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GreenBuild Manchester

The AJ’s sustainability editor Hattie Hartman heads off to Manchester for GreenBuild

Last week I spent a day at GreenBuild - a refreshing change from  the intensity of Ecobuild. GreenBuild is in it’s fifth year. Think 4,000 delegates (approximately 15 per cent architects) over two days rather than 60,000. More than one person said it felt like Ecobuild in the old days.

Delighted to see the AJ prominently displayed on arrival, I went straight in search of a coffee to refuel after my 6am Euston departure. Ahead of me in the queue was the UK-GBC’s Paul King preparing to chair a session on the Green Deal.

Footprint issue

A morning of interesting meetings: David Clark of Cundall’s Manchester office whose book What Colour is your Building? Defining and Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Buildings will be published in June and Roger Burton, (RIBA Sustainable Futures + ex-JM Architects) who has recently set up his own practice to explore the potential of off-site prefabrication for Passivhaus standard. Burton is also building his own home using hemcrete panels developed by Lime Technology. Panel construction helps control the variability of the hemp as opposed to open wall construction where the hemp put in by hand (as at Kevin McCloud’s Triangle in Swindon).

At lunchtime I chaired a green media discussion which included the UK-GBC’s John Alker and Steve Connor of Creative Concerns, a Manchester-based sustainability branding consultancy. Always sharp and on message, Alker sees healthy buildings and healthy materials looming large soon. He also queried how sustainability will be impacted by megatrends such as our aging population and new working patterns.

Connor posed the question of whether ‘green’ is still a story, but cited statistics from both ASDA (one of his clients) and the Cooperative Group showing that over 70 per cent of those surveyed endorse greener lifestyles. Recent research in Manchester indicates that a one per cent increase in cycling would result in a £2.5 million increase in economic activity. We all agreed that green stories related to the built environment have become more sophisticated and that to be informative they must include meaningful metrics and avoid a string of superlatives.

Connor’s other messages: don’t hate the media, be the media. That means get smart and use social media. He also says you should push back when appropriate. Don’t debate with a climate skeptic, he says. Would you debate with a racist?

A timely message from Connor as I had no time for lunch and headed straight into a Be2camp PechaKucha session led by Martin Brown and Paul Wilkinson, a mostly virtual organisation now numbering more than 800 which holds UnConferences and Tweet-Ups all via social media. Their physical home is GreenVision at Leeds Metropolitan University.  

Be2Camp occupies the zone where social media meets sustainability, and one of the main messages of the session  was that in today’s connected world, collaborative working takes on a whole new meaning. Social media allows small players to punch above their weight. Martin spoke about the extensive Green Deal presence on Twitter with providers chasing installers.

Interesting to hear from Jenni Barrett how she is using social media in teaching at the University of Lancashire. It’s a non-judgmental process of sharing information and tremendous creativity flows from that.

Claire Bowles explained what goes on at the Centre for Knowledge Exchange at Leeds Metropolitan University, describing GreenVision as a rogue organisation within the university. The intention is to foster a culture of reciprocity and knowledge sharing.

Bowles was followed by a presentation on the Living Building Challenge – good to see the LBC get another airing. Miles Watkins of Aggregate Industries (AI) described AI’s approach to sustainability in less than 6 minutes. A revealing quote: ‘as a product supplier, you have to go down every route to make sure you are not alienating anybody.’

There were a number of sessions on ‘building forensics’ which relate to our Bridge the Gap campaign. It was the first time I had  heard this term used to refer to the problems buildings encounter after handover that cause the building performance gap.

Perspective view of the Ecobos, Ecotown terraced housing, St Austell, Cornwall by Jerry Tate Architects

Perspective view of the Ecobos, Ecotown terraced housing, St Austell, Cornwall by Jerry Tate Architects

Making a quick exit to head back to Piccadilly Station for my train, I happened upon Jerry Tate of Jerry Tate Architects in one of the open lecture theatres on the exhibition floor. Tate was addressing a 50-strong crowd on the cleverly-titled subject of ‘Sustainability on a Budget.’ What struck me most was his pragmatic and authoritative tone, speaking from the experience of having tried and costed many different approaches to sustainable residential design – quite an evolution from when I first heard him speak on biomimicry at the original Green Sky Thinking in 2008. Some of his observations: If you try to get airtightness down from 3 to 0.8, costs will increase by 15 per cent. An easy win on any project is to install a master switch, which shuts off all plugloads and lighting in one go - ‘like a Swiss hotel room.’

Tate’s main message will be familiar to AJ Footprint readers: prioritise the external envelope and essential systems over bolt-ons. Learn to do the SAP and PHPP calcs yourself. Recycle everything possible. He has sourced used kitchens from The Used Kitchen Company

All in all, a very good day.

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