Rising to the challenge of Climate Change Emergency

Annabel Clark
We are facing a challenge, it is urgent, and we need to address it together. This challenge is more important than anything else in your outlook calendar – today, tomorrow and the rest of your career!

The challenge I am talking about is how we work together to tackle the issue of recent climate change. As we speak buildings are contributing to approximately 45% of the total UK carbon emissions through construction, operational use, and maintenance and demolition. As reported in the UN’s Global Status Report, ‘Over the next 40 years, the world is expected to build 230 billion square metres in new construction – adding the equivalent of Paris to the planet every single week.

The Climate Crisis

Exactly 40 years ago (in 1979), scientists representing 50 nations met at the ‘First World Climate Conference’ in Geneva. They concluded that ‘alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act’[1].  Since then, we have seen an increase in scientific information being disseminated, confirming dramatic rates of recent climate change. In November, 11,000 scientists from 153 countries declared a ‘Global Climate Emergency’ based on analysis of over 40 years of publicly available data including energy use, deforestation and carbon emissions. In their research, they state: ‘the climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected’. They stress that we are approaching several ‘irreversible climate tipping points’ which could cause catastrophic changes that would not only be out of human control, but could also significantly disrupt ecosystems, societies and economies ‘making large areas of Earth uninhabitable’. The next UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 will take place in December 2019, to take the next crucial steps in the UN climate change process.

There are many people looking for solutions and actions. In order to secure a sustainable future, we must all, collectively commit to changing how we live. The suggestion is for ‘bold and drastic transformations’ to global policies, as well as identifying six critical steps – ‘energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy and population’ that governments, businesses and individuals can take to lessen the impact of climate change.

What are Faithful+Gould doing?

I am proud to be working in an industry that is taking on this shared challenge, equipping ourselves for the future. Like many other people in the construction industry, I joined this industry hoping to maximise my personal impact on our sustainable future. There is fantastic work happening in our industry. So how are we facing up to this? 

Sustainable Design

We can all make a difference, right from a project outset. Considerations such as building orientation and building size provide the structure with thermal and visual comfort. Successful design orientation for a building can reduce its total energy usage and improve wellbeing through solar heating, increased daylighting and help with connectivity to surrounding spaces.

Royal Holloway University Library is a great example of where sustainability initiatives were included early to deliver value. There are 150 solar photovoltaic panels, passivhaus levels of air tightness, high thermal insulation, careful selection of materials and PIR controlled LED lighting all contributing to a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ building. The building is a fantastic space for students to learn, excel and thrive.

Innovative Technologies

Recently, I attended a BCO committee meeting where we had a presentation from a member of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) on the net zero carbon framework. The framework is an action pathway that aims to support market transformation towards net zero carbon buildings. We have such an opportunity to reduce carbon throughout the building lifecycle. It is so inspiring to see the ambition and drive of our industry. There are 1000’s of innovative technologies in our markets, from plastic-bottle kerbstones, waste-based building blocks supporting the circular economy, mushroom-based building bricks and even fungus used as insulation in our homes.

What commitment can you make?

If there is one action that you can undertake to make a difference on every project – start engaging with sustainability as early as possible, focus on the lifecycle of the asset and build enough time into your programme to maximise the sustainable value of your project. 

The construction sector is at the heart of transformation. We are all building the future. This is a challenge, but also a fantastic opportunity - we can solve this together. Faithful+Gould do not have all the answers, but we are looking to collaborate with others to find the solutions. This is our opportunity to show what our industry can do.

[1] https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806

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