• The FMB has 13,000 members.
• It is at the forefront of the Get Britain Building campaign.
• The majority of FMB’s members are involved in refurbishment work.
• Builders are still sceptical about claims made of sustainable building products.

Local builders are often seen by those further up the supply chain as uninterested in green issues or sustainable construction. As we progress rapidly towards a carbon-driven economy, how are attitudes changing amongst builders?

The 13,000-strong Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has been at the forefront of recent publicity to Get Britain Building. It has also launched a Building a Greener Britain campaign to emphasise the role of the builder in reducing carbon emissions from existing housing stock through refurbishment.

Brian Berry, external affairs director at the FMB, said there’s a growing awareness of builders’ positive role in fulfilling UK targets on CO2 reduction. “We’re trying to define how best builders can play a part in making low carbon buildings a reality whilst simultaneously identifying business opportunities for our members. Buildings account for 47% of UK carbon emissions, not just in their materials but also in the way they are built and used.”

Zero Carbon Homes

The FMB supports the Zero Carbon Homes concept but feels the current definition is too strict to be implemented by 2016, given the current recession in construction. “It’s not the right time to add costs to a building project and we feel the low carbon approach does add costs,” Brian Berry explains. “We also want a clearer definition of zero carbon and we’re encouraging members to take part in the government’s consultation. We don’t see how a home can ever be zero carbon since in-use carbon will be emitted at some point in the building’s life. You can also have a well-built house but the transport to site of the building materials, for example the timber frame, can impact the overall carbon rating.

“The majority of our members are involved in refurbishment work and government thinking here has been less joined up than on new build. Our research with Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute last year shows a potential energy efficiency-related refurbishment market value of between £3.5-6bn if government policies, skills strategies and financial incentives can be directed towards existing housing stock. We have also been lobbying government to cut VAT to 5% on home upgrades.”

The UK’s 26 million existing homes account for 27% of all UK carbon emissions, and form the focal point of the Building a Greener Britain campaign.

Carbon labelling

As yet the FMB has not had reaction from members on the possible carbon labelling of building products. “In the current climate most builders are focused on the need to bring in work and to keep costs down, though members were most exercised by the cost implications of introducing the London Low Emissions Zone. As the carbon labelling debate enlarges, we will equally receive and promote their views.”

With regard to purchasing sustainable building products, Mr Berry feels that FMB members still prefer to go with materials and products they understand: “Builders are sceptical about claims of sustainable building products. One of our biggest challenges is to inform our members and help them explore what’s out there. Consumers can help to drive this by asking their builder for sustainable materials, though improving the builder’s skill set is equally important.”

FMB southern regional director Hayley Fry has been running pilot sustainability workshops, leading to a nationally-recognised qualification in sustainable construction. “We developed the workshop format with Constructing Excellence. The feedback from members attending has been excellent in terms of practical content and relevancy to everyday work. Timber windows were on the agenda, and members’ recognition of sustainable timber topics can only increase as we progress.”

The workshops are part of an holistic approach to sustainable construction which the FMB is developing, to ensure business opportunities for its members. It is also talking to the Association of Environment-Conscious Builders with a view to forming joint approaches to key climate change issues. “We believe we’re just at the beginning of a green revolution and a low carbon journey that will continue throughout the 21st century,” said Mr Berry. “Eventually we will all live and work in a low-carbon environment. Every business will need to make changes, including reducing travel and transport, until we can find solutions that are less damaging to the environment. Such changes will have a profound impact on the way we do business.”