The construction sector faces a carbon emergency, contributing to 40% of global CO2 emissions and accounting for 40% of Europe’s energy demand. The journey toward decarbonization is challenging, and a significant part of it relies on one crucial factor: data.

  • In 2021, $237 billion was invested in the energy efficiency of buildings, marking a 16% increase from the previous year. The sector’s emissions intensity also decreased from 43 kgs of CO2 per sqm in 2015 to 40 in 2021—a positive development, right? Unfortunately, this improvement is entirely offset by a surge in floor space. According to the UN Environment Programme, the increase in global gross floor area between 2015 and 2021 is equivalent to the total land area covered by buildings in Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands—a sobering comparison.
  • When considering the sector’s environmental impact, the construction process stands out as a significant contributor. Materials such as concrete, steel, or cement contribute to approximately 9% of energy-related CO2 emissions worldwide, and the total use of raw materials is projected to double by 2060. Addressing emissions in this domain has become a priority, prompting numerous public and private entities to take substantial steps toward enhanced circularity and recycling.
  • To significantly reduce a building’s environmental impact and choose the most sustainable construction materials, it is crucial to have comprehensive knowledge of the CO2 emissions associated with those materials. In a recent collaboration with Kompozite, a material library supporting low-carbon construction, Saint-Gobain Distribution Bâtiment France has started incorporating carbon data for key items in its product listings. Each listing now directs users to INIES, France’s regulatory environmental and health database for construction, enabling professionals to make more sustainable material choices. As of last month, carbon details are available for 100,000 references, a number expected to reach 140,000 by the end of the year.
  • But materials represent only the tip of the iceberg. Annually, building operations, which include lighting, heating, A/C, and more, contribute to 27% of global carbon emissions, making the operational phase three times more impactful than the construction itself. Unfortunately, the trajectory is not encouraging. According to the UN’s Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC), in 2021, the building sector’s operational energy-related CO2 emissions reached an all-time high of around 10 GtCO2.
  • It is therefore crucial to expand carbon footprint evaluations to every stage of a building’s life cycle, from extraction of construction materials to operations, maintenance, and, ultimately, demolition. In this regard, the life cycle analysis (LCA) methodology is an invaluable tool, allowing for a comprehensive assessment of a building’s footprint over its lifespan. In 2020, LCAs became mandatory for all new construction projects in France under the RE2020 law, to ensure they remain within set GHG emission thresholds. And several countries around Europe have already adopted similar legislation. A step in the right direction, equipping stakeholders across the construction industry with the data needed to make informed decisions for a more sustainable future!

Innovation station

Last year, glass manufacturing released 95 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

  • At its Forssa plant in Finland, in operation since 1971, Saint-Gobain Technical Insulation is pushing the boundaries of sustainability. Its latest find: manufacturing glass wool with 85% recycled glass, coming from either glass bottles or float cullet.
  • This makes Saint-Gobain Finland the largest user of recycled glass in the country! And Forssa is not stopping there: it is decarbonizing every step of its production process, slashing its scope 1 and 2 CO2 emissions by 82%! Watch to find out more

Window to the future

Think innovation is only about technology? Research shows it is much more than that.

  • In an eye-opening article, Dominique Desjeux, an anthropology professor at Univ Paris Diderot, argues that innovation almost always stems from crises, whether they be economic, social, military, logistical, or health- or climate-related. Working on innovation means analysing the way societies evolve and identifying who stands to win or lose from such change. Thus, innovating for the green transition will imply understanding the invisible social dynamics at hand. Food for thought!

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