The 2023 Sustainable Buildings Market Study: Unraveling the industry’s roadblocks

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The Danish engineering, architecture and consultancy group, Ramboll, have released the 2023 edition of their sustainable buildings market study and it has some interesting insights on what’s holding back sustainable development in the built environment.

The biennial study asks investors, developers, contractors, engineers, architects, and designers questions on the following:

  • Future trends and technology in the built environment
  • Drivers and barriers for sustainability
  • Circular economy strategies
  • Net Zero Carbon strategies
  • Certification schemes and benefits 
  • Data collection and reporting

Sustainability on the up

The study’s general findings show that sustainability is on the rise in the industry, with 98% of respondents agreeing that they consider sustainability important for success. This is an increase on 95% from 2021 and 94% from 2019.

The study highlighted that 30% of respondents claim their organisation reports on the EU taxonomy and that 61% have an increased focus on repurposing existing building stock, a significant increase on 49% in 2021.

These findings are positive and suggest that the industry is becoming more directed regarding climate strategy awareness and the need for reporting directives to promote transparent and responsible business practices.

The climate action gap

The study also highlighted another side of the story. Whilst 98% of respondents felt sustainability was important to business operations, only 50% had actually embedded net zero buildings into their organisation’s 2030 strategy.

This is an improvement on 30% from 2021 however still demonstrates a major disparity between awareness of the need for climate mitigation and the integration of specific strategies.

This gap shows the need to turn ‘ambition into action’ according to Ramboll’s director Scott Brookes. He further expressed his concern as the ‘gap between what is needed and what is agreed continues to grow and can only be addressed through collaboration and a joint commitment to a green transition’.

What’s holding the industry back?

The responses to prioritisation incentives and barriers offer some insight into the reasons for this action gap.

Unsurprisingly, respondents cited ‘higher investment costs’ as the biggest barrier preventing sustainability from being prioritised in their organisation. The IPCC has emphasised the need for increased investment to accelerate decarbonisation but fulfilling this need is clearly a challenge for many organisations. It’s difficult to encourage greater investment levels, however greater awareness of the long-term economic benefits and lower operational expenditures of sustainable strategies could be essential to closing the gap.

37% of respondents said a lack of political incentives and regulation was a barrier to sustainability. This raises questions about the need for more proactivity in governmental sustainable strategies when considering that 30% felt compliance with regulation and legislation was one of the 3 main incentives for prioritising sustainability in their organisation.

The study also had concerning findings on the ethos of sustainability in the industry. 37% of respondents stated business development as a primary prioritisation incentive, 39% stated stakeholder requirements and 29% stated developing company brand and image.

Given the substantial action gap, this serves as a reminder to avoid greenwashing, and that sustainable motivations need to rely on intrinsic principles of commitment to climate mitigation rather than extrinsic desires to promote business growth.

The other significant barriers included: a lack of general understanding of the sustainability agenda, a lack of trained sustainable buildings professionals and a lack of products, process tools and services that contribute to the sustainable profile of a building.

These more practical issues stress the need for platforms that make sustainable action more accessible and facilitate the utilisation of low-carbon, circular materials. Firstplanit helps address many of the issues highlighted in this study by calculating the sustainable impact of building projects so that developers can contribute to the sustainable profile of their buildings. The professional impact assessments and material evaluations provided by Firstplanit are directly linked to Sustainable Development Goals and oriented toward the sustainable agenda with expertise.

Learn More on Firstplanit

Click here to read about the new system created by Climate Emergency UK to assess the climate action of local councils.

If you’d like to learn more about how Firstplanit is helping close the climate action gap, explore our website.

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