This year’s UK Construction Week, being held in Birmingham from the 4-6th October, will see its first ever dedicated Net Zero area.
The organisers aim is to showcase the latest building methods and innovation which can help the construction industry get to net zero. There are a number of industry initiatives – from CO2nstructZero and Part Z to the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) and the UK’s first Net Zero Carbon Buildings Standard – that are shining a light on how to achieve the UK Government’s commitment of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, whilst highlighting shortfalls in current built environment policy. There is also strong industry consensus on the key role that professionals in the sector have to play in achieving our national net zero commitments.
But when zeroing in on this important topic, as terms such as “embodied carbon” and “whole life carbon” increasingly make their way into client briefs, it’s important not to develop a silo mentality and overlook other key aspects of sustainability in the sole pursuit of Net Zero strategies. Some key thematic areas which, when considered early on in a project can present a host of opportunities to complement and enhance any net zero brief, include:
Climate Adaptation and Resilience
The other side of the climate change “coin”, adaptation and resilience has a vital role in safeguarding our future in a world where current global policies put us on track for 2.7°C of warming (above pre-industrial levels) by 2100. Carbon reduction and mitigation must remain a priority, but designers should recognise that there exists tensions between the two areas, such as a higher risk of overheating with more energy efficient and insulated homes. As such, considering both climate mitigation and adaptation early on in the design process can enable design teams to identify the best choice from a holistic sustainability perspective.
Nature and Biodiversity
Development can have significant adverse impacts on surrounding nature and biodiversity – both in terms of new construction, and retrofit and major refurbishments. More often than not, the impacts are not completely avoidable, even when appropriate mitigation measures are put in place. But a nature-focused approach can go hand-in-hand with net zero ambitions. For example, reducing hard landscaping and private parking provision (to reduce embodied carbon) can enable an increase in soft landscaping, green spaces and tree provision, allowing a greater area for local biodiversity to flourish.
Social value in the built environment touches upon a number of different areas – from jobs and apprenticeships, to designing with the community and enhancing wellbeing through design. Identifying the key stakeholders impacted by a project, both from within the supply chain as well as wider groups, is key to maximising benefits to all. Adopting social value principles can also help enhance net zero aspects of development, such as sourcing construction products and materials from local producers, thereby reducing construction site transport emissions.
Health and Wellbeing
With most of us spending up to 90% of our time indoors, and a large part of that time spent in offices or our homes, maximising the health and wellbeing aspects of these spaces should be a vital consideration of any sustainability strategy. This can range from improving indoor air quality – such as reducing exposure to toxic chemicals and improving ventilation – to enabling healthier lifestyles – such as by providing access to healthy foods and encouraging movement. Locating developments in areas with good local amenities and providing onsite facilities to encourage active travel, either on foot or by bicycle, benefits both the individual’s health and wellbeing as well as reducing their own and the whole development’s carbon footprint.
Circular economy principles can significantly reduce the whole life carbon impact of a building or development, with varying impacts across building lifecycle stages (or “modules”), as explored by UKGBC’s recent report. For example, increasing the use of recycled or low impact materials can help to reduce upfront carbon (i.e. Modules A1-A5) whilst maximising the reuse of existing assets or building for disassembly and recoverability helps reduce end-of-life emissions (i.e. Modules B-D). The key is taking a whole life carbon approach during the decision-making process, as certain design decisions may increase the carbon impact in one lifecycle stage, but lead to a reduction overall. Further, with 62% of total UK waste in 2018 generated by construction, demolition and excavation, adopting a circular economy approach is vital to reducing waste from the sector.
With an increasing number of areas emerging which pertain to sustainability in the built environment, there is a risk of them getting “siloed”. Built environment professionals and stakeholders, whether working specifically on net zero or in other areas, have an important role in bringing all of these (often highly interlinked) areas together, to maximise the positive impacts of development while minimising the negative impacts. Engaging with sustainability professionals as early as possible in the development process helps to have a positive influence on key design decisions, leading to holistically sustainable outcomes.
Read more about Net Zero at UK Construction Week here.
As part of Construction Week, Envision will be releasing “Embodied Carbon of Materials: A Guide”. Keep an eye out on our LinkedIn page for the release.