Only a year ago, conversations about operational and embodied carbon were not part of the mainstream. Fast-forward to today and I’m delighted to see the industry united in its commitment to address these issues.
In our race to act, it seems timber is having its moment in the sun. There’s growing rhetoric around the importance of timber in reducing the carbon footprint of a building, and rightly so. We are embracing wood in our own developments, including at Brent Cross Town, where timber buildings play an important part in our overall reduction of embodied carbon. But timber is not the only way.
Yet, if you have read in the news about The Timber in Construction Innovation Fund, you’d be forgiven for thinking timber is the answer to all the built environment’s carbon challenges. While it is a formidable natural resource, timber resources are not infinite and treating them that way could lead to significant negative biodiversity impacts.
Timber shouldn’t be the only solution to locking away carbon; nor should it be seen as the panacea to the built environment’s net zero carbon targets.
Focusing too much on one product could prevent vital R&D from taking place in other areas.
At 11-21 Canal Reach in King’s Cross, we adopted a whole-life-carbon approach and reduced the building’s embodied carbon by 40% on ‘business as usual’ through cement replacements and low-carbon aluminium and by using on-site renewable energy and fuel. We’ll be doing the same at the 180-acre Brent Cross Town.
We should be looking beyond the confines of operational and embodied to think about whole-life carbon. But what is it? RICS defines whole-life carbon as identifying the ‘best overall combination of opportunities for reducing lifetime emissions’ and ‘helping to avoid any unintended consequences of focusing on operational carbon alone’. Essentially, we need more whole-lifecarbon thinking to achieve a lower-carbon future.
For us to better appraise the full environmental impact of our buildings, we also need to become more familiar with the methodologies available to us. The current EN 15978 standard has been implemented erratically and with varying results and accuracy, discouraging the industry from adopting whole-life-carbon thinking.
We were pleased to see UKGBC’s launch of the Whole Life Carbon Roadmap for the built environment, which provides industry-wide actions for achieving net zero carbon by 2050.
We’ll be adopting this roadmap at Brent Cross Town through a whole-life-carbon analysis, from construction to end of life. This will be addressed with low-carbon construction, renewable power, circular economy principles and carbon offsetting – and by empowering residents and workers to make low-carbon lifestyle choices.
I believe there needs to be industry-wide adoption of the roadmap so that we design and build buildings that are more energy efficient and create a world view that we must better reuse and recycle materials. UKGBC’s wholelife-carbon assessment will help us design buildings with longevity built in and that are material efficient when it comes to refurbishing and dismantling at the end of their lives. It will also encourage us to better engage with our occupiers, enabling them to use the buildings as efficiently as they were designed to be.
Claudine Blamey is head of sustainability and digital strategy at Argent and Argent Related
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More whole-life carbon thinking is needed to achieve lower-carbon future