To make the initial jump towards carbon neutrality, there are four key steps the industry must embrace, says Ramboll’s Mathew Riley.
Following the recent recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change for the UK to target net zero carbon emissions by 2050, ex-prime minister Theresa May used her final act to enforce this into legislation. As buildings are responsible for more than 40% of global energy usage, and as much as one third of greenhouse emissions, the role that the engineering and construction industry must play in meeting these targets is arguably one of the most critical.
There is a clear need within the industry to reassess not only the methods used in construction, but also how buildings are designed and managed. Ramboll’s recent analysis found that commercial buildings are frequently designed with up to 50% more energy capacity than they will ever need. When applied to the 11.8 million square feet of offices currently under construction in London alone, this over-design is costing the UK £70m in capital expenditure and 23,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum – bad news for both the bottom line and the planet.
The analysis showed that often this is caused by over-designing buildings in an effort to achieve technical compliance and adhere to current codes and guidance. In addition, pressurised consultants commoditising and re-using ‘safe’ designs, compounded by a procurement system that stifles innovation by focusing overwhelmingly on price, is adding to this inefficiency.
To deliver leaner and more efficient buildings, the industry must encourage innovation. This can involve taking lessons from extreme environments – for example, Ramboll’s recent work on the first phase of the Rothera Modernisation Project in Antarctica to reduce energy consumption by 35%. To do this, Ramboll developed a parametric modelling tool that identified the combination of inputs that would provide the best performing, or ‘fittest’ solution, reducing the time needed to identify these by 88%.
Engineering based on actual performance data, combined with modelling tools, enables building designers to more accurately predict performance outcomes and benefits for end users. However, whilst engineers love to solve complex problems, the industry must help provide the right environment to foster data-led innovation.
To make the initial jump towards carbon neutrality, there are four key steps the industry must embrace.
The first is to learn from the example set by others. Copenhagen, for example, will be carbon neural by 2025, having adopted a climate plan in 2009. Copenhagen airport has recently been certified as CO2 neutral, based on climate compensation, and aims to eliminate carbon emissions by 2030.
The second is to use the Construction Sector Deal to focus on strategic innovations, such as delivering new sustainable performance standards for the built environment. This will simultaneously eliminate waste in design and reduce CO2 emissions.
Thirdly, the government must introduce clear policies to accelerate change. If left to the industry there is a risk of becoming embroiled in self-interest, which should be avoided. The introduction of Part L and other similar requirements demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach.
Lastly, the focus of procurement must shift in order to prioritise added value rather than simply the lowest price available. The industry needs to establish a framework by which environmental performance becomes a clear measure of success.
Mathew Riley is managing director UK at Ramboll.