Market overview

Confronting the universal engineering challenges of tomorrow's urban environment

Market overview

Built environment refers to the man-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity. This from personal shelter and buildings to neighbourhoods and cities and their supporting infrastructure, water supply and energy networks. At its heart, environment provides the means for man to modify the natural environment to live, work and play.

Global landscape

More than 50% of the world’s population (over 3 billion people) are now living in urban environments and this number is rising rapidly. In China alone, some 300 million people will move from the countryside to the cities in the next decade1.

At the same time there is increasing pressure, particularly in the developed world to lower the carbon footprint of the built environment through more efficient construction, commissioning and use of buildings and their integration into the local community.

A population shift the size of China’s has not been seen before. This provides a new set of challenges to scientists, engineers and technicians. Issues such as increasing energy consumption, air and water pollution and transport overload are all problems that would need to be addressed as a result.

The UK construction and built environment industry contributes 8.2% to the UK economy. Businesses in this area offer a range of roles but are currently facing difficult conditions due to the recession. The industry covers:

  • property building (private, industrial and commercial buildings)
  • developing infrastructure (roads, railways, utilities)
  • architecture and civil engineering
  • plumbing
  • demolition
  • surveying

There are potential environmental pressures and opportunities for the sector which include the carbon reduction commitment, corporate social responsibility (CSR), Climate Change Levy and a new Green Deal for commercial and public buildings.

The UK construction industry tends to follow the performance of the economy very closely. When economic conditions improve, there is little time delay before new construction orders are received. The downturn in the economy in 2007 (see graph) largely reflects a decrease in construction orders and as the economy improves, a general rise in construction orders is expected.

UK Construction orders graph

The scarcity of natural resources is a growing concern for the industry as urban populations continue to grow.

The downturn in the UK economy has slightly alleviated the impact on natural resource consumption. The quantity of natural resources used by the UK construction economy fell by 6.6% to 635 million tonnes between 2007 and 20082. As market conditions improve, the world will be looking to the engineering community to provide solutions for better utilisation of these scarce resources as well as finding new intelligent forms of recycling.

Domestic housing

The UK domestic housing market currently consumes around a third of the overall power generated. This factor plays a key role in the Government’s low carbon emission strategy.

New builds benefit from energy saving technologies at the design stage including material choice, environment control systems and energy efficient fixtures and fittings.

The renovation of existing homes and listed properties remains challenging when it comes to improving their performance. The Green Deal for homes, introduced by the current coalition Government, is changing the market significantly by offering a financial package set against the deeds to install energy saving technologies. This is intended to revolutionise the market and will have a significant effect on sector practitioners.