federation)
  6. (https://www.eurima.org/sustainable-construction.html)
  7. https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-efficiency/energy-performance-of-buildings
  8. Hawken, P., Lovins, E and Lovins, H, Natural, Capitalism – Creating the next Industrial Revolution
  9. Brown MT, Bardi E. Handbook of energy evaluation. A compendium of data for energy computation issued in a series of folios. Folio #3: Energy of ecosystems. Center for Environmental Policy, Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida


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