29 November 2021 • 5 min

Built to Be Green – Small Changes Build Big Results

Highlighting Opportunities & Latest Developments in Ireland's Built Environment

By Anneke Taylor, Trade Adviser - Construction & Infrastructure Ireland, Department for International Trade (DIT)

Great Technology

11 November 2021 marked Cities, Regions & Built Environment Day at COP26. For years, we have all been making small changes to improve our individual carbon footprints. Use a re-usable coffee cup when you get a take-out coffee, turn off lights when leaving a room, bring a reusable bag to the shops instead of using new plastic bags each time, walk or cycle for short journeys rather than drive.  

Our built environment accounts for 38% of global carbon emissions – what changes can we make in our buildings to improve efficiency? 


On 4 November, the Irish Government published the renewed Climate Action Plan setting out the 250 action items required to half Ireland’s emissions by 2030 and to attain net zero by 2050. This followed the Climate Change Advisory Council releasing their first carbon budget just a week earlier to ensure targets will be met each year until 2030. Following the same principles as the swaps we’ve been making over the past few years, a significant onus will be placed on households to reduce their emissions, highlighting that individuals can collectively have an impact on climate change. How can the UK support Irish construction companies, homeowners and public bodies in achieving this? 



Ireland’s Climate Action Plan highlights the need for homeowners to take action to decarbonise their homes. The launch of the National Retrofit Scheme in Ireland will see 500,000 homes retrofitted to BER B2 and also the installation of 600,000 heat pumps by 2030. Grants of up to 35% are available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to help with deep retrofits in our homes and a loan scheme is about to be launched, but this is still a major decision that can require a large cost up-front and upheaval during the project, even if the end result is a warmer home and lower fuel bills.  

For those who are not in the position to re-insulate their homes, small actions can contribute to a more efficient and warmer household. For example, LED lighting uses 75% less energy than incandescent lighting. The simple step of switching lightbulbs can be carried out by renters and home-owners alike as a means of using less electricity and keeping costs low. Equally, sealing windows can help prevent heat from escaping our homes – a means that is accessible to renters.  

Another means of retaining heat is to use radiator reflectors. Heatkeeper supplies reflective panels that have been specially designed to be easy to fit without needing to remove radiators. Their unique shape creates convection currents which improve heat circulation and creates a protective barrier between the wall and radiator so heat is not lost. 


Low Carbon Energy

Great innovation

The average Irish home emits 60% more CO2 than the EU average. This is largely due to Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels to heat our homes (70% homes), as well as our collective love of sitting around a warm fireplace on a cold night. Implementing low-carbon heating appliances in new and older homes has the potential to be a major contributor to reaching net-zero by 2050. The National Smart Meter Programme aims to install 2.4 million smart meters by the end of 2024, and this will help households to manage energy use and ultimately lower emissions, but what else can we do?  


Our oil and gas boilers are tuned to heat all water in the tank, irrespective of how much is needed for a quick shower or to do the dishes. UK companies are coming up with solutions to combat this and only heat what is needed. Mixergy have developed a smart cloud connected water cylinder to help address the challenges of decarbonisation and heat only the amount that is required. Their cylinders are capable of operating multiple renewable energy sources including solar and heat pumps, as well as working with existing sources. Heat pumps, such as those manufactured by Clade Engineering, are another alternative heat source that have a low climate impact while not compromising on high performance.  

Similarly, Wondrwall has created an intelligent home automation system that is powered by solar panels and uses battery storage to operate efficiently. The system uses AI to heat and light rooms based on occupancy, reaching lower heats in rooms that aren’t used during particular hours and turning off lights that are unused.  



The construction sector is a significant emitter of carbon through the manufacture of materials and the building process itself. In Ireland, the Housing for All Scheme has committed to building 30,000 new homes a year in order to meet demand, in addition to building data centres, commercial centres and infrastructure. At the same time, the global building sector needs to decarbonise by 2050 to maximise the chances of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC. 

Several UK based companies are paving the way in reducing emissions for the construction process, including Concrete Canvas who use 95% less product than conventional concrete and has a 45% lower Global Warming Potential value.  

Reducing the amount of waste on site can also have a major impact on reducing emissions. Applying the “make do and mend” principle, APL Midlands repair damaged formwork equipment and TraffiGlove have created the world’s first carbon neutral hand protection that is both durable and biodegradable, saving 24 tonnes in carbon per year. Other companies, like Swiss Facades, are repurposing waste products and using them to create building materials that are 100% recyclable and use EVs in their factories as a further means of reducing emissions.  


Using Technology

London Photo

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in our use of technology. Digital meeting platforms have removed the need to travel to our offices or to meeting with clients, which as well as reducing expenses surrounding travel has increased productivity and lowered carbon emissions associated with a car or plane journey. Technology has also removed the need for using paper in our processes – an example of this is Vu.City, who have created a 3D platform that removes the need for paper in planning and also gives an accurate model of an entire cityscape.  


IES’ CEO presented in the Buildings Pavilion of COP26 to showcase the power of digitalisation for a decarbonised built environment. They harness technology and digital twins to ensure the energy efficiency of buildings as decisions are made through the building process. Often buildings are designed with the best intentions to the greatest ratings, but availability of items means that high quality materials may get swapped during the process. IES’s software monitors the building throughout the construction process to ensure standards are maintained, and also the efficiency of the building when it is operational.  

Ireland’s carbon budget is a prime example of how small steps build to big results. The first iteration of this budget aims for emissions to reduce by 4.8% per year until 2025, and increasing to an average of 8.3% from 2026 until 2030. These small percentages will add up to a 51% reduction by 2030, but in a way that breaks a radical change into more manageable items. In the same way that our individual actions in daily life create less waste, these small swaps in our buildings and the construction process have the potential to lower a large proportion of our overall emissions and build a better, cleaner future for the generations to come.  

To learn more about UK capability for a greener built environment, contact DIT’s Clean Growth team to find out more or view our upcoming events page to see current opportunities in Clean Growth. You can also reach out to the Trade team at the British Embassy Dublin or follow us on Twitter.