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Achieving net zero carbon emissions across the whole life of a building

By November 3, 2021 Blog No Comments
written by Mark Richardson, Partner, Troup Bywaters + Anders

We are at a critical juncture when it comes to lowering carbon emissions and mitigating the most extreme effects of climate change. As an industry, the built environment sector must unite and act decisively.

For the first time at COP26, there is a day dedicated to the built environment sector. The Cities, Regions & Built Environment Day is our opportunity to demonstrate to the world how to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

More than 190 nations have now signed the Paris Agreement. As a sector that accounts for almost 40% of global energy and process-related emissions, the built environment is critical to hitting these goals. Globally, we must turn targets into action and impact.

One of the biggest challenges in reducing energy consumption is achieving impactful collaboration between the ecosystem of people and organisations it takes to design, construct, operate and maintain a building. The communication between these people must be exemplary if we are to reach our goal of net zero.

Today, this is happening in pockets, tomorrow this needs to happen at scale. Now is the ideal time to accelerate change; the challenges we’ve all faced over the past 18 months has provided the ideal foundations for a broader industry transformation.

Part of the challenge is the way building energy performance is managed throughout the whole life of a building. Creating sustainable buildings to standards such as BREEAM is front of mind for all designers and developers. But we must translate design ambition into operational performance.

Operational performance modelling accurately predicts the energy use and carbon emissions of the building at the design stage. This prediction is very different from what a compliance energy model would predict. This needs collaboration – the designers need to understand how people use and operate a building and the building operators must understand how the designers envisaged the optimisation of energy consumption. When this reciprocal understanding breaks down we have an energy-guzzling building.

Focusing on operational performance allows for real-life scenarios to be considered, and a set of KPIs developed that occupiers and operational managers can use to ensure optimum performance.

Managing the building through its lifecycle enables improved collaboration. With continuity of management, new KPIs can be set against the behaviours of the new occupiers, and operational performance and effective carbon reductions achieved. Performance gaps are eliminated because there is no longer a disconnect between design ambition and operational use.

Whole life building management can extend the life of the assets within a building by using data and technology for predictive maintenance. This level of predictive maintenance relies on smart technology. Sensors that generate actionable data must be designed into the building from the outset and managed throughout their life, regardless of ownership and tenancy changes, to achieve any real carbon reduction.

One of the fundamental elements discussed at COP26 will be the need to reduce not just operational energy consumption, but the embodied carbon of construction.

Around 30%-40% of a building’s total emissions is embodied carbon. We need to reduce carbon emissions across the supply chain and the life cycle of a building. That’s why having a hands-on approach to a building’s entire lifecycle, from conception to demolition, and including operational performance is crucial to reach our net zero targets by 2050. There’s never been such a profound sense of urgency about achieving this goal. We must collaborate across the industry, acting decisively today.

But we’re not there yet. As an industry, it’s up to us to unite from across the built environment spectrum and use COP26 to deliver a compelling, constructive and decisive roadmap that demonstrates how together, we can hit net zero.