Is real estate a force for good for the environment? Striking an optimistic note in her keynote address earlier this week, Julie Hirigoyen, CEO of the UK Green Building Council, showcased several exceptional buildings that suggest it can be.
The UKGBC has a library of 164 buildings, products and processes to inspire real estate with practical solutions to ESG-related problems.
“It’s a question of finding them, disseminating them, scaling up their adoption,” Hirigoyen said at CREtech London, picking out a handful to demonstrate the breadth of potential in the sector.
She said the UK could get 100% of its energy needs just from solar and wind by 2030 “if we tried”.
The technology exists to make huge strides in decarbonising the industry. What real estate needs is the will to do so, a helpful regulatory environment and examples to follow.
Here are some of the developments Hirigoyen highlighted in her presentation:
Favela da Paz
Location: São Paulo, Brazil
Problem: The community here – among the most deprived neighbourhoods in Brazil – had no choice but to rely on non-renewable energy, which in some cases made things like heating up water prohibitively expensive for residents.
Solution: Favela da Paz calls itself an “umbrella of transformational projects”, which included hooking up a solar power network to produce free electricity for residents. “You’ve got this really nice win/win of environmental solutions providing a really powerful social benefit,” Hirigoyen said.
Location: Trondheim, Norway
Problem: Embodied carbon – carbon generated during construction– can add up quickly, especially with traditional materials like steel and concrete.
Solution: Touted as Norway’s largest new energy positive building, this development was designed to generate more renewable energy in its operation than it consumed during construction. Embodied carbon was minimised through low carbon concrete and laminated timber, while the solar energy it generates powers neighbouring buildings and the town’s electric buses.
Zero Carbon House
Location: Birmingham, UK
Problem: Designing newbuilds to be zero carbon is one thing, but can we do that with old homes?
Solution: Zero Carbon House was the UK’s first zero carbon retrofit, relying on “masses of insulation”, as Hirigoyen described it, solar power and air tightness measures to remove the need for central heating all together.
Milan Innovation District
Location: Milan, Italy
Problem: Do low-carbon ambitions scale to whole districts?
Solution: Lendlease’s 100-hecatre mixed-use site is developing a low-temperature, highly efficient district heating and cooling network for the area. All energy will come from renewable energy sources, and a climate-related risk assessment was carried out to identify and plan for the most likely risks to the site in the event that we fail to meet targets set out in the Paris Agreement.
Triodos Bank HQ
Location: Zeist, Netherlands
Problem: If embodied carbon is a problem, can we recycle buildings more effectively?
Solution: A fully demountable office building, the Triodos HQ acts as a “material bank”. Relying on timber throughout, everything except for the foundations can be taken apart and re-used.
For more inspiration from real world examples, check out the UKGBC’s Solutions Library.