According to the 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, the construction sector is responsible for almost 40 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. A large portion of these emissions arise from the manufacture and use of traditional building materials and products such as steel, cement and glass. For example, each year more than 4 billion tonnes of cement are produced, amounting to around 8 per cent of global CO2 emissions.

Using more sustainable building materials will reduce the negative impact of the construction sector on CO2 emissions and the environment in general. There is no objective standard as to what constitutes a sustainable material but relevant factors include recyclability, lifecycle emissions, transportation requirements and embodied energy (the sum of energy required during the lifecycle of a material from extraction to disposal). There are numerous readily available sustainable materials. For example: bamboo grows quickly and absorbs CO2, recycled plastic reduces waste, and recycled/reclaimed metal requires less energy for production than new metal, avoids the need for additional mining and preserves the world’s finite reserves of metal ores. Researchers are also in the process of developing novel sustainable building materials, including self-healing concrete.

A recent report published by the United Nations Environment Programme International Resource Panel has found that in G7 countries and China, material efficiency strategies, including the use of recycled materials, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the material cycle of residential buildings by at least 80 percent. Such findings demonstrate that building in an environmentally conscious manner has an important role to play in the fight against climate change.

As urban populations grow at an unprecedented rate, there could be as many as 6 billion people living in cities by 2050. This urban expansion will require substantial levels of construction, making it all the more urgent to implement new building solutions in order to meet this increased demand in a sustainable manner.


Clyde & Co is hosting energy and infrastructure-themed tables in The Chancery Lane Project's virtual legal hackathon, running from 23 September to 18 December 2020. This post is part of a series of updates posted during the hackathon on business-relevant climate initiatives and innovative solutions to some of the challenges arising from climate change in the Energy or Infrastructure industries.