Sustainability in Construction: Top 10 Highlights

Marietta Chatzinota
Our industry experts present the next edition of 10 green highlights below, summarising a few of the current issues and up and coming events in the sector.

1. WORLD GREEN BUILDING WEEK (WGBW) 2016

Every year, the World Green Building Council (WGBC) dedicates a week to celebrate the world green building agenda. This year’s WGBW is taking place this week (26–30 September) with a plethora of talks and events around the globe, led by the network of 75 Green Building Councils and their 27,000 member companies. This year’s theme is “Change your perspective”, aiming to change the way people perceive sustainable development and green buildings. For a list of events on health and wellbeing, climate change and future smart cities in the UK see the UK Green Building Council's (UKGBC) website!

2. CITIES HOLD THE KEY TO CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION

“Cities produce more than 60% of the world’s CO2 emissions,” according to a UN report. There is therefore tremendous potential for local planning (at city level) to influence innovation in tackling climate change and for policies in major metropolitan areas, such as London and New York, to lay the groundwork for future national policies.

A report from the Sierra Club (part of the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign that is pushing cities to transition to 100% renewable energy) showcases 10 case studies of U.S. cities which are planning to become completely independent of fossil fuel, i.e. to be powered by clean energy only. According to Time magazine, the drivers for clean energy vary from financial opportunities, such as the creation of new jobs, to enhanced life quality from improved air quality. With more than 400 mayors having pledged to implement the COP21 agreement, it becomes clear that local governments are at the forefront when it comes to climate change.

3. WHAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE’S CONTRIBUTION TO EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS?

September 2016 has been a record month for extreme weather events occurrence in the UK, with unusual high temperatures in parts of the country (the 13th of September 2016 was the hottest day of the year, with temperature in Kent reaching 34.4°C, as well as the hottest September day recorded since 1911 according to BBC) and extreme storm events in others (Prestbury in Cheshire had 32.4mm of rain in an hour according to BBC). But how likely were these events to happen if it weren’t for global warming?

So far it had been very difficult for scientists to demonstrate a direct link between an extreme weather event and climate change. But, 10 years’ worth of research in attributing weather to climate change from the National Academy of Sciences has resulted in “a system of best practices that incorporates the historical record—looking back—and model simulations—looking forward—to increase confidence when assessing the link between climate change and an individual weather event.”

Scientists will now have the opportunity to determine to what extent global warming contributed to an extreme weather event, i.e. establish the probability of this event occurring if it weren’t for climate change. This could have significant impact in current and future policy as Time magazine highlights that, “understanding whether an event is tied to climate change affects how communities respond to weather warnings and how—or even if—they rebuild.”

4. WHAT DOES COP21 MEAN FOR BUSINESSES

The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has released a briefing paper (PDF,0.6MB) which will help businesses "understand the implications of the Paris Climate Change Summit agreement and will help them formulate their strategic responses."

The briefing paper is providing practical guidance by considering the Political, Economic, Socio-cultural and Technological (PEST) model. According to the report, this approach “provides a framework to consider macro-environmental factors arising from the Paris Agreement that should be considered when seeking to understand how a company’s market, business position, potential, and direction could be affected.”

5. GREEN MAP OF LONDON

Greenspace Information for Greater London CIC, the capital’s environmental records centre, has created a ‘green map’ of London showing all green areas in the capital, from the royal parks to small pockets of greenery and back gardens.

6. COULD LONDON BECOME THE WORLD’S FIRST NATIONAL PARK CITY?

London has 8.3 million trees, 3,000 parks and 3.8 million gardens, making 47% of its footprint physically green, and delivering around £95 million of air filtration services annually, according to the Greater London National Park Initiative.

The initiative proposes the creation of a Greater London National Park City Partnership which will work with others with the aim to ensure that 100% of Londoners have free and easy access to high-quality green space, to improve London’s green spaces and its habitats’ biodiversity, and to promote the capital’s air and water quality amongst others.

In a survey, 84% of Londoners think that making London a National Park City is something London Councils and the Mayor of London should support. You can declare your support here.

7. QUANTIFYING LOST PRODUCTIVITY DUE TO THERMAL DISSATISFACTION

Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicates a “2% decrease in productivity when temperature exceeds 25°C, and a 4.7% decrease when temperature falls below 21°C.”

Demand Logic has added a new feature on their web-based platform (the platform extracts and analyses data from building management systems), called the ‘comfort tracker’. This function analyses data from temperature sensors within the building and establishes when and for how long the above mentioned temperature thresholds were exceeded. It then calculates an estimated cost associated with lost productivity due to thermal discomfort (for the methodology see CIBSE Journal, ‘Why property owners are putting a price on thermal comfort’).

Tom Randall, director and development manager at Demand Logic, stated in a CIBSE Journal: “asset managers do not want to get bogged down with tables, looking at kilowatt-hours – they want fast, meaningful order of magnitude data.”

8. TRANSPORTATION OF THE FUTURE

The way people and goods are transported is changing rapidly and will probably bear little resemblance to transport modes of today. More onerous air quality standards (such as the California Air Resources Board ) are pushing car manufacturers to look at low emitting alternative biofuels and electric cars, whilst at the same time industry giants such as Google, Uber and Amazon are investing in driverless cars and drone-delivered packages.

We are gradually moving away from individual car ownership to a shared model with countries such as Finland even considering “a central digital platform which would aggregate carsharing, ridesharing, mass transit and other transportation options and allow users to pay for all of them in one place.”

There is therefore huge potential to minimise transport related CO2 emissions and at the same time create less congested cities with improved air quality and an efficient mixture of transportation modes.

9. MICROBEADS IN COSMETICS CONTRIBUTE TO MARINE LITTER

Spherical or amorphic plastic particulates used as ingredients in personal care and cosmetic products (PCCP- e.g. shower gels, toothpastes, scrubs), otherwise known as ‘microbeads’, are transferred into oceans, seas, lakes and estuaries through wastewater, and are “harming marine life and entering the food chain”.

According to a UNEP paper, it takes hundreds of years for microplastics to disintegrate, longer than any persistant organic pollutant. In a Guardian article, it is stated that “between 80,000 and 219,000 tonnes of microplastics enter the European marine environment a year. Their small size means that they can be ingested by marine life and have the potential to transfer chemicals to and from the marine environment.”

The UNEP report reveals that in analyses of a typical shower gel in a laboratory for poly (ethylene) particulates, there was roughly as much plastic material in the gel by weight as there was in the plastic container it came packaged in. In addition, the environmental audit committee draws on the urgent need for further research on the adverse impacts to humans stating that: "if someone eats six oysters, it is likely they will have eaten 50 particles of microplastics."

Recognising the issue, the UK government is in a favour of a ban of microbeads in cosmetic products and is working alongside other countries to get it on the agenda at a European level. You can find a list of products containing mircorbeads here (PDF,0.1MB) or alternatively you can use this app!

10. BLENDING IN

Architectenforum studio has designed a low carbon ambulance station which blends in its forest surroundings. According to Dezeen, “there is no main facade, instead green sloping walls rise from the ground and transform into the curved line of the roof, blending in with the surrounding trees and the edge of the woodlands.” You can find photos of the ambulance station here.