Laura Ludlow Mills & Reeve

COMMENT | Attaining net zero is not a ‘one-off badge’

As buildings contribute nearly 40% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable building projects will be vital to cities and the UK as a whole in achieving ambitious net zero targets, writes Laura Ludlow.

As more landowners and developers commit to net zero, we are seeing increasing proposals for net zero buildings – buildings which balance any greenhouse gases produced during development and emitted during the running of the building with emissions taken out of the atmosphere.

An innovative net carbon zero office building at New Bailey in Salford recently received unanimous approval from Salford City Council. The project, proposed by the English Cities Fund (a joint venture between Homes England, Legal & General and Muse Developments) and Make Architects, will run entirely on renewable energy and feature an external “living wall” of ivy and other greenery, designed to reduce pollutants in the air, provide effective thermic insulation and increase biodiversity.

We see other examples, such as The Forge in Southwark, where Landsec is aspiring to develop the first commercial building constructed and operated in line with the UK Green Building Council’s net zero carbon buildings framework.

These projects are examples of potential office space for the future, which combine attractive looking buildings with functionality of purpose for the cityscape, whilst making sustainability and green credentials a priority. It is worth remembering that being net zero carbon is not a one-off badge and is a standard the building must attain throughout its lifecycle. Innovative construction and committed sustainable use will be key to achieving this.

Crucial to a net zero building’s success will be:

  • Using alternative and more sustainable building materials. Consider which materials have the highest embodied carbon (e.g. cement, steel, aluminium etc.) and which are carbon negative (e.g. timber)
  • Designing in climate adaptations from the start. The recently published Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk by the Climate Change Committee highlighted the importance of this. Retrofitting adaptations to deal with climate change down the line will prove much more expensive than incorporating them into the initial design
  • Using alternative energy generation systems
  • Measuring emissions throughout the building’s lifecycle – BIM and digital twinning can help reduce operational emissions – and ensuring the building is used as it was designed to be. So often, innovative design solutions to emissions are not followed through when the building is fully occupied, meaning any potential advantages are lost
  • Looking at the whole lifecycle of the building from the outset, taking into account end-of-life demolition and recycling options

The built environment has a huge role to play in helping the UK to achieve its 2050 net zero carbon target and we expect to see a proliferation of these projects in the coming months and years.

For more detail on what it means to be net zero carbon in development and how we get there, read our Building towards net zero report. Download the overview report here or register for your copy of the full research paper here.

Find out more about the future of the real estate sector with our interactive ‘Mapping the FutuRE’

Laura Ludlow is principal associate at Mills & Reeve.

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