By Stephen Boyle, Manager – Built Environment, Zero Waste Scotland 

As the construction industry accounts for a significant portion of global carbon emissions, experts and policymakers are calling for regulatory changes to reduce carbon in Scotlands buildings and infrastructure. In this article, we will explore the key regulatory changes proposed by industry experts and how they can contribute to achieving net zero targets. 

Low/zero carbon materials: a legislative requirement 

One of the primary regulatory changes being advocated for is the mandatory use of low or zero carbon materials in construction projects. Experts argue that this requirement should be embedded in the planning approval process, rather than being mere guidance. By setting targets for the use of low carbon materials, such as a requirement for all materials to have the lowest carbon content by 2045, the market can be incentivised to shift towards more sustainable practices. Additionally, the introduction of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) can provide standardised information on the environmental impact of building materials, further supporting the adoption of low carbon alternatives. 

Incorporating embodied carbon into building regulations 

To address the ecological impact of construction, experts propose the inclusion of embodied carbon targets into building regulations. Embodied carbon refers to the total carbon emissions associated with the materials consumed over the entire lifecycle of a building, including the extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and disposal of construction materials. By mandating specific targets for embodied carbon reduction, the industry can be compelled to prioritise sustainable design and construction practices. The introduction of a Demolition Fund, as proposed by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), can also incentivise the industry to reduce waste and promote the recovery and reuse of materials. 

Heat in buildings standard: phasing out fossil fuel heating 

Another crucial aspect of achieving net zero emissions is the phasing out of fossil fuel heating in buildings. Energy efficiency standards for both domestic and non-domestic buildings need to be established, with a clear timeline for the replacement or purchase of fossil fuel heating systems. 

PAS 2080: managing carbon in our buildings 

The application of PAS 2080, a standard for managing carbon in building and infrastructure, should be made mandatory in procurement processes and government spending on infrastructure projects. By aligning procurement practices with low carbon objectives, the industry can drive innovation and accelerate the transition to sustainable solutions. 

Enabling framework and stakeholder engagement 

Implementing these regulatory changes requires a cohesive approach and engagement with key stakeholders in the built environment sector. Industry supported initiatives, such as Plan Z and the Scottish Construction Accord, have already shown industry support for regulatory changes. However, it is crucial to garner wider support and ensure that industry organisations publicly advocate for these changes through media platforms and consultation responses. 

Transitioning from lowest cost to lowest carbon 

A fundamental shift in the industrys mindset is necessary to prioritise sustainability over cost. The focus should move from the lowest cost to the lowest carbon and environmental impact. This can be achieved by introducing incentives and mechanisms such as carbon credits which can be traded and shared, encouraging the adoption of low carbon materials and practices. 

Implementation and appropriate benefits 

Accelerating the transition to net zero will result in reduced carbon emissions, introduction of new low carbon materials, and increased investment in sustainable construction practices. By setting clear targets and mandating their implementation through building regulations and government guidance, the industry will be compelled to adapt and innovate. Examples from other countries, such as France, Ireland, and the Netherlands, showcase the positive impacts of similar regulations on reducing embodied carbon and promoting sustainable building practices. 

A call for cohesion and support 

To ensure successful implementation, a cohesive approach is needed, bringing together various groups working towards the same goal. Simplifying the process for industry stakeholders is crucial, as they face numerous challenges in adapting to new regulations. Providing a data platform that assesses the current carbon footprint of buildings and offers guidance on achieving zero carbon standards can support the industry in adopting sustainable practices. Collaboration with government agencies and access to funding can further incentivise and support businesses in their transition to a low carbon future. 

Positive impact of existing regulations and standards 

Several existing regulations and standards in the built environment sector have transformed industry practices and can serve as examples for achieving net zero ambitions. Initiatives such as landfill taxes, producer responsibility on packaging, the Passivhaus Equivalent Bill, Circular Economy Bill, and Net Zero Public Sector Building Standards can play a crucial role in lowering energy demand, reducing emissions, and promoting healthier buildings. 


The journey towards achieving net zero emissions in Scotlands built environment requires bold regulatory changes. By mandating the use of low/zero carbon materials, incorporating embodied carbon targets into building regulations, and phasing out fossil fuel heating, the industry can significantly reduce its carbon footprint. Engaging key stakeholders and providing the necessary support and incentives will be crucial in driving this transition. With a cohesive approach and the adoption of best practices from existing regulations, Scotland can lead the way in creating a sustainable and resilient built environment for future generations.