RIBAJ Sustainability Conference

I attended the RIBAJ Sustainability Conference at ARUP’s in Fitzroy Street on the 24th June and I thought that I would report back on the event.

It was a strong lineup of speakers, most of whom are well known in the sustainability world in the UK, a bit aimed more towards the commercial end of the market than the residential end, but it was all the more interesting for this.

Rab Bennets did a sterling job of chairing the event, including asking knowledgeable and interesting questions when the rest of us had run out of steam.

Lydia Dutton, environmental project manager at Argent, responsible for the environmental targets on the Kings Cross estate, gave us a fascinating insight into the attitudes of a large developer with a long-term view of place making.

Lynne Sullivan of Sustainable By Design talked about zero carbon and what it means, and how we have got to where we are. She compared UK 2016 standards to other EU standards to highlight that although we are making progress, others have either got there before us or are planning to go further than we are. Lynne makes the excellent point that we don’t appear to have a national energy strategy that is meshed with the buildings that we are designing. There is no effort aimed at community energy projects that ties regulation and planning, apart from in London, and even the one in London is not flexible enough to really work.

Richard Francis of Monomoy Company, talked about the productivity benefits of good quality buildings for employers and employees, and how those numbers will dwarf any benefits to be gained from energy savings measures. This seems to me to be at the heart of where the environmental movement needs to go next, to stop counting CO2 beans and to move on to counting benefits and added value.

Adrian Hewitt from Energence Ltd, talked about the difficulties of bean counting CO2 reductions from recent projects, how no one wants to go to the trouble of disclosing the actual numbers. This is preventing us from either gaining the benefits of knowing what is workeing well and what to copy, or what is failing and needs to be improved, with the result that we are probably not achieving the CO2 savings that we think we are as quickly as we need to.

Dr Sebastian MacMillan from the University of Cambridge  talked about how to ensure that we involve people in our projects, that without their involvement and engagement other efforts can easily be wasted.

Paul Scialla CEO of the Well Building Institute talked about the WELL standard, this is a standard that aims to deliver a healthy environemnt for people to work in that is currently being piloted in the US. Some of it sounds startlingly similar to the ActiveHouse Standard, perhaps these people should talk?

Ann Marie Aguilar and Martin Brown talked about the Living Building Challenge.  This is the most ambitious standard in the building industry, and only a handful of buildings in the world have met it. Martin explained that its appeal to him was that buildings that met this challenge were being positive in their environmental impact, providing energy, reusing materials, cleaning water, preventing waste. All of these were going much further than standards that aim to reduce or prevent, this one says that the building must be positive. Ann Marie explained how some of its elements are being explored on the Sky campus.

Chris Twinn of Twinn Sustainability Innovation showed us that if we allow the developing world to adopt LEED Platinum, their energy use will go up, and not down. We shouldn’t be exporting our standards to the developing world, we should be leapfrogging our out-of-date standards to gain the benefits of leaner IT and low energy tablets and LED lighting to cut our services in size, reduce our use of materials and question the models that regulation has given us. Throw away the rules of thumb and the notional building, and calculate the problem from first principles.

Bill Gething then frightened us all by demonstrating how hot it is likely to get in London in the next century, (when all our current buildings will still be in use). In the worst scenarios it could get up to 10 Deg C hotter in London before 2100. We need to design buildings that are resilient to a warmer climate, that can stay cool in those temperatures and that enable people to protect themselves from these impacts.

Polly Turton from ARUP pointed out that sustainability professionals and engineers are stronger together, by working in an integrated way, even between competitors, we can come up with the answers for our clients and for society. I couldn’t agree more.


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