Achieving net zero requires group effort

The MD of kitchen and bathroom wall panel and surface supplier Rearo, Graham Mercer, on the challenges faced by the industry moving towards net zero and how we all need to play our part to achieve it

The landscape of sustainable business practices in the UK construction sector has been evolving for several years, as more companies prioritise ethical sourcing and environmentally-friendly procurement.

Companies have been encouraged to help combat climate change by reducing their carbon footprints and many have had to think laterally and creatively about ways of cutting emissions.

While businesses are generally willing to introduce such changes – and proud of their achievements in helping the country seek to achieve its net zero targets – reform does not come cheaply.

Transitioning to new, greener materials often means absorbing additional costs. Working towards digital first, energy-efficient practices can involve significant outlay for new equipment and, while relocating or reshoring production might make economic sense during the lifetime of a company, it can mean some having to take a short-term financial hit.

Working towards net zero necessitates buy-in from everyone and if one company, organisation, or sector, isn’t committed, it can thwart the ambitions and work of those who are. Projects often involve a large number of contractors and subcontractors. Unless everyone involved is singing from the same, sustainable hymn sheet, the contribution of the entire project can be compromised.

Collective transition

Resistance to change is a thread woven through some parts of the construction industry, particularly in those where traditional practices have been ingrained over a considerable time.

Embracing change is a prerequisite for progress, especially in the context of addressing climate change. Just as much of the industry has transitioned from using oil and gas to renewable energy sources, the same transition must now take place, away from unsustainable materials to more environmentally friendly alternatives. This pivot necessitates a willingness to challenge established norms and beliefs for the greater good.

As a supplier of high-pressure laminate wall panels and worktops to a range of businesses, we have played our part.

We now source most of our plywood from Scandinavia instead of Russia – shortening the supply chain by a considerable distance – and we have recently embarked on a switch in favour of more the sustainable medium density fibreboard (MDF) as an alternative source material for our products. Because plywood production involves cutting down trees, not only does it contribute to the existing issue of deforestation, but it also releases substantial carbon dioxide emissions.

In contrast, MDF is made from recycled wood fibres and it doesn’t require the same level of deforestation, making it a more environmentally-friendly alternative.

The switch to MDF aligns with a larger movement to more sustainable materials and methods that prioritises responsible resource management. Such a transition has not been made without challenges – some businesses and customers still perceive plywood as a higher-quality material, despite evidence to the contrary.

This shift in perception requires a concerted effort by industry players to change the narrative and demonstrate that sustainability and quality are not mutually exclusive.

The transition to sustainable practices often involves navigating the complexities of cost and quality differences. While some businesses might perceive traditional practices as better-quality, this perspective may not always align with reality.

It’s essential to recognise that making small changes in production methods, even if there are marginal differences in quality and cost, can yield significant environmental benefits over time.

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