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‘We’re not in a competition here’: Industry urged to rally over climate design guide


Forging a net zero built environment will require a huge collaborative effort, the design and construction industry was told at the launch of a new document to help cut its carbon impact

Speaking at an oversubscribed event to promote the Climate Emergency Design Guide at the Building Centre in London last night (27 January), Clara Bagenal George, associate at Elementa Consulting, said there was very little time left for the built environment to contribute to national net zero targets.

She said: ‘We are not in a competition here. We will lose this climate emergency battle if a few leading practices get there. All buildings need to meet net zero, so we’ll need to collaborate.’

The free guide was produced by the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI), with help from leading architects, engineers and building professionals, and is backed by the RIBA and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE).

It provides advice and targets on five key building elements: operational energy, embodied carbon, the future of heat, demand-response, and data disclosure. In fact, embodied carbon ended up being such a complex topic that LETI produced a separate document just to cover it.

Clare Murray, head of sustainability at Levitt Bernstein and design editor of the guide, said these requirements must become standard design practice by 2025 for new buildings and by 2050 for existing stock ‘otherwise the building industry will not meet our collective responsibility’ on climate change.

‘We need to throw everything we can at designing our buildings better,’ Murray told attendees at the launch. ‘We hope that you’ll take this away, talk to your clients, to your designers, so you can act on some of the things in this document.’

But Murray stressed that the guide was only a start. ‘We know there’s more research to be done.’

Attendees were also encouraged to respond to the government’s latest consultation on the building regulations, which closes on 7 February. The Architects Declare initiative has already warned that the proposed changes, particularly Part L 2020, could undermine efforts to curb carbon emissions.

Sarah Wigglesworth, founder of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, told the AJ that turnout at the launch was ‘fantastic’. ‘It’s a big and complex issue. The guide simplifies it and gives you a roadmap. It’s not one-size fits all but it’s a really useful guide.’

But she said there was still a lot of work to be done to get its message into the mainstream. ‘Let’s face it, we have a very conservative industry. Most people are in their comfort zone and the building regulations are really symptomatic of that.

AJ sustainability editor Hattie Hartman said that, by explaining whole-life carbon and demystifying the critical roles of heating, demand response and data disclosure, the LETI guide demonstrates that net zero is achievable. ‘This very readable guide answers the thorny question of how to deliver net zero. Every architect should make time to read this guide now.’

LETI is now seeking feedback on the document and asking practitioners to donate to a crowd-funding project to enable it to take the guide on a road show around the UK and run CPD sessions on specific elements.

It is also seeking organisations to register projects as LETI ‘pioneers’ this year, to test the guide and form a support network.

‘We know we have to learn faster than we ever have done previously so now is our chance to get together,’ said Murray. ‘LETI is a collaboration, so why not collaborate to actually get our buildings built? Because we know that not one of us can do this on our own.’

AJ technical editor Fran Williams unpicks the Climate Emergency Guide 

What is in the document?

LETI’s new Climate Emergency Guide, which features contributions from more than 100 architects, engineers, stakeholders and consultants, provides a set of easy-to-understand tools needed to design and build a zero-carbon building. It is targeted at developers and landowners, designers and policy-makers.

It opens with a call to action and a clear goal – the nation has to start building net zero developments now with all newbuilds operating at net zero carbon by 2050. The document says that 10 per cent of all new buildings today need to be designed to deliver net zero carbon. The guide offers the practical solutions that we, as designers, can use to help us achieve this.

It offers actions that must be taken at every RIBA design stage with methodology covering the requirements of four building archetypes including small-scale residential, medium/large-scale residential, commercial offices and schools (essentially those that make up 75 per cent of the UK’s new buildings).

It outlines clear recommendations on processes and technologies to ensure buildings can contribute to a zero-carbon future – both in terms of operational carbon released from the use of buildings, as well as the carbon embodied during construction.

The guide is importantly split into the five elements that are key to solving the problem: operational carbon, embodied carbon, future of heat, demand response, and data disclosure.

LETI has taken the view that circularity is far more relevant for design teams and policy makers than carbon offsetting and that is reflected throughout. It pushes the need for regulation and policy to incentivise and mandate net zero carbon with upskilling required in the following areas: energy modelling, designing, constructing, operating, and light management.

Although ambitious, the guide is also realistic and open to change to reflect evolving carbon budgets, technologies and industry capabilities.

LETI has also published an Embodied Carbon Primer that offers supplementary guidance to those interested in understanding embodied carbon a bit more.

What is LETI’s next step?

LETI is pushing for 10 per cent of building design in 2020 to be net zero carbon to give time to learn from these developments in order to meet the UK’s ambitious 2050 targets. Therefore, it has set up LETI ‘pioneer projects’, aiming to set the bar for designers and help pave the way for future projects. It is asking designers to report on their energy usage with full data verification and disclosure in order to achieve this.

In addition, LETI is targeting 10 more cities across the UK over the next year to spread the word and encourage those outside London-centric circles to participate. Murray says: ‘There’s more research to be done, but we’ve tried to fill most gaps.’ 


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Readers' comments (2)

  • Before getting locked into some very questionable objectives, I suggest fellow architects watch the following 30-minute presentation (in its entirety) by Professor Ian Plimer, a geologist at Melbourne University:

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  • Plimer has been completely discredited on climate change. He is heavily connected with the mineral extraction industry. And yet, without irony, accuses climate scientists of being in hock to vested interests.

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