The news has been awash with COP26 for the last couple of weeks, but there are two takeaways that have resonated strongly as the event has progressed.
1 It's not enough - even if ALL promises are kept and targets met 100% by ALL nations, we'll still be on track for warming over 2 degrees Celsius - well above the 1.5 degree pledge
2 This really is a 'now' problem, not a future one, and especially for island nations, with Tuvalu's climate minister saying his country is 'literally sinking'.
With carbon pledges being both welcomed and scrutinised, our thoughts turned to the microsteps we all take to reduce carbon consumption in our homes. We buy pre-loved. We recycle, reuse and refill. We buy from transparent companies who tell us all the good things they do, and whose values align with our own. We do all this to reduce our household impact, but how sustainable was the process by which our homes themselves were built, and by which our future homes will be built?
The construction industry is responsible for 38% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 62% of the UK’s waste. Every building therefore has a massive lifetime carbon footprint - more than half which can be emitted before we even move in. But from the way housing developers talk about their new homes, you wouldn’t believe it.
Indeed, the terminology they’re using these days is getting so persuasive that you’d be forgiven for thinking that many new buildings in the UK are created sustainable. It’s difficult to find a new build that doesn’t claim to be ‘green’, ‘eco’ or ‘low-carbon’ these days, with over 540,000 buildings now having a BREEAM sustainability rating applauding their environmental performance.
But things aren’t quite as they seem. You see, most sustainability award schemes place their emphasis on ‘operational emissions’ associated with a building’s use - like lighting, heating and electricity. That means that a new building that’s well insulated, has an efficient heating system and uses energy-saving light bulbs will be labelled ‘sustainable’, regardless of whether its actual construction was environmentally friendly. What’s more, if the building has bike storage and electric vehicle charging points, its rating is likely to be even higher – even if they’re never actually used.
In the scheme of things, then, how important are the microsteps we go out of our way to take in our homes? Do they really make a difference, when the bigger picture totally overshadows them? After all, the carbon saved by refilling or buying pre-loved is tiny in comparison with the carbon used to build our homes in the first place.
To this, we say: “It’s only one straw, said 8 billion people.”
In other words, the small actions of many people add up to huge change when we all pull together to do our bit.
Kate & Louise
Co-founders now, sit down