What construction needs now: fresh thinking from Zero

Image: 42704812 © Zlikovec |
James Bowles teases the launch of a new initiative to address construction’s approach to sustainability, Zero, which is due to launch at Digital Construction Week on 24 November.

Construction is full of amazing people: people with brilliant ideas, innovations, and visions of the future – just what our industry needs as we head into new challenges.

However, we’re not an industry that adopts new ideas at speed: we’re an industry with a longstanding reluctance to invest in innovation and technology. We need to change this if we’re going to change at the pace we need.

Arguably the biggest change we need is a rapid reduction in our carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. This will take a collective effort from everyone in our industry and reimagining of almost everything we do. The construction of cities, buildings, and infrastructure accounts for at least 11%* of total global emissions, at more than 3 billion tonnes per year. We can and will reduce this figure, but we need to do it quickly.

Earlier this year, a few industry colleagues and I started talking about this topic, specifically, about how to promote and support the innovations our industry needs. The group has grown and this week we officially launch at Digital Construction Week as Zero.

We’re an open working group from a wide range of backgrounds, specialisms, and locations. Our vision of the future is an industry that places great importance on carbon efficiency – an industry that continuously measures and manages carbon through all project stages, basing project decisions on CO2e emissions, not just cost, time, quality and safety.

Zero will use our collective expertise to research topics and explore new ideas, and then share them with a wide audience. We’ll be sharing original content in the form of articles, podcasting, and running regular technical workshops and webinars. We want to raise awareness of the issues, and how we can all improve.

Our topics will include material selection, construction methods, finance and contracts, innovation and technology, diversity and collaboration, logistics, DfMA and many others.

Membership is free and registration is open at

*United Nations Environment Programme, 2019 Global Status report for Buildings and Construction. Sources do vary on these figures. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus or accounting for all construction activities and up-front carbon from projects. This is one of the topics that we’ll be researching.

James Bowles is founder of Freeform, the 4D modelling specialist, and a core member of Zero.

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