Challenge 1 and 2

The drive for carbon neutral in the construction sector

From roads and railways to the energy used to construct and power offices, factories and homes, the built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint according to UK Green Building Council data.

Architects and designers face multiple and demanding challenges on the journey to reducing their impact on the environment against the backdrop of the UK government’s target to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Addressing the climate emergency is no longer optional and has become a significant consideration amongst the A&D community.

We have been taking a look at some of the most significant challenges currently focusing the minds of architects and designers.

Firstly, we look at where to start, and sources of help and support on your eco-friendly journey.


Challenge 1: Starting the journey to becoming carbon neutral

The call for change is gathering pace with industry leaders increasingly seeking to establish a greater focus on the climate challenge agenda. At the Futurebuild 2020 exhibition in London in March 2020, industry spokespeople urged the sector to put sustainable design at the heart of their future projects.

Eddie Weir from the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) voiced his support for the delivery of eco efficient credentials through a holistic approach to sustainable design. Alistair Mant, Head of Business Transformation at the UKGBC said that corporate organisations should adjust their processes to enable them to harness the benefits created by innovative start-ups. Additionally, Sue Riddlestone OBE, Chief Executive of Bioregional highlighted the importance of choosing the right materials in construction projects to enable people to achieve a sustainable lifestyle.

The UKGBC has set out a useful guide to achieving a net zero carbon building which recommends starting with a scoping exercise to explore how to reduce both the impact of construction and the projected operational energy use. The industry is seeing an increasing use of Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs) to determine products’ overall environmental impact.

Organisations such as EcoAct are working to help business make adjustments in response to climate change objectives while simultaneously boosting their commercial performance. The Better Buildings Partnership seeks to encourage a shift towards energy efficiency within UK office spaces and a move away from a historic tendency towards achieving simple compliance.


Challenge 2: Goals and targets: defining a direction

Deciding where to focus on an issue with such broad scope can be daunting. However, there is plenty of support for architects and designers and there is no need to start with a blank sheet of paper. RIBA has launched its 2030 Climate Challenge which includes advice on operational energy, embodied carbon, potable water, and the health and wellbeing benefits of better temperature regulation, more natural light and enhanced indoor air quality.

The World Green Building Council provides a wealth of infographics, case studies and blogs from organisations at various stages on the journey. The Carbon Trust has designed its PAS 2080 standard around the entire value chain for infrastructure carbon, helping organisations to reduce the impact of their projects on the environment through sustainable design, construction and use.

Scientists, researchers and experts from the BRE Group, due to celebrate its centenary in 2021, have developed standards, codes and methodologies, including BREEAM, that provide a framework for architects and designers, helping them to achieve their sustainability goals.

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