The UK construction industry is a large part of the economy: annual output in 2011 was £107bn. It accounts for 7.6% of UK GVA and directly employs approximately two million people. About a third of all UK construction is procured by the public sector.
Growing and aging populations, rapid urbanisation, new customer trends, changing infrastructure demands and more stringent environmental regulation are all putting pressure on our buildings, and simultaneously creating innovation opportunities.
Within the UK, some of the largest environmental impacts are from operating buildings. To start to tackle these challenges the whole lifecycle of a building needs to be considered. From concept – to design and construction – in commissioning and hand-over – during operation and adaption – and through to demolition and re-use – where the cycle starts again.
The Technology Strategy Board leads in this area, with a variety of programmes and tools designed to accelerate innovation to improve sustainability in the built environment.
Within the UK, around 45% of total UK carbon emissions come from buildings – 27% from domestic buildings and 18% from non-domestic buildings. Much of these emissions come from space heating and hot water provision.
Construction, globally and in the UK, has a strong subcontracting culture. This means that information and innovation can spread slowly, and contracting practice limits novel approaches or technologies due to concerns over product and professional liability – both the industry and the consumer are conservative and risk averse.
The UK has demanding targets, backed up by policy and legislation, to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. This will require far-reaching changes in design, construction, operation, refurbishment and demolition (for re-use) across the domestic and commercial built environment.
A rapidly emerging priority for innovation is the need to lift the focus from individual buildings to groups of buildings and ultimately cities.
To reap the greatest benefits from the needs of adaptability, efficiency and resilience requires a more holistic whole life approach; from cradle, to grave, and repeating again, and again. When considering our buildings we need to think more broadly to include the emerging social dynamics, buildings as clusters, the communities within, and all the players along the full lifecycle of buildings.
The Technology Strategy Board and Future Funding
The Technology Strategy Board established the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform in 2008 to support UK industry in supplying the growing market for low-impact domestic and non-domestic new build and retrofit and to support delivery of the DCLG Code for Sustainable Homes by 2016. In consultation with industry, government and the knowledge base, the Low Impact Buildings Innovation Platform is focusing on six challenges where they can effectively support innovation:
- Design for future climate change
- Design and decision tools
- Build process; allowing the supply chain to innovate together
- Management and performance of buildings
- Materials and components for sustainable buildings
- Integrating with sustainable infrastructure.