GKR Scaffolding Strategy Director Helen Gawor explains how sustainability has gone from being a buzzword to a strategic target for the whole industry.

The Construction industry has made a pledge to achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2050, in line with the Government’s national targets. Specialists in the supply chain, including those of us in temporary works will need to contribute to this.

Not only is it simply the right thing ethically for our businesses to work towards, but the cold hard fact is that having a clear, measurable sustainability strategy will win you more business. Procurement scoring will increasingly rate us for our Net Zero credentials, and all clients, large and small, will be expecting us to play our part.

But how do scaffolding businesses get to Net Zero?

Understanding your carbon emissions

The first step is to understand the volume and composition of our carbon emissions. This is probably the biggest hurdle for most SMEs because there aren’t enough simple tools to enable businesses to do this easily.

At GKR, we used a third party to audit our emissions under the current regulations, but many businesses will not have the budget or resources to do this.

You will find calculators online that give you a steer on what your carbon footprint looks like from organisations such as the Carbon Trust and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol as a starting point.

But you will also need to be familiar with some of the terminology and categories of emissions to understand what it actually means to become Net Zero Carbon.

What is Net Zero?

Carbon emissions are categorised under 3 scopes:

Scope 1:

Direct Emissions

 

Produced from our business activities, such as our fleet and use of plant/machinery.

 

Scope 2:

Indirect Emissions

 

Secondary sources we use such as electricity in our offices.

 

Scope 3:

Supplementary Emissions

 

Sources such as those our supply chain is responsible for and employee travel to work.

 

These categories of emissions need to be understood as reductions in particular scopes impact your status towards Net Zero Carbon.

Net Zero Carbon is achieved when our businesses make significant reductions in all 3 scopes and we are offsetting the amounts that cannot be reduced. If you search for approved offset programmes, you will find interesting options from planting trees to supporting enterprises is developing countries.

Offsets however must be used on top of continuous reduction efforts. You cannot achieve Net Zero status if you are offsetting emissions that are possible to reduce or remove from your business.

Being Carbon Neutral

At GKR, we achieved Carbon Neutral this year as our first milestone to becoming Net Zero.

This means we have made significant reductions in our Scope 1 and 2 emissions and offset the remainder, with a clear plan to reduce Scope 3 emissions towards a Net Zero Carbon target date.

Reaching this milestone did require a clear understanding of our carbon footprint and which reductions we can prioritise and control. Our audit showed that over 60% of our carbon emissions derived from our fleet. By switching to and securing a future supply of HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) to replace diesel, we reduced carbon emissions from our fleet by 93%.

We were already using renewable electricity in all our buildings and investing in other areas of sustainability too.

The challenge now is for us to prove continued reductions in all 3 scopes towards our Net Zero Carbon deadline of December 2023.

Can we be Net Zero when using steel and plastic?

The elephant in the room is that we are a steel-intensive industry. The manufacture of iron and steel is responsible for 11% of global CO2 emissions.

There is a misconception that our businesses can’t achieve Net Zero Carbon whilst we use steel that is manufactured using fossil fuels. As it is outside our businesses’ control, this is not true, however, it should not be ignored.

Encouragingly, a growing number of steel manufacturers have made Net Zero pledges and there is active exploration of carbon reduction and carbon capture methods in steelmaking in Europe and even in China.

So, in the future we will be able to establish Green Procurement Policies and it will become possible to procure more sustainably manufactured steel products. In the meantime, our focus at GKR is on used rather than new materials to reduce the demand for extracting raw materials.

Businesses in our sector will also need to eliminate waste in all the materials we use. A growing number of contractors are introducing Zero Landfill policies which our non-recyclable materials such as sheeting will not comply with. We need to increase pressure on our supply chains to manufacture and distribute sustainable alternatives that meet the standards we require. At GKR we are trialling 100% recyclable sheeting with persistent organic pollutants removed, for example

Will the scaffolding sector become a Net Zero Carbon industry?

Net Zero Carbon is achievable for scaffolding businesses. However, the roadmap to get there needs to be supported by better tools to calculate the volume and composition of our carbon footprint and provide information to empower businesses to make the changes needed to reach their target.

Although some of us have charged ahead, we have done so not to be the first, but to prove it can be done and how. I’m chairing a working group at the NASC, where we are investing in building the tools and resources scaffolding businesses will need to start your Net Zero Carbon journey.

The good news is that all businesses are in the same place – finding our way through the clutter of useful information and less useful rhetoric. Those that have made some progress, like us, are still learning.

One thing is certain, Net Zero will remain to be a priority for the industry. The businesses in our sector who put the investment in now, will not only be future-proofing their businesses but creating a better world for future generations.

This article was first published in the ScaffMag Magazine Issue 15

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