The Climate Crisis and our plan for 2020

Bradley Van Der Straeten has signed up to UK Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity. The initiative has 863 architecture company signatories with an aim to drastically reduce the significant CO2 emissions attributed to buildings and construction in the UK (40% of the UK’s emissions).

Signing up to the pledge is the easy bit, what action we are going to take and when we are going to take it is the important part. Below are the 8 actions we are going to be prioritising over the coming year.

1 Become a carbon neutral company.

Change starts at home and getting our own house in order is our priority. We already believe we are a low impact company in the way that we operate; all our team commute predominantly by either bicycle or on foot and use the same modes of transport to travel to and from a majority of our construction sites. However, in order to become carbon neutral, we are going to undertake a carbon review of our company with the aim to make the necessary changes to become carbon neutral by September 2020.

2 Build sustainability into our process.

To make real impact we recognise that sustainable design needs to be at the core of our projects and that priorities need to be established at the very beginning of the process. Therefore, we are going to adapt our project processes so that there are key touchpoints embedded into every stage of a design, from initial enquiry through to construction and on to post-evaluation.

We have appointed one member of our team as an internal head of sustainability, who will undertake independent reviews at key stages of projects, to make sure all opportunities are being considered to reduce the carbon footprint of a project.

Because of these changes, our clients will benefit from knowledge and research, all the way through a project, which will make the process of making informed decisions and understanding longer term benefits easier.

3 Full review of all materials going into our projects.

We are going to undertake a full audit of all materials that we currently use in the construction of our projects and analyse what carbon emission impact they have on the environment. We are then going to find a viable and sustainable alternative for each item.

Some of the alternatives may or may not be more expensive or may be more complex to build with but we want to provide our clients with a full choice so they can make informed decisions.

Examples of some items we are going to be looking at include;

4 Full review of waste coming out of our construction sites

As well as looking at the materials we specify that go into our buildings, it is as important to analyse the waste that comes out of the projects and see what we can do to minimise waste. This will include looking at ways to re-use materials on site for construction (for example, when we demolish existing brick walls, can they be re-used as rubble hardcore for the groundworks?) and will also include looking at ways for certain items to go to good use elsewhere (old kitchens for example).

5 A push towards renewable energy.

With the long term anticipated phase out of reliance on gas and gas boilers we are expanding our knowledge on the alternatives and finding viable ways to introduce them into the residential projects we are designing, the key challenge being accommodating them for refurbishments in built-up areas, that are limited on space.

We are already excited to have more projects in the pipeline with sustainable features and we are going to be investing more in other alternatives including air source heat pumps to replace the gas boilers, ground source heat pumps and MVHR units (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) to further limit, and ultimately eradicate, the reliance on carbon heavy energy supplies.

6 Establish a carbon offsetting programme.

The longer-term aim is for all our building projects to be net zero carbon as per the RIBA 2030 challenge. What does this mean? This means that the amount of carbon emissions associated with a build should be zero and should be achieved through a balance of reduction in construction and use and by using either off-sets or exporting of renewable energy.

To help get our projects closer to this long-term target we are going to establish an offsetting program that we will contribute to for every project we build. We will also make it an option for our clients to also be able to contribute should they wish. Offsetting programs we are considering include planting trees, investing in renewable energy programmes and in water treatment projects around the globe.

In the short term we recognise that this won’t achieve net zero. The priority is to work towards reducing the carbon emissions associated with the build first and then use offsetting to take responsibility for the residual emissions.

7 Change demand

We don’t believe that sustainable choices should be merely add-ons or after thoughts, nor should they be viewed as solely altruistic decisions. Considered and designed correctly, a sustainably designed project should also improve the design, benefit the user and in the long run be more economically viable. It is this that is going to be the key to changing demand.

We believe that it is the challenges that make good design. We also strongly believe in the power of buildings to improve occupant’s well-being. We also know that investment in a sustainably efficient building provides long-term economic benefits (all be it with slightly higher initial capital outlay).

We want to share what we believe in, and hopefully by sharing and informing we can help change demand. This year we are committed to publishing informative articles and case studies via our blog, video logs, newsletter and at talks and events to get our message out there and hopefully help inspire change.

8 Review projects after completion

A fundamental part of what we do relies on experience and analysis. We are asking new clients that work with us to cooperate with post occupation analysis to provide us with valuable feedback that we can use to benefit future projects, future and current clients and fellow architects. We plan for the analysis to look at thermal performance of the building in occupation and provide evidence of energy and water consumption used to run and to heat the building and to be part of our standard aftercare process.

For our clients, the analysis will give them and idea of how their house is performing against expectations and benchmarks and will provide a comparison to how it was before, so they can see the benefits.

Other projects we are really inspired by

We are inspired by projects like Cork House , that prove that a property can be entirely made of cork construction and achieve incredibly low whole-life carbon levels. We are also inspired by projects like Hemp House that uses a material (hemp) produced on the land that the house is built on and celebrates it by leaving it exposed as the main interior finish. This project also achieves a zero-carbon rating. Closer to home, Re-use Flat is a really inspiring example of how waste from a residential flat refurbishment can be re-used instead of taken to the dump and how all components can be designed to be dismounted and re-used at a later date.

Most of our projects involve work to existing buildings. Achieving outcomes like the above on refurbishments is very challenging but examples like Re-use flat show what can be done and all steps towards change are positive. And we love a challenge!

More Information on Architects Declare

Below is a brief outline of Architects Declare initiative in their own words (taken from architectsdeclare.com);

‘The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issue of our time. Buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.

For everyone working in the construction industry, meeting the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries will demand a paradigm shift in our behaviour. Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.

The research and technology exist for us to begin that transformation now, but what has been lacking is collective will. Recognising this, we are committing to strengthen our working practices to create architecture and urbanism that has a more positive impact on the world around us.

We will seek to:

For additional information, read the article on the Architects Declare initiative here.

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