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Edward Cullinan hosts Alliance for Sustainable Building Products talk

Diana Dina of Bere Architects reports

One of last week’s rainy afternoons was cheered up by a pleasant talk and drinks event at Edward Cullinan Architects’ (ECA) offices, chaired by Graham Hilton of the Alliance for Sustainable Building Products (ASBP). The audience –around 40 strong, mainly architects, engineers and other construction professionals - were joined by several ECA staff who gathered to hear the presentation by ASBP’s directors Gary Newman and Brian Murphy.

ASBP talk - left to right: Gary Newman, Brian Murphy, Graham Hilton- chair, standing

ASBP talk - left to right: Gary Newman, Brian Murphy, Graham Hilton- chair, standing

After everyone managed to dispose of their dripping brollies, Gary explained ASBP’s mission and goals: to promote the use of ‘demonstrably green buildings and products’ that would bring about a step change in the specification of sustainable products.  Why is that important? A slide courtesy of Simon Sturgis shows the balance between operational and embodied carbon is expected to change in future. Embodied carbon will play an increasingly important role as legislation forces buildings to operate more efficiently and limited supply will shift the importance towards how to use resources more efficiently.

Operational and Embodied Carbon, photo Simon Sturgis

Operational and Embodied Carbon, photo Simon Sturgis

Gary discussed BRE’s Green Guide to Specification, noting that most people’s reaction to it is either: ‘it’s a start’, or ’it’s useful’. He criticised its lack of choice and transparency, the overly generic approach, the fact that it is not product specific, pointing out that the Green Guide (GG) rating is based on elements not products. Functional units do not reflect the multiple functions of products, and embodied energy is not taken into account.

Gary went on to talk about the importance of sequestered carbon in construction products, not accounted for right now, nor reflected in policies, but which could help the Government reach the proposed carbon reduction targets.

He finished his presentation by highlighting some of the activities ASBP is currently envolved with: research (EPD, sequestered carbon), policy (Green Deal), education (seminars), standards (NaturePlus).

Environmental Assesment Tools, photo Brian Murphy

Environmental Assesment Tools, photo Brian Murphy

Brian followed with a fast-paced presentation. He made a forceful point about the generic approach the Green Guide proposes by drawing an interesting comparison between green products and the Olympics: when evaluating those which perform best, ‘it’s not about averages’, and all competitors should be invited. He further highlighted GG’s missing points: construction elements missing (such as foundations), construction methods, accessories and junctions omitted, ignoring thermal bridges and airtightness. He listed some of the environmental assessment tools currently on the market and strongly criticised BRE products such as BREEAM and the Green Guide for not always promoting green, but rather ‘violet’ construction assemblies and construction methods that the specifier is unable to scrutinise.

Environmental Assesment Tools, photo Brian Murphy

Environmental Assesment Tools, photo Brian Murphy

Brian went on to describe the Green Spec PASS as an alternative which provides independent validation of green products. He stressed the importance of demonstrating the positive contribution of in use performance of materials, products, elements, from construction to end of use, the designers’ ability to use green materials in every layer of an assembly. He also mentioned the need to take into account the embodied energy, as well as the ‘in use’ performance over the life of the building, and pointed out that BRE’s Envest2 needs to grow.

ASBP talk

ASBP talk

The Q and A revolved around:

-raising awareness among designers about decisionmaking when choosing materials,

-choosing local materials and the economic impact: social sustainability,

-relevant criteria to assess materials, and

-the cradle to cradle principle: using resources efficiently.

Brian also mentioned his hope that BIM will bring about the use of databases of  raw data regarding products and materials, leading to informed design decisions as to which products to use, in what type of assembly, what construction method and where to better source them from.

Overall lots of information - with much food for thought as to which are the best options when it comes to specifying materials, what to look for, and where to look for advice or support.

Next events hosted by Edward Cullinan’s will very likely take place in the practice’s new office next door, currently under refurbishment.

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