This month, we're focussing on how the buildings sector in particular is reacting to the pressing need to minimise emissions.

Architects declare climate emergency

Last month, Content Coms reported on how the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has set out ways the UK can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

This month, we’re focussing on how the buildings sector in particular is reacting to the pressing need to minimise emissions.

Seventeen Stirling Prize winners unite to declare climate emergency

Just days ago, some of the UK’s most influential architecture practices joined forces to issue an unprecedented rallying cry for the profession to take action on the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.

In an open letter, the diverse group argued that buildings and construction account for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, and more must be done to tackle the ’most serious issue of our time’.

Crucially, the group also unveiled a set of pledges – from sharing knowledge on climate mitigation to adopting more regenerative design principles – and has urged other practices to sign up under the slogan ‘Architects Declare’.

The key pledges they are seeking wider uptake for include:

  1. Upgrade existing buildings for extended use as a more carbon efficient alternative to demolition and new build whenever there is a viable choice
  2. Adopt more regenerative design principles in our studios, with the aim of designing architecture and urbanism that goes beyond the standard of net zero carbon in use
  3. Accelerate the shift to low embodied carbon materials in all our work
  4. Include life-cycle costing, whole-life carbon modelling and post-occupancy evaluation as part of our basic scope of work, to reduce both embodied and operational resource use

“It is extremely encouraging to see regenerative design, carbon efficiency and carbon modelling gaining momentum within the construction sector, and especially among those who design buildings – that’s where it all starts.” comments Joanna Watchman, CEO and Founder, Content Coms.

“The sense, whilst it’s by no means a certainty just yet, is that net zero legislation may well be coming to the UK at some point in the future. By thinking proactively, the buildings sector can give itself a head start in the race to lower emissions.”

UKGBC role

Architects aren’t the only ones raising their game. UKGBC’s NET ZERO campaign is also moving at pace.

UKGBC’s primary focus is to set in place a path to achieve net zero carbon buildings in both construction and operation (in-use energy consumption), whilst beginning to provide direction for addressing whole life carbon in the industry as a whole.

Combined with the green work of architecture practices, we may be seeing the initial shoots of an entirely futurist, sustainable, zero carbon approach to how tomorrow’s UK buildings are created.

UKGBC’s framework, similarly with the architects’, sets out key steps which should ultimately help enable a zero carbon building. They are: Establish Net Zero Carbon Scope, Reduce Construction Impacts, Reduce Operational Energy Use, Increase Renewable Energy Supply, Offset Any Remaining Carbon.

“Climate change is undoubtedly the greatest challenge of our times,” writes Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive, UKGBC, in the framework’s foreword. “The framework set out in this report is intended as a first step towards delivering buildings that are in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement; namely net zero carbon across the whole life of a building.

“This is a complex and emerging discipline for built environment professionals, so I encourage everyone associated with the design, construction and operation of buildings to engage with the framework, and to work with us in evolving the details over the years to come.”

In conclusion

Both UKGBC’s efforts and the solid low carbon positioning of the Stirling Prize winners should sound a bell of positivity across the UK buildings sector.

Of course, long term change towards net zero will be very tough to achieve. But the very first steps of a long path are being taken, alongside a welcome willingness across the industry to embrace this challenge.

Content Coms commends these positive approaches and stands ready to assist in any way we can with the evolution of tomorrow’s greener, cleaner buildings.

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