Key messages
  • The global value chain of construction and buildings has high environmental and socio-economic impacts; these impacts will shift and grow as urbanization and population increase globally and locally.
  • Decisions made by stakeholders operating at early stages of the value chain affect impacts
    throughout the whole value chain; those operating later in the value chain have limited opportunities to reduce their impacts.
  • Given the fragmentation and complexity of the value chain, policy interventions need to target regulations, finance and technology, while increasing the capacity of stakeholders to make more sustainable decisions.

As part of the Stockholm+50 international meeting in June 2022, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in partnership with Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Stockholm+50 Secretariat have partnered to highlight how global value chains must change for a more sustainable future. As a contribution to this work, the Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT) Secretariat (hosted by SEI) has synthesized three influential reports, from the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Resource Panel (IRP) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This synthesis, with added insights from LeadIT research, distils the challenges that must be addressed and steps that could transform the global construction value chain.

The world’s growing global population and increasing urbanization will require better infrastructure with fewer environmental and climate impacts in order to reach the climate mitigation targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Currently, the construction sector alone accounts for 50% of global resource extraction, making it the most material-intensive sector in the world; it contributes to a number of sustainability crises, such as biodiversity loss, water scarcity and deforestation.

In this brief we adopt a value-chain approach to understand where major challenges and opportunities for sustainability occur in the construction and buildings sectors, and how these could be shaped through decisions made at different stages. Based on this analysis, we present policy recommendations for a sustainable transition in the construction sector.

Policy interventions will need to engage and influence multiple stakeholders at different stages along the value chain, and at local, national and global scales. We identify five high-level, interconnected areas where concerted interventions have the potential to bring about a step-change in the transition of the construction sector: transparent and systematic data, material efficiency and innovation, green public procurement, and urban planning.