In the UK the government is accelerating development of a tool for public procurement to determine whole life value – including natural, social and net zero metrics – for the post-Covid emergency recovery.

This, along with the need for a broad coalition in the construction industry around net zero buildings, was one of the revelations to come out of a conversation about how the industry should work together to achieve a net zero carbon future that took place between key players in the UK industry last week.

It was chaired by Robin Nicholson, Convenor of the Edge and Partner in the architectural practice Cullinan Studio. [The Edge is a voluntary think tank encouraging collaboration in the construction industry and the conversation followed on from the Futurebuild Expo held in February this year.]

Participants were:

  • Sarah Ratcliffe, chief executive, Better Buildings Partnership
  • Ann Bentley, global board director of Rider Levett Bucknall and member of the Construction Leadership Council
  • Simon Foxell, the Architects Practice and the Edge
  • Keith Clarke, chairman, Forum for the Future, Constructionarium and Active Building Centre Swansea.

The context

Simon Foxell

Simon Foxell laid out in the context. The UK Government recently amended the legally binding Climate Change Act to take the country to a total elimination of carbon emissions by 2050. The Climate Change Committee, the UK government’s independent body of advisors, has stipulated that full decarbonisation of all buildings is part of this challenge.

Foxell said that there was nothing new about this for the industry: it was in the government’s 2011 Carbon Plan.

“The Edge commissioned research on the future of professionalism in the construction industry in 2015 which included looking at the ethics, competence, performance and climate change. Since then he has called for all parts of the industry to come out of their silos and form groups in their own areas of interest.

“Last year we held a roundtable on net zero, when 25 organisations pledged to collaborate and since then we’ve been looking at how. It’s immensely complicated and we still need a plan because it’s a multifaceted problem. Everyone must get on board.”

Is 2050 too late?

A member of the audience asked if the industry was lobbying government hard enough and whether 2050 was too late.

Ann Bentley

“Yes, it is lobbying hard but not with a single voice,” Foxell replied. “This is confusing for government and is why we need a plan. Should we be more ambitious? Well once we know how we going to get to net zero by 2050 we can try to bring the date forward, but it might frighten people off if we start out by saying it should be earlier.”

Collaboration or coalition?

Ann Bentley co-authored the 2018 report on Procuring for Value. She pointed out that “collaboration is hard to achieve because we don’t have aligned interests. The construction industry is made up of thousands of actors with different objectives.”

“I’m asking whether we want collaboration or a coalition?” she said. “Coalition is for people who have a set of common objectives. It’s easier for people than collaboration. The Construction Leadership Council have agreed a sector deal to transform productivity. Government procurement policy now stipulates that all public sector assets should be purchased on the basis of whole life value. It’s in the Green Book [which contain the government’s rules on public procurement]. We should publicise this more since not enough people know about it.”

She said she believed that designing a net zero building should be in all contracts and then it’s up to clients to delete that clause rather than waiting for them to ask for it.

“This is a massive change. We’re trying to get people to come together at board level with joint working groups and different work streams and have an advisory board to bring in more ideas.”

Post-Covid strategy

“When Covid occurred we quickly formed a task force to take specific action, liaising with government to get construction working again. When looking at a plan to emerge from this crisis as an industry, carbon may or may not be on the agenda. We all want it to be, so we are posing proposing to up the ante to develop a common approach to net zero,” she continued.

“We have the ear of government and needs a timetable. We’re developing a tool about procuring for whole life value and looking at whole life metrics for natural, social, human, financial and manufacturing value definitions. The development of this tool has been accelerated at the request of the Cabinet Office, so obviously government is keen, that for whatever money is spent in rebuilding the economy we get the highest value.”

CO2e is the new design parameter

Keith Clark, chair of Forum for the Future, pointed out that only 26 per cent of people understand basic climate science and 10 per cent are deniers with their heads in the sand so we have to be careful how we talk about climate change.

Carbon dioxide equivalent is the new design parameter – that is embedded and operating carbon

“Carbon saved today is worth much more than carbon saved in five years time,” he said, explaining that it is similar to discounting in any investment calculation because if you wait five years you’ve missed out on five year’s carbon saving.

“Industry has to act now and offer this to clients. Carbon dioxide equivalent is the new design parameter – that is embedded and operating carbon. We barely been able to achieve it in the past in our buildings, but in the future,  we have to – at a radically different level.

He said that 17 of the UN sustainable development goals are not achievable in a 4°C world. “A net zero built environment will not by itself limit the world to 1.5°C, but if we don’t do it, we definitely won’t make 1.5°C.

“Many cities around the world are looking to achieve this, and investing on looking, and the money is coming.”

He said that climate change will make this pandemic look like a passing fad. “We already have integrated design and more efficient buildings, everything is in place, but the new CO2e parameter ups the ante. Carbon accounting is an immature science and we have to invent it.”

Existing buildings should be the focus

Sarah Ratcliffe described the work of the Better Buildings Partnership where, under a climate commitment, 25 members responsible for 11,000 properties have become signatories and are committed to producing pathways for whole life and whole building carbon for commercial buildings.

“This is critical,” she said, “as it includes tenants. The pathways will be published this year and signatories are publishing the energy performance of their buildings.

“New buildings are the tip of the iceberg; 99 per cent of buildings for 2050 already exist and we need a huge focus on this. We need to ensure that life cycle performance design focuses on outcomes. We need to upscale everyone and determine what skills are needed.

“We need a collaboration on these, between not just contractors, engineers and architects that building managers, cleaners, estate agents, valuers and so on. What skills do they need? We need greater collaboration between professions that traditionally have different roles.”

She said that business of real estate is crucial to get on-board in this new coalition. “Every stakeholder is needed. We don’t just need them in the delivery area but also in policy, planning, finance and the users and occupiers of buildings.

“Then there is company reporting, and how their valuations reflects net zero.

“Professional institutions are critical and need to coalesce around shared goals.

“The time for action is now. Some calling for the development of jointly agreed key performance indicators first, but this must not delay us. They are important but not as important as the urgent need to act.” This is because different stakeholders measure things in different ways.

The reason for optimism, she said, is that huge levels of collaboration are already happening.

David Thorpe is the author of Passive Solar Architecture Pocket Reference, Energy Management in Buildings and Sustainable Home Refurbishment. Learn more by enrolling on next year’s online Post-Graduate Certificate in ‘One Planet’ Governance.

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  1. Having a stable population would require far less new buildings less pollution and congestion but we don’t talk about that option because it would require reducing immigration.

    1. So lock em out, we’re OK mate, bad luck about you?

      Pollution is not caused by too much population it’s caused by the dirty energy we get from coal and fossil fuels. Congestion is caused by poor planning.

      Too often the population argument is a cloak for racial issues and actually had its origins in the infiltration of the environmental movement and the Sierra Club in the 60s by racists who said lower immigration and lower population would solve all our problems, instead of applying intelligent analysis to the cause of our problems and trying to find solutions.

      The whole thing goes back to Paul Ehrlich and his book The Population Bomb, published in 1968.

      As we wrote in a long piece on ahead of the federal election last year “the so-called nativist movement in the US to split the environmental movement in order to advance its own white nationalist agenda”, according to scholar Tony Goodfellow who also pointed to another scholar David Ostendorf’s comment that:

      “The greening of hate is not about the environment, conservation or population. It is about preserving the dominance of European Americans.”

      Ehrlich might have had a point about overpopulation at the time, Goodfellow, says, Fertility was at its highest rate. Today the expectation is that global population will plateau sooner rather than later.

      “But solving our real environmental and social problems is complex and can’t rely on smaller population.

      “’New restrictions on immigration won’t stop the logging, mining, and oil companies from destroying the environment.”

      Lower population is not a panacea, Goodfellow says, “It’s a distraction to the real urgent issues we face.”

      See the full story here

      Besides if we were more generous and supportive of countries that needed it, maybe immigrants would prefer to stay at home and not come to our shores. Maybe the greedy among us would be cobbling up great marketing campaigns for immigrants to come to Australia as they did post second world war, so the migrants could do the work Aussies didn’t want to and so they could prop up our economy and the housing market.