Alasdair Rankin: What does the cancelling of carbon targets mean for construction?

Alasdair Rankin: What does the cancelling of carbon targets mean for construction?

Alasdair Rankin

Alasdair Rankin, managing director of Aitken Turnbull Architects, asks what the cancellation of carbon targets in Scotland means for the construction industry more widely.

The Scottish Government has cancelled its commitment to meeting interim net zero targets in 2030, although since that happened, they’ve also ended their agreement with the Green’s, lost a First Minister and found a new First Minister so perhaps individual policies aren’t their greatest concern.

That however is probably a major part of the problem, politics, and specifically legislation, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. While the priorities and direction of political parties and Government, may change in an afternoon – or breakfast meeting – the impact of the initial policy and the change are much longer lasting.

Industries take time to gear up to enact change, investment is required, and staff need trained. Whole supply chains are impacted, and new ones may need to be found. Probably not the best analogy in a piece about net zero, but as they say oil tankers are slow to turn around.

The initial approach of driving change by legislation, using changes in regulation and the potential of financial penalties, or an inability to win certain work for those who did not adapt and meet the new requirements, was always meant to be overtaken by a change in direction of the industries affected and in consumer demand.

The real question is - Has the change gathered enough momentum to continue regardless of the dropped targets? Have industries taken the realities of NetZero seriously enough?

There is undoubtedly still some green washing and virtue signalling, however I think there’s a lot of positive progress in both the Design and Construction Industries. Many organisations have reviewed their ethos and their own impact on the environment and taken real steps to change and reduce this.

Businesses have upskilled, re-training their employees and bringing in new ones to address the challenges of meeting the net zero requirements. Some will be cynical and suggest that this is nothing more than seeing an opportunity to add a new revenue stream and increase profits, which may be the case for some. However, the reality remains the sectors have committed to improvement and progressing towards net zero.

The legislation may have been unpopular, it may even have been unachievable, and there are definitely businesses who will have suffered as a result who will find the relatively casual cancellation difficult to accept and deal with, but the question remains has it served its purpose?

Did the legislation and targets generate enough change in the industry to accelerate the net zero journey in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise? Did the legislation, and the associated risks of non-compliance, act as sufficient threat to cause an industry that is often slow to change and embrace new ways of thinking and delivery to spend time, money and energy looking at how to generate real and genuine change, and whisper it, improvement!

Following the Scottish Government announcement we’ve not seen companies make public announcements about reverting to previous ways of working, designing or delivery.
We’ve not seen CEOs and MDs in the design and construction industries rowing back from commitments they’ve made about working towards net zero.

I think our industry is now showing leadership in this journey. The requirement is being driven by clients and members of the design and construction teams, not Scottish Government targets or pledges.

There’s still a huge amount to be done, and the need to continue to improve is going to drive innovation and further change in the industry, but as a combined design and construction industry we’re making genuine progress in the right direction.

Share icon
Share this article: