Businesses face a challenge in moving to new manufacturing methods, adapting to new materials and finding new ways of working

Scotland’s ambitious target of reaching net zero by 2045 is in the spotlight more than ever before with the eyes of the world on Cop26. While all industries are under pressure to play their role in helping Scotland reach net zero emissions – and the rest of the UK by 2050 – construction faces its own specific set of challenges.

Mark Macaulay of Dentons’ Glasgow office highlights three key areas where the construction industry can help the UK reach its targets. These are, firstly, the transition to using carbon-efficient methods of construction and materials; secondly, decarbonising the UK’s heat supply; and thirdly, adapting buildings to withstand increasingly extreme climatic conditions.

Macaulay says: “The industry must find ways to reduce carbon emissions in construction materials and the way in which it builds. Current techniques for manufacturing common materials, such as steel and concrete, produce considerable carbon emissions.”

On the second point, he explains that the UK’s efforts to decarbonise its heat supply will require a radical shift to lower carbon forms of energy. He refers to government proposals to encourage this shift. There is the UK Government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution that envisages a massive scaling-up of the nation’s heat pump sector, enabling buildings to use renewable and other low carbon electricity. Westminster’s build back better plan puts the case for a “thriving low carbon hydrogen sector” to create a “cleaner, greener energy system”.

The UK hydrogen Strategy sets a goal for low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, and, most recently, the UK Government published its Heat and Buildings Strategy that “sets out how the UK will decarbonise our homes, and our commercial, industrial and public sector buildings” and its broader Net Zero Strategy.

On the third area, Macaulay’s colleague, Tracey Summerell, adds: “A key challenge is how to design new buildings and retrofit existing buildings to maximise their carbon efficiency and adapt them to the more extreme weather events we’re experiencing.”

Summerell warns that many in the construction industry will find it demanding to meet these goals. “For some, acknowledging that climate change is here, and needs to be addressed now, will require a change
of mindset. Businesses need to invest time and money into researching new methods of construction, technology, carbon-efficient materials and new ways of working and collaborating with supply chains.”

According to Macaulay: “The UK and Scottish governments must also implement policies and funding strategies to support the industry both in reducing carbon emissions across the supply chain and in enabling the wholesale retrofitting of existing properties – a process that has already started.”

For example, the Scottish Government in July outlined the country’s contribution to preventing warming of more than 1.5C as part of its 100 days to Cop26 publication.

And industry bodies are already playing their part, such as the Scottish Construction Leadership Forum with its Recovery Plan and the Construction Leadership Council with, for example, its CO2nstructZero campaign.

Macaulay says: “Those who do not adapt their business practices will come under increasing pressure from their customers and the general public, who will hold them accountable in the national – and global – drive to reach net zero targets. Those who fail to act in the face of such pressure could find their reputation and commercial interests damaged.

“Potentially the biggest trigger for action will come if and when government moves to shift more of the burden of public support for low carbon technologies from electricity to gas bills, as it appears to be starting to do.”

Dentons is helping clients understand the framework of international agreements and treaties and the domestic legislation and regulation that governs climate change. Macaulay explains that adapting early to change can enable: the development of new, potentially lucrative supply chain relationships; more rapid scaling-up of new products and processes; costs reduction in the longer term; and an enhanced reputation and ability to win work and attract the best staff.

“We help prepare businesses for future new or stricter legislation and policies in the Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance sphere and their transition to working methods and a sustainable and low carbon business culture. It is far preferable to adapt to new working methods now, than wait until they are imposed through regulation,” explains Macaulay.

In terms of how the current climate summit in Glasgow can help the construction industry meet net zero, he says: “It’s widely accepted that the construction process emits a significant percentage of the UK’s carbon emissions. Cop26 could be a very necessary wake-up call for those who are unaware of their
own or their supply chain’s carbon footprint.”

Summerell concludes: “As a last word to industry leaders, do not forget or underestimate the role that younger employees can play in this shift. Businesses without a robust net zero policy may find it hard to attract young talent. Younger generations’ desire for change is strong and, in some cases, militant. Ignore them at your peril. Their energy and different perspective combined with your experience could produce innovative ideas and solutions.”

For further information and to contact our team – environmental-social-and-governance

The Construction Industry’s Zero Carbon Change Programme


  • Accelerating the shift of the construction workforce to zero emission vehicles and onsite plant
  • Optimise the use of modern methods of construction and improved onsite logistics, in doing so reducing waste and transport to sites
  • Championing developments and infrastructure investments that both enable connectivity with low carbon modes of transport and design to incorporate readiness for zero emission vehicles


  • Implementingcarbonmeasurement, to support our construction projects in making quantifiable decisions to remove carbon
  • Becomeworldleadersindesigningout carbon, developing the capability of our designers and construction professionals to design in line with circular economy, shifting commercial models to reward measurable carbon reductions
  • Supportdevelopmentofinnovative low-carbon materials as well as advancing low-carbon solutions for manufacturing production processes and distribution


  • Work with government to deliver retrofitting to improve energy efficiency of the existing housing stock
  • Scale up industry capability to deliver low carbon heat solutions in buildings, supporting heat pump deployment, trials of hydrogen heating systems and heat networks
  • Enhancing the energy performance of new and existing buildings through higher operational energy efficiency standards and better building energy performance

Source: CO2nstructZero Priorities – Construction Leadership Council