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Navigating Carbon Reduction in Construction: Strategies and Innovations for Decarbonisation with Tom Robinson, Founder and CEO of Adaptavate

Updated: Apr 24


Decarbonisation of the World

This article has been created from the Construction Disrupted podcast - Episode 20 Decarbonisation Featuring Tom Robinson Founder and CEO of Adaptavate.


The construction sector faces a pivotal and what some see as a make-or-break challenge in reducing its carbon footprint. While decarbonisation has become a buzzword, implementing genuine strategies remains elusive, especially for organisations entrenched in traditional practices. To understand the path towards sustainable construction, here we’re delving into the many insights provided by Tom Robinson, founder of Adaptavate, a proclaimed ‘carbon business that operates in construction products’. One that is looking to do good environmentally, ethically and economically in the midst of complexities, opportunities, and the key principles driving low-carbon construction practices.


Decarbonisation

Decarbonisation initiatives often face scepticism, but genuine efforts are crucial in reshaping the construction industry's approach. Tom emphasises the importance of substantiating sustainability claims and embracing long-term benefits within this ‘fast-growing, highly dynamic market (carbon)’. The challenge lies in transitioning from inflated environmental promises to tangible strategies that reshape the current construction methodologies. 


Adaptavate (the company Tom leads and founded) aims to lead the industry in carbon-negative building products, advocating for industrial practices that benefit both the planet and the economy, ‘we’re putting carbon into building materials that people can use and specify, that are made on industrial processes for international deployment’ states Tom.


Adaptavate focuses on carbon capture and utilisation in construction materials on an international scale, through alternative commoditised products such as wallboard, wallboard plasters and plaster systems. These products and indeed the whole company were founded on the principles of doing good while thriving economically, ‘we’re a business that does good, first and foremost… and do well from an economic point of view as a by-product of doing good.’


From humble beginnings, Tom ‘saw an opportunity to really think about how we can change the (construction) industry’, while also maintaining focus and humility. In his own words, ‘Adaptavate is (looking) to become a business that is a force for good as well as doing well (economically).’


Key Principles for Low-Carbon Construction

Tom is a proponent of adhering to the key principles and practices that help in navigating low-carbon construction and the requirements that will need to be addressed on an industry-wide scale if we’re to stand any chance of achieving targets and making a difference. These key principles are;


Efficacy and Transparency:

Genuine efforts backed by transparency are essential for effective carbon reduction. ‘One of the main things that we talk about here in our business, is people, as teams, as a business and as an industry’ Tom states ‘We need a genuine understating and shared understanding of where we need to get to, how we're going to get there and what good looks like’.


Standards and Regulations: 

This first point for efficacy and transparency must be supported by standards. Standardisation on a global scale is crucial for setting benchmarks and guiding industry practices, which is starting to happen with ISO standards and European norms.


Industrialisation:

Implementing low-carbon solutions at an industrial level facilitates widespread adoption and scalability. Alongside the first two requirements (Efficacy/Transparency and Standards/Regulations) this can become a really powerful combination. Putting this into good practice, Adaptavate has commissioned a pilot line (and lab) to prove that the technology is truly scaleable at a global level.


Life Cycle Assessments:

Comprehensive assessments, including whole life cycle evaluations, provide insights into the environmental impact of materials and construction processes underpinned by EPDs to deliver the transparent, verified, and comprehensive breakdown that is required.


Achievability of Decarbonisation Goals

The construction industry, known for its resistance to change, must overcome traditional mindsets to embrace decarbonisation. Integrating innovative solutions into various facets of construction, from product development to logistics, is essential, a must-happen, due to the growth that is projected in terms of the people on the planet, the additional resources that come alongside this growth, compounded by the heightened expectations on the standards of living which will inevitably increase carbon emissions and the effect on climate.


Despite challenges, achieving decarbonisation goals is feasible through concerted efforts. Incremental improvements across multiple areas can collectively drive significant change but ‘in what timeframe we don’t know and that’s the ticking time bomb we don’t know about’ mentions Tom, however, with the government's self-imposed 2050 deadline, we do have a target.


Tom’s optimism shines through here, stating ‘We’ll be making (significantly) lower carbon buildings in ten years’ time, there’s no doubt about it’. This inspirational optimism can only go so far and actions will be needed in three strategic areas, each one having a major influence on the achievability of an influx in lower carbon buildings and reaching any targets, the government set or not;


Regulatory Incentives:

Regulatory measures, such as carbon taxes, incentivise businesses to prioritise carbon reduction.


Fiscal Incentives:

Financial incentives tied to carbon reduction goals encourage proactive measures within organisations, of which we’re starting to see remuneration around these types of goals.


Technological Advancements:

Advances in technology, coupled with consumer demand for sustainable products, drive innovation in construction practices.


Integrated Approach to Transformation

The final and most critical question here is how to start transforming an industry from one that is carbon-heavy, to a decarbonised sector. To gain any form of traction in this type of transformation, the obvious answer according to Tom is ‘an integrated system’. Transformation towards low-carbon construction necessitates an integrated approach which includes 1% gains, which Tom knows well, with an Adaptavate mantra being ‘it’s those 1%ers that really get us where we’re going.’ 


Although there are no silver bullets to any of this, there are silver threads that Tom shared as four fundamental features that will make an impact within construction going forward:


Product Innovation:

Developing carbon-negative building materials and innovative construction techniques.


Design Optimisation:

Incorporating sustainable design principles to minimise environmental impact.


Workforce Education: 

Educating industry professionals on sustainable practices and technologies.


Logistics Optimisation:

Streamlining supply chains and construction processes to minimise carbon emissions.


Although these four factors will be massively impactful as they cover the majority of the constriction supply chain, there is still one single factor that we need to all consider, one that we can all do and all benefit from, ‘become more aware’ says Tom and ‘be curious’ on a whole variety of levels within your own ecosystem.


Decarbonising an Industry

The journey towards carbon reduction in construction requires collaborative efforts, innovative solutions, and a commitment to sustainable practices. By embracing transparency, adhering to standards, and fostering industrialisation, the construction industry can pave the way towards a greener future. With proactive measures and collective action, achieving low-carbon construction goals is not only possible but imperative for the well-being of our planet and future generations.

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