AJ100: Remaining focussed on tackling the climate emergency

15 September, 2020

The country is embarking on its recovery from the impact of COVID-19, and measures laid out by the government show that it sees the construction industry as central to this recovery. Packages of funding have been made available for infrastructure and refurbishment projects up and down the country, and changes have been made in the planning system so that Britain can – in the words of the Prime Minister – “build better, build greener, and build faster.”

However, we cannot let this take our focus away from climate change. It’s now around 18 months since the introduction of Architects Declare, and we are just beginning to understand the impact on design needs in a post-COVID world.

We were very proud to be the first UK firm to sign up to every discipline under the Construction Declares Climate and Biodiversity Emergency and continue to work towards carbon neutral designs wherever possible. And, even before the coronavirus pandemic, we were moving towards agile working and an increase in video conferencing at Pick Everard to reduce our direct carbon footprint from commuting and meeting attendance.

Looking at the role architecture plays in our move towards a carbon neutral society, national design director David Shaw said: “Simply put, architects must design to net zero standards across the board. Whether it’s a brand-new building or a refurbishment project we have to consider both the operational and embodied carbon of a scheme – retrofit projects will naturally be more difficult to achieve zero carbon in operational energy, but will be much better for embodied carbon.

“When designing any scheme we have to consider not just how it will look and be used, but also how it will be delivered – and this is where we will need to rely on close collaboration across all disciplines within the industry. We have an important role to play, but we must remember that we have to tackle the climate emergency as a sector-wide effort.

“It’s not just down to architects, engineers or indeed any single group of people to make a difference – we need to ensure that sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. The client also has a pivotal role in this journey, which is why we assist and advise our clients on the decisions being made and the wider sustainability implications.

“Realistically, we must make sure that every new build is net zero carbon in the UK by 2030 if we stand any chance of hitting the government’s target of being a carbon neutral country by 2050 – this means we must be designing to these standards by 2025 wherever possible.

“To do this, it’s crucial that sustainability measures are integrated from the outset and throughout all projects. Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do from day one, and we adopt a re-use where possible strategy to extend building life span, and we apply rigorous project critique across the board. This allows us to take a holistic approach to sustainability, particularly where we are providing a full range of services on a scheme.”

In July, Construction Declares – the coalition of built environment groups that incorporates Architects Declare and represents more than 1,500 UK companies – wrote to the Prime Minister to outline the opportunities for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter detailed that the transformation of the built environment – currently responsible for around 40 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions – would play a crucial part in meeting government targets over the next few decades.

A month later, the business, energy and clean growth minister Kwasi Kwarteng responded to outline what the government is doing, in a response described by Jacqueline Wheeler of Architects Declare as “woefully inadequate in its scope.”

Construction Declares has issued a four-page response, and is pushing for a meeting with minister Kwarteng to discuss how built environment professionals can best help the government take meaningful actions down the road to recovery, without setting back the fight against climate change.

Our sustainability and energy director, Jose Hernandez, added: “We’re at a critical point in time – we can’t just think about new builds. Ensuring the delivery of sustainable new buildings is crucial to meeting the government’s net zero carbon targets, but even more so is improving our existing building stock. We have seen increasing opportunity to deliver significant improvements to our current built environment and have been working on a number of zero carbon projects.

Jose said: “Internally we have been taking a joint approach with the architecture team to provide webinars and support for our clients to bring awareness to the opportunities they have to assist in working towards net zero and protect the environment when formulating project strategies. We are very pleased that a webinar format has allowed us to continue this work throughout the coronavirus pandemic despite the need for physical distance – after all, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot stop in our efforts to tackle the climate emergency.”

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