An old proverb suggests that necessity is the mother of invention. This adage, routinely spouted to highlight periods of rapid technological progress that occur in the wake – or in the midst – of crises, implies that humans often require something of a catalyst to spark them into action.

Historically, eras of mass innovation and advancement have been borne of catastrophe; war, natural disaster or, as the Covid-19 calamity so effectively demonstrated, global pandemic, have been the providers of impetus.

Too often, it is only when presented with disaster that the need to act becomes an imperative, and such an approach to progress can only reap success for so long.

The climate crisis, arguably the most substantial issue that humanity has ever faced, is a clear example of the fact that choosing to address a problem head-on only when it is on the cusp of being irreversible is not especially wise.

The Role of Construction

Construction is a sector that has, over the last century, seen unprecedented levels of growth. As countries around the world continue to develop it has become increasingly necessary to expand and grow urban areas, which has resulted not only in the constructors themselves becoming indispensable, but also the materials they utilise.

As noted at the top of this article, necessity often gives way to intelligent ideas and abstract thinking. So, with that very firmly in mind, the idea of using cork as a material with which to build sustainable housing could prove to be a stroke of carbon-cutting genius.

Averting a Housing Sector Crisis

The fact that there is a global housing shortage is not new news. Estimates suggest that by the end of the current century a staggering two billion new homes will have to be built around the world, an issue that owes as much to the growing global population (an additional 3.6 billion will be residents of Earth by 2100) as it does the poor standard of housing currently accessible in many countries.

Let’s use England as an example. Research suggests that England alone requires at least three million ‘social’ homes to be built over the next 20 years. This means around 340,000 new properties will need to be created each year until 2031, a figure which far exceeds the government’s target of 300,000 new homes annually.

Retrofitting has its place, as does the development of more efficient processes, but these approaches are akin to placing a bandage over a hole in a dam – it may give the impression of being a feasible solution, but in reality, it is nothing more than a means of temporarily masking a considerable problem.


The housing sector, if it is to hit both assembly and environmental targets, cannot rely on minor modifications and marginal gains. In an ideal world, the global approach to housing would be completely altered, with the adoption of superior processes, sustainable practices and greener materials placed front and centre.

Could cork be a material that civil engineering firms rely on in years to come? Only time will tell.