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Opinion - Low-carbon Economy

This three-step guide will help designers keep up with the low-carbon economy, says Colin Campbell.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 19 November 2007 speech on climate change left little doubt of the government’s desire to cut our greenhouse-gas emissions. His talk of a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 – and the possibility of raising this to 80 per cent – has huge implications for our industry.
The government is set to introduce three bills – the Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill, and the Planning Bill – which will help the UK reduce its carbon emissions. The bills will enable the government to control emissions and reduce and recycle waste, while a fast-track planning process will create the infrastructure to support a low-carbon economy. These measures are already reflected in the forthcoming requirement for allbusiness premises to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), which shows the energy efficiency of the building.
Brown also announced the government’s intention to make all new housing carbon neutral by 2016. This demonstrates the paradigm shift in mainstream thinking. So what will designers be doing in 2008 to keep in step with this low-carbon economy?
The first thing is simple; we will focus on good design. An energy-efficient and costefficient building must have a holistic design, and not resort to bolt-on props.
Secondly, we will address renewable energy sources. The government has committed to produce 10 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2010 and 15 per cent by 2015, with an aspiration of 20 per cent by 2020. In the Energy White Paper of May 2007, the government also indicated that it would be looking at ‘establishing regional targets for renewable energy generation’.
The role of local renewables will rest on the integration of local area plans that willonly be considered on a community or urbandesign level, and a more intensive dialogue between architects and planners will be required to produce beneficial buildings.
A third element will be waste. The construction industry is enormously wasteful. Although much of this was addressed in the Egan Report nearly 10 years ago, this is still an area which will be targeted. In 2008 the design community will have to actively design out waste in the construction process.
The government’s agenda is challenging, the potential effects of climate change are catastrophic, and we in the design community are in a position to make a real impact. We must be prepared to learn, lead and educate. Our core skill as designers is to analyse, then synthesise all available information in the form of a brief, then produce a design which answers the problem posed. The difference is
that designing in a low-carbon economy will have global effects, so our concept of ‘the site’ must take on a new perspective.

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