Forbo talks about Climate Change

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November’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) sought to bring political focus on specific steps needed in order to achieve global net-zero emissions by the middle of this century. The stakes are high – and the architecture and design community must face up to its responsibility to drive change in each and every project


THE SCALE of the impact of climate change was laid bare in a report earlier this year by UN scientists that warned that a rise in sea levels of almost 2m by the end of this century is a very real possibility, and urged governments and other stakeholders to take effective action to slow rising global temperatures.

In the first of a series of reports due over the coming months on the science of climate change, the research by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) said that human damage to the climate is a ‘statement of fact’. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned that the report is ‘code red for humanity’, adding that government leaders and other stakeholders must ensure that the COP26 climate change summit is a success. He said: ‘If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe. But, as this report makes clear, there is no time for delay and no room for excuses.’

Using observed temperatures and computer simulation to consider human factors against simulated natural-only factors, the authors of the report pointed out that temperatures have increased since pre-industrial times by 1.1°C. In addition, since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period in the past 2,000 years.

IPCC scientists warn that even if the 1.5°C temperature rise limit proposed under the Paris Agreement is achieved, some long-term impacts are likely to still be inevitable, including rising sea levels and the melting of Arctic ice. They add that this level of heating would still result in an increase in heatwaves, more intense storms, and more serious droughts and floods, but all much smaller in scale than 2°C.

The report needed no greater context than the climate-related events that have taken place in recent months, including major wildfires in Greece, Turkey, Russia and the US, as well as major floods across large parts of Europe, including in Germany where at least 180 people died.

This image The Waterside building, which serves as the headquarters of British Airways, was hailed as a prime example of biophilic design
The Waterside building, which serves as the headquarters of British Airways, was hailed as a prime example of biophilic design

COP26 was seen by many experts as a last chance for governments across the world to finally take control of the climate change emergency and to enact changes from top to bottom of the energy and resource usage spectrum. But this is not simply a task that can be left to governments to undertake.

For the creative sector, big, tough, and sometimes uncomfortable questions have to be addressed – and fast. Architects and designers need to look at how they can improve the sustainability of each and every aspect of every project they undertake, educate their clients on the priorities of carbon neutral design and insist that the right long-term decisions are being made.

Clients should be demanding the very highest standards of innovative sustainable design – future-proofing their buildings while at the same time protecting their reputation and the planet. And suppliers must ensure they continue to both enhance the sustainability credentials of the products they offer and deliver a level of spec clarity that allows customers to make highly informed decisions. Failure to get that right will, in the long run, come home to roost on a multitude of levels.

Putting some of the challenges into context, we speak to a selection of experts and practitioners about the road ahead and how the choices that architects, designers and their clients make now will shape the future of millions of lives for generations to come.

Taking responsibility

FX spoke to Mark Bauer, environment specialist at Forbo, about the need for joined-up thinking in order to tackle the climate emergency

Mark Bauer
Mark Bauer

What has been Forbo’s background in tackling sustainability within its manufacturing and operations, and in what ways has this focus accelerated over time?

The company’s heritage goes back to 1863 with its first product, Marmoleum; its 2.5mm version is now proven to be carbon negative. In a sense, the company was making products back then that it didn’t even realise were going to prove to be important for this reason in 150 years’ time.

Maggie’s cancer care centre in Southampton uses natural materials to keep the building close to nature and the surrounding gardens. Image Credit: HUFTON + CROW
Maggie’s cancer care centre in Southampton uses natural materials to keep the building close to nature and the surrounding gardens. Image Credit: HUFTON + CROW

So some of these attributes have been there from day one, but things have moved on in terms of the acceleration, particularly from the late 1980s when new products started to drive environmental improvement, even before ‘sustainability’ was really on the agenda. We as a company didn’t publish our first sustainability policy until 2007, but since then we’ve had five-year programmes that we have rolled out under our ‘Creating Better Environments’ tagline. Our next five-year plan is to transform our organisation from a linear business model to a circular one, but this isn’t just about the environmental aspects; there is also a real focus on the ‘people pillar’ of sustainability, covering topics such as modern slavery and the SA8000 Social Accountability standard, which looks at the conditions people work in and how they’re treated. It’s important for us to really understand the conditions for workers in our supply chain and this led us to be one of a number of businesses to take up the opportunity to work alongside BRE to help develop its ethical labour sourcing standard BES 6002. The standard is designed to help organisations discharge its responsibilities in respect of the Modern Slavery Act.

888 Bolyston in Boston is the city’s most sustainable Class A office building and has achieved LEED Platinum certification. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
888 Bolyston in Boston is the city’s most sustainable Class A office building and has achieved LEED Platinum certification. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

My personal view is that going forward – and perhaps in the very long term – I could see all manufacturers evolving into service providers, where instead of just selling a product and moving on to the next sale, they actually take ownership of that product over its entire life-cycle. They would care for and maintain it, and then take it back and repurpose it. The pace of this will accelerate as we transition from linear to circular business practices.

How has this evolved more recently, and in what ways have the requirements of specifiers also changed over time to see sustainability as standard?

I think to some extent the build schemes are the drivers, especially with the impact that building standards such as WELL, BREEAM, LEED are all having.

Buhais Geology Park Interpretive Centre and Museum in the UAE was designed to integrate with the natural landscape. Image Credit: MARC GOODWIN
Buhais Geology Park Interpretive Centre and Museum in the UAE was designed to integrate with the natural landscape. Image Credit: MARC GOODWIN

Build schemes are continually evolving, and from my perspective the demands placed on manufacturers are increasing. This in part may be as a result of owners and specifiers wanting to deliver more sustainable, healthy buildings, but we also need to factor in the thought that better buildings help retain and attract staff , positively impact on health and wellbeing, and attract better returns on investment by way of increased rents. This requires us to further improve the way in which we design, source, produce and deliver products, so that they are more sustainable, have lower embodied carbon, lower VOCs and enhanced acoustic performance, for example.

Does price currently act as a major break on the speed of progress? For example, are specifiers having to compromise on sustainability objectives because of a higher cost for the most sustainably manufactured products?

There are numerous examples of last-minute specification changes that are forced because of price considerations. However, this does not mean that sustainability objectives are compromised.

I think there is a baseline. Looking at our product portfolio, the vast majority of our products are supported by EPDs. In terms of indoor air quality they will all be tested to the relevant standards, on top of fi re, acoustics, wear and performance, of course. So, irrespective of price, they meet requirements of the main build schemes (BREEAM, WELL, LEED and SKA).

As a global brand, what is your perspective on where the UK stands on the path to progress on carbon neutrality when set against the worldwide backdrop?

I think the UK would like to consider itself as a leader (in soundbites) but in reality we are probably, at best, in the pack when it comes to delivering a coherent, inclusive strategy that ‘UK PLC’ can buy into collectively. We do deliver in terms of policy: in 2019 we were first country to pass laws committing the country to carbon neutrality by 2050, but this needs buy in by all stakeholders, especially politicians – we cannot afford to change direction if the government of the day changes, and of course resources need to be found and effectively spent.

The importance of the COP26 summit increases with every new report of wildfires, continued droughts and ice sheets melting, and this may be the last opportunity for a global response to be formulated and acted upon.

DEFINING THE OBJECTIVES

Many of the terms surrounding the climate emergency are widely used but all too often misunderstood. Here are some of the key definitions.

Carbon budget

The amount of CO2 that a country or organisation has agreed will be the most it will produce in a specified period to meet emission reduction commitments. Globally, it eff ectively marks the amount of CO2 the world can emit while still having a likely chance of keeping warming within the 2°C limit.

Carbon capture

A process in which a relatively pure stream of CO2 from industrial and energy-related sources is separated (captured), conditioned, compressed and transported to a storage location for long-term isolation from the atmosphere.

Carbon neutral

Globally, this is defined by the IPCC as the state in which CO2 emissions are balanced by CO2 removals over a specific period.

Carbon negative

An activity that goes beyond achieving net-zero carbon emissions to create and environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Carbon off setting

A way to compensate for carbon emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. Seen by some as part of the ‘greenwashing’ problem in allowing organisations to pollute the environment conscience-free knowing that they are doing some good elsewhere.

Net-zero CO2 emissions

Net-zero carbon dioxide emissions are achieved when CO2 emissions caused by human activity are balanced globally by human CO2 removals over a specified period. Net-zero CO2 emissions are also referred to as carbon neutrality.

Net-zero GHG emissions

Often confused with net-zero carbon emissions, but more accurately this means reducing all greenhouse gas emissions to zero – not just carbon dioxide.

Waking up to the bigger picture

Co-founder of Forum for the Future, former director of Friends of the Earth and co-chair of the Green Party, Jonathon Porritt is a leading authority on sustainable development. FX spoke to him about the very real challenges we face at the moment

Jonathon Porritt
Jonathon Porritt

COP26 – it feels like a pivotal moment. What’s your hope for the kind of commitments and cooperation that are necessary?

Not good at the moment frankly. The signals are very worrying right now. A lot of countries have failed to produce their revised emission reduction plans. The quality of leadership coming from the UK government in the run up has been very poor indeed. None of the heavy lifting that has to go into these big international conferences has really been done.

In the meantime, the science – the evidence – keeps materialising in front of our astonished eyes as these extreme climate events become more frequent and more extreme. So there is a really disturbing contrast between what is happening in the big wide world versus what is not happening in terms of the political response.

How likely are the 2050 aims in your opinion? Are governments in their current form capable of delivering?

I’m not hopeful on this. Everyone has settled on this notion of ‘net zero by 2050’, which means that by 2050, the entire global economy will have reduced emissions of greenhouse gases as much as it possibly can, and then we will have sequestered the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases by absorbing CO2 into terrestrial systems – into forests, wetlands etc. That’s the big game plan.

The Oakland Museum of California was conceived as a walled garden. The planting grows over the entire building, creating a lush, colourful space. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
The Oakland Museum of California was conceived as a walled garden. The planting grows over the entire building, creating a lush, colourful space. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

Now, even if we were to do that – and currently we’re way off track – it still wouldn’t guarantee a stable climate for humankind in the second half of this century. The prospects for a stable climate depend on us seeing no more than a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures by the end of the century, or at the very, very worst, no more than a 2°C increase. Of course, we’re already at a 1.1°C increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution, so you can see that all of these windows of opportunity are getting smaller and smaller, and that’s what causes an awful lot of climate scientists now to be very concerned about the lack of focus and the lack of urgency on the part of our politicians globally.

Neither India nor China has produced an updated emissions plan ahead of COP26, and nor has the US. In terms of percentage of global emissions, these are absolutely crucial countries.

One of the goals for Forum for the Future is to ‘build new narratives about the risks of climate change’. Do you sense that the narrative has changed in recent years, not least with the increasingly flow of extreme weather for example?

I think people are much more aware of the degree to which this is a ‘present’ danger, rather than a future danger. The number of people now whose lives have been devastated by climate-induced weather shocks is growing every year, and as soon as you get caught up in this personally, you realise that when politicians talk about this as something we have to do for the future, in reality they are way off track because it is impacting on people’s lives today. The narratives around that are narratives of real pain and loss, going on in rich world and poor world countries right now.

The Oakland Museum of California was conceived as a walled garden. The planting grows over the entire building, creating a lush, colourful space. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
The Oakland Museum of California was conceived as a walled garden. The planting grows over the entire building, creating a lush, colourful space. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

On the other hand, we are beginning to see ways in which new technology can accelerate our way out of this carbon-intensive lifestyle, and to do so with a level of speed and urgency that no one thought possible. We’re already seeing the accelerated take-up of renewable technologies all around the world to an astonishing degree, and that is because they are – in economic terms – outperforming other sources of energy in almost all markets. So wind and solar can compete on their own terms with other sources such as coal or gas.

If we wanted to press the emergency button as it were – and remember, all of the politicians are always happy to sign up to emergency climate declarations to keep critics off their backs – and we responded to the climate emergency with the same degree of urgency and focus with which we have responded to the public health emergency that is the Covid-19 pandemic, then things would look very different. And if we were to do that, it would be possible to come up with an action plan that would ensure that 100% of the electricity that the world needs would be delivered from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Technologically speaking, that can be done. Financially speaking, that can be done – there is no shortage of capital to make that happen. The only thing that stands between us and an appropriate emergency response is the politics. There is the frustration because you don’t tend to hear that narrative very much, and yet it ought to be giving people a sense of the doability of all of this, and a sense that this is the moment to actually get it done.

The political cycle tends to operate in relatively short periods between elections. Does this pose a hindrance to achieving proper political commitment to what are some quite long-term issues?

The Oakland Museum of California was conceived as a walled garden. The planting grows over the entire building, creating a lush, colourful space. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY
The Oakland Museum of California was conceived as a walled garden. The planting grows over the entire building, creating a lush, colourful space. Image Credit: MATTHEW MILLMAN PHOTOGRAPHY

It is a real problem. When Trump was elected in 2016, the world knew that we were in for four years of further delay, denial and obstruction, and so it proved to be. So far, President Biden has just been undoing four years of negative consequences of Trump’s term in the White House, and it’s beginning to look good. There’s no doubt that President Biden and Vice-President Harris are focused on trying to achieve a good recovery after Covid, and a recovery that is based at least in part on a green deal – creating new jobs and new wealth creation, by addressing the climate emergency. It is a step in the right direction, but we still haven’t seen the level of commitment that we need to see from the US.

Talking energy, our need for energy remains huge and seeming growing at a vast scale globally. How can we solve this problem – does the answer lie in renewables, or is hydrogen potentially a key to net zero?

Renewables addresses the electricity issue, but it doesn’t necessarily sort out some of the wider energy issues over the next decade, so we will need to see a number of new technologies coming forward.

The hydrogen story needs to be treated with enormous care because to a large extent, the ‘hype’ surrounding this is being sponsored by the oil and gas industry. They are essentially ratcheting up the enthusiasm for hydrogen because what they hope is that governments (particularly in the EU) will commit to hydrogen, which still entails the use of gas to produce the hydrogen. It can be extremely useful to us in the transition towards an ultra-low carbon economy, but hydrogen comes from three sources: using gas to produce it as happens today; using gas to produce hydrogen but capturing the emissions from burning that gas using carbon capture and storage (called blue hydrogen); and green hydrogen, which uses renewable electricity and electrolysis.

We can’t be doing with blue hydrogen. It’s just a scam being advanced by the fossil fuel industry. If we are going to get the real benefit that we need, it has to be green hydrogen. It makes the whole discussion around hydrogen very difficult, because the idea that every household in the UK can replace existing gas boilers with hydrogen-powered ones and solve the carbon problem is frankly insane.

It really reminds us of the need to be very careful indeed about where our information comes from. If architects are thinking that the problem will be solved in homes of the future by switching to such boilers then they’re not really focusing on what the carbon challenge really looks like.

Electric vehicles seem the way forward for cutting emissions globally. Is there any sign that the pace of change will make a difference quickly enough. And will the infrastructure will become ‘joined up’ any time soon?

It’s not happening quickly enough but it is definitely happening. It’s only fair to acknowledge that decision government decision making here has played a really important role. When the government decided to ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030, that sent out the clearest possible signal to the car manufacturers that this was the moment that they would have to accept the death of the internal combustion engine.

Petrol and diesel vehicles are essentially on death row. The question is, how fast can we make that transition, and how do we do it with the best possible outcome? We could be moving much faster than we are, and we will see things gear up now that every major car manufacturer is geared towards an EV future. It’s definitely an improvement, and there will be significant gains to be made in terms of reduced emissions, but of course, every car entails an awful lot of materials and energy to manufacture and maintain, and this is all a highly carbon-intensive process.

So when will we start to understand that the future of sustainable transport actually depends on fewer vehicles, not ‘more but cleaner’ vehicles? That’s the transformation that we really need. And that will involve our towns and cities using integrated transport systems – including car-sharing schemes – that are effective enough that in the future we will look back at the age of individual car ownership as some extraordinary aberration of the 20th century that lingered into the 21st century.

What is the UK government doing to address some of the key housing-related sustainability issues?

The Future Homes Task Force is the latest attempt by the government to work with the private sector to ensure that we have low or zero-carbon housing within this country within a definable period of time. The key phrase to consider is ‘zero-carbon ready by 2025’, which does not appear to mean that it is actually zero-carbon by 2025. People may have already forgotten that it is this same government that in 2015 axed the code for sustainable homes and the zero-carbon built environment strategy that had informed government policy since 2003. Had they stuck with the code for sustainable homes for example, we would be building zero-carbon homes in the UK today.

We pay a very heavy price for this short-termist perspective. It’s a tragedy actually, because since that time, we have built an awful lot of homes that will have to be retrofitted at some point in the future, at great cost to the homeowners and the environment. I call it policy vandalism, because there was no reason to axe the code – it had largely been bought into by many stakeholders including architects – and what we have had since then is six years of ill-informed procrastination from the government. No one gains from this apart from the volume housebuilding industry, which has seen profits increase significantly during that time.

The Beam in Sunderland offers grade-A office accommodation, with a design that promotes health and wellbeing. Image Credit: KIRSTEN MCCLUSKIE
The Beam in Sunderland offers grade-A office accommodation, with a design that promotes health and wellbeing. Image Credit: KIRSTEN MCCLUSKIE

This is a huge institutional problem, and it’s massively difficult for those who are trying to work intelligently over a period of time to offer consistent professional advice and services to clients to ensure we get the best possible outcome. They will come across clients who don’t quite grasp the seriousness of the climate emergency and the reason they are confused is that the government encourages them to delay, and to put off to tomorrow what we should be doing today.

At FX Talks in 2017, you told the audience ‘Perhaps it’s worth asking yourself: “What’s the balance here between sustainability credentials, and the cost and quality?”’ Where do you sense we have got to now with this kind of discussion?

We have made some progress in the four years since then. I recall that around that time, people were still scaremongering about the so-called sustainability premium – the additional costs associated with building low or zero-carbon buildings. There were all sorts of outrageous exaggerations about there being a 15–20% premium.

In the intervening four years, we’ve got a much better handle on this now. We know that the additional capital expenditure associated with building to the highest low-carbon standard such as the Passivhaus standard. We know that the premium associated with that is between 3–6% depending on the scope and design of the building, but of course that premium is pretty quickly paid back by the massively reduced operating costs for those buildings in terms of reduced energy consumption, and the payback period looks pretty good now.

The trade-off between the financials and the sustainability factor is narrowing. For those who want to set high leadership credentials for their practice and want to look to the market of the future and not just ensure success today, they need to get very good indeed at working with their clients on things like whole-life carbon calculations, life-cycle assessments and all of these kinds of detailed number-crunching analyses for prospective clients.
www.forumforthefuture.org

Industry perspective

Pat Hermon, technical lead on sustainable products at BRE, on the contribution design teams can make to raising the sustainability bar

Pat Hermon
Pat Hermon

What are some of the biggest challenges in helping architects, their clients and other individuals to better understand what is essentially a technically very complex topic?

Part of the problem is within your question is the perception that it is technically complex. Carbon-neutral design is very simple if you use the right tools for the job. Through life-cycle assessment design teams can understand the carbon hotspots and use their existing expertise in each discipline to develop their own solutions for reducing these as far as possible. A lot of design team members get very excited when given the opportunity to break away from business as usual and they need to be given more opportunities to do so.

What are the expectations for carbon neutrality in the UK and internationally? What should be the priorities right now for architects and designers, and how can they work with clients to enhance the sustainability credentials of their projects?

With the release of the sixth carbon budget, a 78% reduction in emissions by 2035 is enshrined in law. To get anywhere near this will require huge efforts across all sectors. Clients and investors need to be selective about the types of projects they get involved in – refurbishment of existing buildings rather than new build and allocating budgets for low-carbon measures. Design teams should be measuring the life-cycle impacts of their projects and proposing solutions that reduce these. Manufacturers also need to be measuring their impacts, finding low-carbon alternatives and publishing their data in environmental product declarations.

Where is the main progress currently being made at present, and in which areas is there still a lot more work to do?

The new train station at Meridian Water, which has been named London’s ‘greenest development’ due to its close proximity to parks and waterways. Image Credit: PETER LANDERS PHOTOGRAPHY
The new train station at Meridian Water, which has been named London’s ‘greenest development’ due to its close proximity to parks and waterways. Image Credit: PETER LANDERS PHOTOGRAPHY

A lot of progress has been made in energy consumption, thermal efficiency of buildings and on-site renewables. These aspects have become common practice and building regulations have tightened up considerably on new builds over the past three years, but there is still a huge amount of work to do with the energy consumption of existing buildings.

Are developers leading or following the campaign for carbon neutral?

The new train station at Meridian Water, which has been named London’s ‘greenest development’ due to its close proximity to parks and waterways. Image Credit: PETER LANDERS PHOTOGRAPHY
The new train station at Meridian Water, which has been named London’s ‘greenest development’ due to its close proximity to parks and waterways. Image Credit: PETER LANDERS PHOTOGRAPHY???????

A small handful of market leaders have made promising starts and set some ambitious targets. However, there is a huge chasm between corporate-level target setting and practical application on the ground. On day-to-day projects we are still hearing the same excuses from project managers and design teams afraid of the potential risks and costs of transitioning to low-carbon design. Those that accept this are often finding added benefits beyond the carbon savings, particularly over the life-cycle of the building.
www.bregroup.com

CASE STUDY: REWE

ACME’s Market of the Future design for REWE in Wiesbaden-Erbenheim, Germany, is a prototype for a new adaptable and sustainable market concept, able to fit any site typology. An iconic and highly visible simple timber structure forms the main element of a new architectural identity for REWE.

the timber structure is easy to build and adapts
the timber structure is easy to build and adapts

In a shift from conventional big shed supermarkets, a series of columns arch over the customers, creating a different shopping experience with a more human scale. The structure is designed to be simple to build and easy to adapt, using lots of simple wood rather than a few highly engineered elements. The timber consists of standard wood elements, available locally and assembled with simple screw connections. The stacked timber is designed to be modular, and can easily be customised for each new market size and configuration. The timber structure extends beyond the facade to create a protected external space where local produce can be sold from dedicated market stands.

Some of the market’s produce is supplied by its rooftop resource-saving farm. Image Credit: PETER LANDERS PHOTOGRAPHY
Some of the market’s produce is supplied by its rooftop resource-saving farm. Image Credit: PETER LANDERS PHOTOGRAPHY

Some of the market’s produce is supplied by its rooftop resource-saving farm
Some of the market’s produce is supplied by its rooftop resource-saving farm???????

It is the first supermarket in Europe with a rooftop resource-saving farm, using aquaponics to create an aquaculture cycle for fish production and a hydroponics cycle for plant production. The 800,000 pots of basil produced on site every year can be sold as fresh basil, pesto and within speciality sausages, while the system also enables around 10,000kg of fish to be farmed and sold on site annually.
www.acme.ac

Building better

Dr Joe Jack Williams

Associate and researcher, FCBStudios

Dr Joe Jack Williams
Dr Joe Jack Williams???????

What are some of the material and product choices that can make a big difference to the sustainable outcome of a project?

What we’re really talking about here are materials or products that don’t need as much processing, but when you take a step back and look at it intuitively, it’s probably just a better material. You can get really bogged down in trying to find environmental product declarations, but actually we’re quite privileged as an architectural practice that quite often we are right there with the clients from the start. It means we’re really able to inform them on some fundamental choices, like timber being better for one project or brick for another. So from that starting point, to have the intuition to target a product that is less processed is a good starting point.

Having said that, we really want to use natural products where possible. The difficulty here is the balance with longevity and resilience, which many natural products don’t have. So you can end up with a really natural material inside, but something like bricks or ceramics externally, which are not particularly low carbon, but are long lasting.

When we are assessing the sustainability of our buildings, we don’t tend to finish a project and then go away. We like to go back and continue to support that building. If we can create a building that lasts 100 years instead of the 60 years that were intended, then that’s the really exciting thing for us.

How do you look to measure the sustainable impact of your projects? Is it always a major component of your discussions with clients?

This is where our free online tool designed to aid carbon-neutral building – FCBS Carbon – comes in. We realised we needed to make decisions at an early stage, before we could actually know what the materials were going to be. We might know roughly what will be used, but we won’t know the form factor, or what will happen if you add 300mm to the floor height, for example. Would that make a big difference or not? What if you changed the glazing ratio?

The design and positioning of The Hive maximises the use of natural light and ventilation
The design and positioning of The Hive maximises the use of natural light and ventilation

As an industry, we don’t have the intuition yet to be able to know all this year. FCBS Carbon is not hugely accurate, but it is consistent and it fills this ‘intuition gap’. Once you start to build replacement cycles into it, you can easily see both what the upfront impact is, as well as the whole-life perspective. It enables quick dialogues between all parties in order to model it. As I said, it is not exact, but it does give a good feel, and zero carbon is often part of that discussion.

Typically, these things would be scoped out by engineers, who would wait for a frozen plan to pull this information together. We might then make some changes – possibly many changes – and it would have to go back to the engineers and there would perhaps be another four weeks before you can update the picture. It’s about being agile with your carbon calculations.

Things like climate emergency declarations are incredibly helpful. Even if nothing directly results, the increasing awareness and discussion is an important part of the overall process. We’re finding that commercial clients are able to access pools of cash or favourable terms of lending that are there to improve environmental outcomes. All these factors really help. And where we have higher education clients, universities have to respond to the increasingly strong views from younger people about sustainability so that can be a big push.

What we’re not really seeing as much as I would like is action from housebuilders. We still have a housing crisis, and there still seems to be a functional emphasis on volume and that’s still a bit of a conflict. I don’t think we should necessarily be scuppering housebuilding for the climate emergency, but we definitely need to balance it somehow. But we are seeing councils pushing for it, such as the GLA and Bristol City Council.

We get clients asking for ‘zero carbon’ without always realising what it really means, but even so that is a great and very positive starting point.

Many clients are attuned to sustainability as a business priority, but what role should architects and developers be playing in guiding or encouraging other clients about the importance of carbon-neutral choices within a project?

One of the great abilities of architects – and I say this as an engineer within the architecture industry – is that they are very good at conveying incredibly complex information in quite an engaging and succinct way. It’s about that advocacy and intelligibility.

Some clients will listen, but others won’t. Getting those around to a certain way of thinking is the real challenge. What we need as an industry is the ability to cost it and put it in terms that clients and developers already recognise. I do feel it is often the cost issue that is really holding us back and I don’t think there are too many quantity surveyors who are grappling with it in the same way that perhaps the rest of the industry is. It’s quite damning, particular given that the RICS has perhaps the best whole-life carbon assessment methodology. I’m not quite sure what the disconnect is – perhaps a generational thing – but as the quantity surveyors and project managers are often with the client at the very initial stages, talking about the feasibility of a project. Carbon should be part of that story first and foremost, alongside cost.

You don’t generally see a value engineering exercise aimed at reducing the carbon of a project, but you certainly see them when it comes to reducing the cost. And yet, they’re not mutually exclusive; on a recent project we changed the framing system on the building following a value engineering process and it saved a huge amount of carbon as a result, with no discernible impact on the building internally.

CASE STUDY

THE HIVE LIBRARY

the building won two international awards for design and sustainability
the building won two international awards for design and sustainability???????

A partnership between Worcester County Council and the University of Worcester, The Hive library was conceived as a truly accessible building within a built form that would be innovative in operation with low carbon impact.

The library was designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to meet a challenging sustainability brief, including a 50% reduction in Part L CO2 emissions. The building is cooled using water from the nearby River Severn, and a biomass boiler uses locally sourced woodchip to generate heat. By incorporating sustainable measures such as these, The Hive achieved an ‘A’ rating from the EPC and BREEAM Outstanding certification.

it is intended to be an accessible space for both students and the public
it is intended to be an accessible space for both students and the public

Since it opened it has been continuously monitored to reveal that it operates at an electrical energy consumption of 50kWh/m2/ year – about half of its design target, and one-third to one-quarter that of many contemporary office buildings.

CASE STUDY: CROFT GARDENS

Croft Gardens is a project by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios for King’s College, Cambridge, proposing residential accommodation for students and fellows in a new community south-west of the city. The project will create 84 new homes for graduates, fellows and their families, as well as gardens and communal areas.

Croft Gardens uses high-quality materials that emanate a sense of permanence
Croft Gardens uses high-quality materials that emanate a sense of permanence

Targeting a 100-year design life, the scheme uses high-quality materials that emanate a sense of permanence. Externally, soft waterstruck gault clay bricks and handmade plain roof tiles reference surrounding vernacular materials.

Alongside the high standards of Passivhaus building performance, the project has been created with a holistic view of sustainability within the contexts of the immediate site and global climate. It has prioritised achieving excellence in health and wellbeing, landscape and nature, water, materials and waste, community and neighbourhood, and construction impacts.

rooms have been designed to prioritise health and wellbeing
rooms have been designed to prioritise health and wellbeing

It is expected that Croft Gardens will be carbon negative for the first seven to ten years of operation, driven in a large part by the embodied sequestered carbon through use of CLT for its structure and timber as an internal finishing material. It is due for completion in May 2022.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you face in delivering the most sustainable projects possible, and what could be done to make it easier to deliver a more sustainable end result?

One of the biggest barriers to innovation in terms of low-carbon design is warranties and liability, for fire in particular. With the big housebuilders for instance, they are not going to build anything that is not NHBC certified, and that means that we have a reduced pot of what we can use. Don’t get me wrong, that still leaves plenty of fantastic products, but it means that we’re always a little behind the curve, whereas if we’re building a one-off house, we can do all kinds of exciting things.

So going back to our very first question, when it comes to truly natural materials, these are perhaps typically more flammable. We would never recommend a product that is flammable as such, but some products are perhaps on the borderline of whether they char. So it becomes a question of how liability works in this respect. If that could be more nimble, we would be in a much better place.

Has the pandemic created an opportunity for businesses to ‘reset’ their approach to carbon neutrality, or has the cost of lockdown made it more difficult to achieve the investment necessary for long-term sustainability initiatives?

Interestingly, with the scale of change, moving to keep up with the sustainability drive has been seen as much easier, so I think a lot of organisations have sustainability leads or a head of sustainability or equivalent. We see that within practices, within clients and within developer bodies. And they increasingly have a voice. There was a gradual shift anyway from companies doing things like B Corp where you have to have a head of sustainability.

But then all of a sudden there has been this huge shake-up, and many more companies were able to hook some of these new ideas into their plans for coming out the other side of it. We have seen quite a bit of this, whereas I don’t think we have seen anything that has gone the opposite direction and turned away from sustainability, which is really good. www.fcbstudios.com

Reducing impact

Liesl Wherry

Creative lead, Interaction

Liesl Wherry
Liesl Wherry???????

What are some of the material and product choices that can make a big difference to the sustainable outcome of a project?

From an interior design and fit-out perspective, the easiest way to drive sustainable design on a project is to get the client on board from the get-go. Every decision that is made during the design process can have an impact on the overall sustainability of the end product. Making the client aware of this during the first meet and greet ensures that intelligent choices are made each step of the way. We believe that every small change toward sustainability is worth the effort, whether this be changes to layouts, material specifications or actions taken during installation on site.

The Sunderland Riverside project aims to regenerate the city centre with parkland, community facilities, green routes and low-energy homes
The Sunderland Riverside project aims to regenerate the city centre with parkland, community facilities, green routes and low-energy homes

With regards to material specification, there are three major surface areas inside any space that form your easy wins – floors, ceilings and walls. Making smart choices on these can have a major impact on the outcome of your project. When looking at materials, it is crucial to look at the big picture. Investigating the product in isolation can result in design that is not authentically sustainable. Who produces the product? Where do they produce it? How do they produce it? The list of topics to investigate is vast – logistics, waste creation and disposal, end of life, electricity, packaging, lifespan, delivery and removal, durability versus materiality.

A very simple example would be selecting a loose-lay vinyl flooring over a stick-down vinyl. There are some great products out there that offer you the option to lay straight onto the raised access floor, eliminating the need for additional ply substrates or toxic glues. This reduces the amount of material needed on the overall project, which in turn reduces manpower, travel and ultimately carbon footprint. An added benefit to specifying this type of product is the ease of recycling at the end of the project life-cycle.

How do you look to measure the sustainable impact of your projects? Is it always a major component of your discussions with clients?

There are multiple formal avenues to measure and analyse the sustainability of the office spaces that we create and the procedures that we employ to create them. This traditionally takes place alongside a sustainability consultant or partner. Unfortunately, these avenues are currently a costly way to ascertain the sustainability credentials of a project and can often discourage clients from working towards more sustainable offices. When stepping back and looking at the issue holistically, our design studio made the conscious decision to not let this deter our ambitions to be more sustainable. With this this in mind, we recently went through a major revamp of our materials library. We created a database of sorts to guide and filter our choices going forward.

As an interior design and build company, it is imperative that we dig into every aspect of what we do, and so we have spent a year of our time analysing how we design and how we make material choices. To achieve this, we met with various suppliers, contractors and other members of our supply chain to find out what actions they are taking to drive change. Our culture as a company is to find ways to improve ourselves and to work with our contractors and suppliers to help find a way to do so together. We have a responsibility as designers to make those changes. We also have a responsibility to make our clients aware of the choices they can make to ensure a better, more sustainable project in the end.

Many clients are attuned to sustainability as a business priority, but what role should architects and developers be playing in guiding or encouraging other clients about the importance of carbon neutral choices within a project?

We believe as a company we need to drive change. As an office design and fit-out company we are all too aware of the lifespan of interior office spaces and the waste that goes alongside. By making wise choices and encouraging clients and contractors to do the same, we are taking one step closer to a more sustainable world. We are also investing internally on training and educating, not only for the design team, but also for team members such as project leads and workplace strategists that have first contact with clients. It is vital to get the sustainability conversation started as early as possible in the process.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you face in delivering the most sustainable projects possible, and what could be done to make it easier to deliver a more sustainable end result?

During our year of introspection, we found the biggest hurdle to making sustainable materials choices to be the lack of transparency or authenticity from some suppliers and manufacturers. This has been a major factor in our decision to curate our sample library and to make forward-thinking choices when it comes to what we stock and cost. We have implemented ‘sustainability-first’ strategies within our design team workflows to encourage this mindset. We have aligned our sample library accordingly and will continue to do so going forward. The journey is just starting and we have a long way to go as an industry.

Has the pandemic created an opportunity for businesses to ‘reset’ their approach to carbon neutrality, or has the cost of lockdown made it more difficult to achieve the investment necessary for long-term sustainability initiatives?

We have seen companies drastically change their approach to office fit-outs to be geared toward user experience. As employees have spent the better part of a year working from home, they are now looking forward to spending time with people in healthy environments. Healthy environments are a wonderful by-product of designing with a sustainability-first mindset.
www.interaction.uk.com

CASE STUDY: FREEBORNE MEDIA

Freeborne Media in Bristol turned to Interaction to carry out the design and fit-out of a new office space, with interior design and styling by Laura Stephens and Hayley Whitlock. Breakout spaces, quiet booths, meeting rooms, height adjustable desks, open office space, informal meeting spaces and kitchen areas allow staff to choose a setting that fits with their agenda and mood.

A collaboration area features lots of greenery to create an open plan space focused on staff wellbeing
A collaboration area features lots of greenery to create an open plan space focused on staff wellbeing

Biophilia and natural light play a central role in the design of the project. Planting was placed throughout the space, including hanging baskets and plant pots, to create a sense of calm and comfort. This, coupled with large windows around the perimeter of the office space, aims to bring the outdoors in, reducing stress levels and improving staff wellbeing.

Solutions in action

Alessia Mosci

Director, MWAI

Alessia Mosci
Alessia Mosci??????????????

What are some of the material and product choices that can make a big difference to the sustainable outcome of a project?

Sustainable project outcomes should be at the forefront of the design profession with many manufacturers in the construction industry having transitioned to deliver products that are more carbon efficient, if not carbon neutral, and readily available on the market. Some construction processes, on the contrary, remain a heavy burden on the planet and their use is still widespread due to lack of tested alternatives.

Thanks to recent software technology and the ability to extrapolate data from existing and renewed manufacturing process, the outcomes are now more easily quantifiable. Generally speaking, when working with existing buildings, improvements to the thermal performance and the introduction of efficient energy systems have the biggest impact on a project’s sustainable outcome. When these measures are paired with a sensitive approach to design solutions and materials, for example, by choosing products and finishes that are manufactured in the interest of environmental sustainability, it all makes for a good legacy.

New build projects are very different because every decision – from the choice of materials to its weight, density, disassembly and travel distance – all bear significantly on the outcome.

How do you look to measure the sustainable impact of your projects? Is it always a major component of your discussions with clients?

Most, if not all, of MWAI’s work involves existing buildings, often listed and always in need of substantial upgrades. We have conversations as early as possible with our clients and discuss options to reuse. These recommendations range from recycling structures and materials on site, to stripping, stocking and upcycling by making elements available to the second-hand market.

Many clients are attuned to sustainability as a business priority, but what role should architects and developers be playing in guiding or encouraging other clients about the importance of carbon neutral choices within a project?

This image Sunderland’s regeneration plan aims to encourage outdoor activities, walking and cycling
Sunderland’s regeneration plan aims to encourage outdoor activities, walking and cycling???????

While this is certainly true for new buildings, it can be slightly more abstract when dealing with existing buildings for lack of quantifiable data. However, existing buildings and their ability to be adapted and reused are fundamental if we want to tackle the pressing challenges of reducing CO2 emissions in the construction industry and help confront the broader challenges of climate change. Since structures are the most carbon-intensive elements, it does make sense to keep what stock exists, rather than demolish it and rebuild it.

What are some of the biggest obstacles you face in delivering the most sustainable projects possible, and what could be done to make it easier to deliver a more sustainable end result?

Unfortunately, we often feel there is not enough support from governing bodies on these topics and no true incentives for private owners to adapt, reuse and repurpose existing buildings. This is difficult when trying to balance design solutions and overall project costs. The good news is that we have noticed a shift in mentality, whereby in recent years clients have been prepared to engage in conversations such as capital costs vs running costs, the type of energy employed, whether certain materials are harmful to the environment and also about the impact of their personal legacy at local level – such as the building or the street – as well as at global level.

Similarly, the UK construction industry is often slow at embracing change and the specification of sustainable processes. Reclamation or recycling of certain products is made difficult by the lack of research. As architects, we can do a lot by quietly embedding processes and measures in our projects, sourcing locally, or simply by choosing manufacturers and products that don’t just off er a cost saving or offer to offset carbon but that have actually invested in change.

Has the pandemic created an opportunity for businesses to ‘reset’ their approach to carbon neutrality, or has the cost of lockdown made it more difficult to achieve the investment necessary for long-term sustainability initiatives?

The past year has been challenging but we like to think that the best outcomes are born out of hardship and that many businesses will come out more focused on sustainability, from new lifestyle choices to their sustainable impact. In the context of the climate crisis, we certainly felt more validated in our contextual work over the past ten years and compelled to do more about the sustainable reuse of buildings and the materials we choose.

Please tell us about a recent project that has demonstrated key carbon neutral solutions in action.

Over the past 12 months, like many other businesses, we were faced with the dilemma of our own workplace and whether we should invest in renewing the lease and commit to refurbishing the office space which looked tired after ten years or search for new office spaces in central London. After careful consideration, we opted to refurbish the current space and to do it in an environmentally conscious way.

We began with the main ethos of upcycling materials, and decided any new features had to be 100% natural and have true eco credentials. We chose to upcycle some of the materials we are lucky to work with on our construction sites. We selected some beautiful marble off cuts and worked with a UK installer that kindly helped us create tiles that we could then utilise in our bathroom.

We upcycled some joinery and fittings from another site rather than sending them to waste and chose to install a new flooring as the old floor boards were old and in disrepair. Once we eliminated the option of reusing the existing timber flooring and accepted that transport could not be off set, we looked for products that would be carbon neutral in their cradle-to-gate production and opted for a Marmoleum linoleum flooring by Forbo, which delivered both a sustainable outcome and a minimal seamless design.
www.mwai.co.uk



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