The UK construction industry is now at the forefront of efforts to embrace the challenges created by climate change. From builders’ merchants and materials developers to contractors and housebuilders, we can be proud of the work our industry is doing to tackle the issue of decarbonisation.
However, in our rush to solve this environmental priority and decarbonise the built environment, we must not neglect the other side of the equation – encouraging biodiversity and embracing the opportunity to be nature net-positive.
Biodiversity is the name we give to the variety of all life on Earth or, as the Natural History Museum puts it: “from bacteria to baboons and plants to people”.
None of the world’s species and life forms exist in isolation – we all interact with each other and with the physical world around us. It is biological diversity that sustains life. Lose one area or element and the knock-on implications can be profound.
We all know that our industry makes huge demands on the natural environment. Extracting, refining, and producing building materials on an industrial scale places well-documented stresses on the environment.
It is therefore vital that industry leaders continue to take steps to reduce this impact. The building materials we use should meet the guidelines laid down in the Responsible Sourcing of Construction Products standard. Waste water on site should be reduced. And we should all be exploring the use of alternative fuels and signing up to circular economy waste-swap schemes.
But preventing the over-exploitation of the natural environment isn’t enough to protect biodiversity. We must do more to leave a positive legacy, not just a less bad one.
Take concrete, for example, that most staple of building products and the most commonly-used man-made material on earth. It is central to construction but very often seals the natural surface, hampering the ability of the built environment to cope with issues like flooding and overheating.
More and more land is under this threat. With the global urban population expected to hit five billion by 2030, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says an additional 100 million hectares of land will be covered up by housing, industry, transport networks and other infrastructure by 2050.
UK construction must take the lead on biodiversity
As part of the G7 Nature Compact, the UK has committed to halt and reverse the decline of the natural world by 2030. In May this year, the UK became the first country to commit to a legally binding target on species abundance for 2030.
The UK construction industry must take the lead on these issues – we should not wait to be told about the importance of biodiversity; we should be leading the debate and taking proactive steps to prioritise it.
J Murphy & Sons has signed up to the Get Nature Positive initiative and has sought to build more resilient infrastructure and minimise our impact on the natural world, working with our supply chain and clients to reduce landfill waste and cut material and water use, while increasing recycling opportunities and trialling new products with high levels of recycled content.
We’ve led on the Building and Infrastructure section of the Get Nature Positive Handbook because we believe there’s still plenty more that we can do. It’s a strong statement of intent that we will build on.
The decarbonisation of our industry is a battle we are winning but it is vital that don’t lose the war to protect biodiversity and the natural world in the process.
This isn’t an “either/or” debate. Carbon and nature are inextricably intertwined but it is imperative that biodiversity ranks alongside decarbonisation whenever we consider sustainability and the future of our planet.
For the UK construction sector, the challenge will be to turn talk into action. Signing up to the Get Nature Positive initiative is a step in the right direction that all companies can take. We must all ensure biodiversity becomes a keystone of our environmental policies.
Given that no nature means no business – we have no option.