Sustainability is undeniably a key driving issue within the built environment. Whilst there may have been some contention around whether the UK’s goals for net-zero emissions by 2050 are too ambitious or not ambitious enough, the fact remains that action within the industry must be urgent and impactful if those goals are to be met. In an environment where change can require considerable time, effort and resources to take effect, the question then becomes how can we respond quickly and effectively?
As part of a month-long programme of events at The Building Centre presented by Kingspan Facades, a panel of industry experts and leaders sat down to discuss some of the most prominent and pressing issues facing the industry today, from the role of legislation, to concerns over the performance gap.
Kicking off the discussion, the panellists were asked what they thought the built environment should look like in 2050, especially as 80% of the building stock has already been built. Mark Taylor responded by saying “We need to understand how to treat existing buildings with care, with sensitivity, with effectiveness and with efficiency.” The refurb versus rebuild debate was addressed with balance and a call for more data. Michael Stacey explained that “in most cases, reusing the existing building saves between 4%-46% of the carbon… but if you convert a warehouse into a multi-occupancy residential building it uses 17% more carbon than a new build,” exemplifying the need to understand life-cycle analysis and to have that data freely available to the built environment.
“I think you need legislation – this idea of carrot and stick. I think the idea that we all want to live with a sustainable future is something we all hold dear to our hearts but when the finances get involved with it, I’m afraid money talks and without legislation, this ‘stick’ so to speak, I’m afraid these things won’t happen.” – Sean Butler – Commercial Director at Schueco
A key theme throughout the evening was the need for robust legislation to incentivise the move towards a low-carbon economy, both in the UK and globally. “I think you need legislation – this idea of carrot and stick” Sean Butler propounded, “I think you need a bit of stick to make sure that this happens. I think the idea that we all want to live with a sustainable future is something we all hold dear to our hearts but when the finances get involved with it, I’m afraid money talks and without legislation, this ‘stick’ so to speak, I’m afraid these things won’t happen.” Michael Stacey took this further, reflecting that “We don’t need more and more certified voluntary schemes that people have to pay for, we should return to decent building regulations and that should include the rented sector.”
The panellists also highlighted the need for this guidance to be readily accessible for architects. As Billy Field highlighted, “We are the people who design the facade and put it on the building… but when I started doing the research for [accelerating the pathway to net-zero carbon buildings], half of us are not aware of this drive that is happening. So, for legislation, you need to educate and bring it right down to the bottom levels.”
Bianca Wong, Global Head of Sustainability at Kingspan, extended the discussion to the role of legislation in meeting the challenge of net-zero embodied emissions. “It’s very important to set the direction of travel to create and accelerate that market change and ultimately send a signal to businesses,” she stated, stressing that legislation, mass collaboration across the whole value chain, and financing will be vital.
“There is so little understanding of heat flow in building envelopes throughout the entire strata of the industry… we all need to upskill.” – Mark Taylor – Director at Allies and Morrison
However, as Billy Field highlighted, “Beyond the climate, we have a labour problem” and there is still a lot of work to be done on the ground. Looking to the performance gap and skills shortage, Sean Butler discussed the fact that, despite rigorous third-party testing of products and systems, manufacturers don’t sell the finished product, which is reliant on the skills of others for it to meet the designed intent. Offsite construction and training were identified as key in helping to ensure performance requirements are met throughout the project design, fabrication and installation. Mark Taylor was quick to agree that upskilling across the supply chain needed to be a central focus through “cross fertilisation of knowledge and of technical support.” He went on to say: “There is so little understanding of heat flow in building envelopes throughout the entire strata of the industry… we all need to upskill.”
Michael Stacey concluded the event stating, “We started this carbon expenditure… we need to lead the world in showing that we can decarbonise the United Kingdom.”
Hosted in conjunction with New London Architecture, the panellists were:
Mark Taylor, Director at Allies and Morrison
Bianca Wong, Global Head of Sustainability at Kingspan
Sean Butler, Commercial Director at Schueco
Billy Field, Director at Dane Architectural
Michael Stacey, Professor at Bartlett School of Architecture
Article and video courtesy of Kingspan Facades