Ahead of Paris #COP21: Construction Carbon targets wake up call?

Most if not all of our construction sustainability / carbon strategies,standards and targets are based on preventing an increase in global warming temperatures beyond 2 deg C.  That may well have to change, with harsher, tougher targets becoming essential.

As reported in Science Daily, the 2 deg target is increasingly under pressure as being ‘utterly inadequate’ for protecting those at most risk from climate change, with targets of 1.5 or even 0.8 being proposed.  The long-term goal to stay below 2°C warming is currently undergoing a 2013-15 Review, the results of which are expected this June and could be adopted in Paris at COP21 in December 2015.

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A slow, pale green approach? Do we need to reset our sustainable construction map and compass?

It may well be that our slowness in moving forward with carbon reductions over the last decade or so is now catching up and that the effort to cap carbon and or temperature rises will become more and more difficult.

In construction we have seen site based carbons increase, and whilst there maybe a decrease in construction transport emissions, that can be attributed to efficiencies in vehicle efficiency. Globally we are increasingly procuring materials and services farther and farther away from contracts.

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Cowed: A Book Review

imagesCowed:  The Hidden Impact of 93 million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture and Environment, 

Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes

Do Cows hibernate Dad? asked one of my sons a decade or so ago when we moved into rural Lancashire, noticing that cows were absent in the fields during winter months and as then not aware of the noisy, steamy and rather smelly over wintering cow sheds. One of the rural spring treats which we will witness soon, is when the cows are let out into the spring green fields, where they literally can jump for joy like spring lambs. the word cavorting* would seem invited for just this occasion.

Cowed is an entertaining and educating insight into the American relationship with its cattle, triggered by the authors visit in the UK and noticing how very different cattle in UK fields appeared to that seen or indeed out of sight in the US.

From Cowboys through to intelligent, mechanised milking, Denis and Gail provide real insights from their environmentalism knowledge, (Denis was cofounder of Earthday in the 70’s, now founder /CEO of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle and a recent guest on our #sustldrconv series,  Gail is an Environmental lawyer, health writer and editor)

Throughout, I was reminded of John Muir’s comment that ‘when we tug on one part of nature we find it joined to everything else”, This may be as on the day I started reading Cowed, I visited a botanical garden in Vancouver where this quote was engraved into the floor and entrance screens.

Nevertheless, for me it summed up one of Cowed’s core themes. That the Cow, which we have removed from natural habituation and domesticated or rather industricated, is now so intrinsically linked to so many aspects of our lives from food to furniture and in doing so, uncoupled from its natural connections and bio-relationship with soil, air and water.

Cowed provided, for me a straightforward  explanation of the recent research, debate and controversy on natural cattle grazing patterns and impact for soil carbon sequestration based around the work of Allan Savory. This is something I had come across before on a TED talk but poorly understood.

Living in rural Lancashire I easily recognised the description of dairy farming within the first few pages, but I struggled to recognise the US description of cattle management in the remainder of the book, perhaps with the exception of the cattle ranching images from old Westerns!. Yet Cowed does highlight issues we here in the UK need to be aware of and guard against as concepts of mega farms are proposed and debated here.

*to jump or move around in a playful way, sometimes noisily, and often in a sexual way

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Rethinking Water, Reclaiming Water #WorldWaterDay

This year the World Economic Forum identified “water” as one of the top 5 biggest societal and economic risks for the next 10 years. Climate change is affecting the water cycle, with water variability increasing and extreme events (floods and droughts) becoming more common and increasingly costly. The impact that the built environment has on water management in just about every other sector is significant, making water performance of buildings a corporate or social responsibility issue.

Here in the UK we may not have the acute water issues as for example being experienced in Perth or in California where they have less than a year’s supply of water. This shortage is due to a number of reasons such as removing water from the aquifers and not returning it (or indeed returning it treated with chemicals, and the reduced levels of snowpack, acute this year, that top up these aquifers)

Yet, in the UK we are experiencing floods and water shortages, restrictions and droughts more frequently, so rethinking water, in design, in construction and in building operations can only be a good thing.

The UK Living Building Challenge Collaborative has been exploring the Challenges’ Water Imperative and developing an overlay or interpretation guide for UK projects and clients looking to adopt Living Building Challenge approaches.

The Water Petal intent is to To meet all water demands within the carrying capacity of the site and to mimic natural hydrological conditions, using appropriately-sized and climate-specific water management systems that treat, infiltrate or reuse all water resources on-site.

Lets unpick that a little …

“Water Demands” One theme emerging, from the work of this group and my visit to a number of LBC projects in the Pacific NW is that we need to rethink water and the performance of buildings in water management, giving it the same focus as we do energy. Not to see water as an additional design criteria, but to be at the core of design, calculating and seeking ways top reduce water load, as we would with energy.

Reducing ‘water load’ for a building use can be achieved through waterless or composting WC’s such as those in the Bullitt Centre or though recycled water systems such as the busy VanDusen botanical garden visitor Centre in Vancouver.

13.2-ReclaimedWater“All water” – the CIRS building at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver – a sustainability research lab – is utilizing a Solar Aquatic System designed to mimic the purification processes of naturally occurring water systems in close proximity to human inhabitation, such as streams and wetlands, to produce clean water for use in the building

“Net Positive” – LBC projects will be water net-positive, for example, via the large underground (56k gallon water tank)  the Bullitt Centre can survive for 104 days without accessing mains water, the CIRS building can supply grey water to adjacent buildings.

“Reuse” Good buildings will recycle and reuse grey water more than once using natural systems. And without using materials deemed ‘toxic”, i.e. those on the Living Building Challenge’s Red List such as Chlorine and PVC. On a domestic level, water reclaiming systems such as Nexus eWater are enabling the recycling of rain water and grey water many times in a domestic closed loop system

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Systems that treat Good buildings will treat all water on site, ensuring no leachates and other nasty’s run off into the ground, into water systems, just as trees do, and as trees did that most likely stood on the site in the past, ensuring the aquifers remained as pure as possible.

 

 

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Thinking beyond SUDS, Constructed wetlands can and arguably should be incorporated into the structure of the building as well as being part of the landscaping.

Viewing buildings as a system of interconnected buildings is key to integrated design, rather than seeing each as stand-alone buildings. Here great synergies can be gained, moving reclaimed or harvested water from one building to another to meet need, using buildings as storage or as filters for others.

 

Construction phase … projects can develop water hierarchies, as we do waste and energy hierarchies, perhaps with a water plan, addressing the question “Why do we use drinking quality water for washing down site plant, keeping dust down etc.”

And to FM and building operations – spreading the water conservation message, through signage and through occupant ‘charters’ can all help gain respect for special water technologies within the facility. Going further Catering and food outlets could serve two vegetarian meals for every one meat – as the CIRS building does – to reinforce the vastly different quantities of water required to provide meat produce and veg / fruit produce (not to mention energy and travel impact)

And, on drinking water The WELL Building Standard for Water requires and promotes safe and clean water through proper filtration and other methods, requiring the appropriate quality of water for various uses. Again without harmful chemicals or materials.

IMG_2035So on World Water Day, a call to UK universities with a strong built environment and sustainability programme and values. Make your next university estates project a sustainable water building, along the philosophy of the Living Building Challenge, as a research project as the CIRS building does, or as a demonstration of what is possible – core to the Bullitt Centre remit. Influencing and inspiring the next generation of built environment professionals is so important.

“The era of harm reduction, half steps, and lesser evils is behind us. As a society, we need to be bold in ways that were once unimaginable. Luckily in the building sector, we now can imagine where we need to go”

If you would like more information on the work of the UK Living Building Challenge or indeed on the standard itself, please get contact me on fairsnape@gmail.com or Donna on d.m.lee@leedsbeckett.ac.uk or indeed follow us on twitter @fairsnape and @livingbldgUK

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Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish: a sustainability visit.

Having just returned from a visit / tour of sustainability projects in the Cascadia, NW pacific area of Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish, combined with a outdoor vacation, I am now sorting copious notes, photos and observations from the trip that will form future blog posts and inclusion in my forthcoming book, FutuREstorative.

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There were so many ‘highlights’ of the trip that will feature in future articles, but, as a quick summary:

The lack of snow inhibited any real winter sports without really venturing deep into backcountry. I was later to learn that this year ‘pineapple express’ wind and low snowpack levels will have an adverse affect on water aquifers across the region.

Walking and biking in forests where bear, cougar and coyote roamed and (worryingly, so early in the year) had been spotted during our visit introduced a fission of alertness not known in the UK or Europe and made for interesting discussions on re-wilding the UK countryside!

A return visit to the Austrian House at Lost lake Whistler, a Passive House gift from Austria to the 2006 Olympics and Canada’s first PH registered project.

Understanding the distinctive heavy timber architecture of the Squamish area, and visits to buildings at the stunning location of Quest Campus, Squamish and the Environmental Learning Centre at the North Vancouver Outdoor School in Brackendale (winner of a Wood Design Award held in Vancouver that week)

Meeting with Sustainable Leadership Conversation co-host and friend Andrea Learned who took me on a great cycle tour through her ‘hood –  the Seattle Ballard area and along the Waterfront with stop offs at the Tractor Tavern (home of garage and grunge) Stone34 (Leed Platinum Brooks HQ) finishing with great social media / sustainability discussions over dinner.

Visits to Living Building Challenge projects, the CIRS building at University of British Columbia, the Bullet Centre in Seattle and the VanDusen visitor centre Vancouver as well as understanding other notable sustainability buildings such as the MEC HQ in Vancouver and Stone34 in Seattle.

Water featured in visits and discussions, in particular that we should start to address water in the same way we do for energy performance in buildings – from the impact on “fossil-water” through to buildings, like the Bullitt Centre acting like trees and returning 80% of water that falls on the building to the aquifer and in using the 20% many times in closed loop systems. And of course those waterless composting toilets …

Whilst in the Bullitt Centre it was fun to to provide a live update back to and converse with the Living Building Challenge UK Collaborative water petal workshop in Leeds.

But it wasn’t just the big restorative sustainability concepts that inspired, often it’s the small but awesome detail that is essential in reinforcing the messages, like the CIRS building on UBC where the solar aqua filter plant room is positioned at the entrance, viewed by all entering the building as a reminder. But perhaps the best message being in CIRS café area where two vegetarian meals are served for each meat meal, reinforcing the message of the resources in land and water to provide the meat meal compared to that of the vegetarian.

File 17-03-2015 09 03 34It was of course great to visit the Bullitt Centre and question behind the stories covered on the web and numerous articles; it really is an inspiring building and lives up to its green reputation. But now the real challenge starts – “to replicate the Bullitt Centre a thousand, a million times and fast” Over an iced tea with Denis Hayes we discussed the real possibility of a Bullitt Centre type project in Manchester as the hub for iDSP, the Institute for Design Space and Place.

Many inspiring chats and discussions gave insights into restorative sustainability for example with Tim Herrin at CIRS, with Brad Khan who really knows the Bullitt Centre inside out, with Denis Hayes, with the LBC team (great to meet and catch up with Amanda Sturgeon, Eric Corey Freed,  Hilary Mayhew, Stacia and Bonnie) and, completely by chance, at a Vancouver dinner party, a planner involved in the LBC certified Childcare facility at Simon Fraser University. An evening meal with Ken Carty, author and retired political scientist at UBC provided interesting insights into Canadian politics.

I guess no visit to the Pacific NW could be complete without getting to understanding some of the environmental politics – particularly to the north of British Columbia where the TNG and the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands bitumen pipeline is being fought to prevent environmental damage to an awesome wilderness areas. A visit to the newly opened, community located, Patagonia store in Vancouver provided further insights to Patagonia’s environmental and responsibility activity in the area via their excellent ‘zine booklet published for the stores opening ‘In the Land of the Misty Giants’ (issuu version here)

I should of course mention the reason d’etre for the trip was triggered by my partner, Soo Downe and her midwifery week at UBC with the highlight of her public lecture at the Inaugural Elaine Carty Midwifery Programme (Storify here)

But who would of thought that Cows would feature in my tour. Denis Hayes kindly gifted me a copy of his new book Cowed co-written with his wife Gail Boyer Hayes. Cowed provides a fascinating insight to how Cows impact so much both on our lives and the environment and was a great read on the long flight back from Vancouver.

So, many people to thank for such a great vacation and study tour, from Brett at the awesome Squamish airBNB, Andrea Learned, the ILFI team, our friends and hosts in Vancouver, those who gave time to talk or provide tours, Denis Hayes, Tim Herring, Brad Kahn and many more. And of course great company, thanks Soo, Chris and Emma

Future posts will use the hashtags #futurestorative and/or #VanSea2015

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Mike Wigglesworth 1958 – 2015

Stob Coire Easain

Just under three weeks back we heard the incredibly sad news that life long friend and mountain companion Mike Wigglesworth succumbed to a heart attack. From the late 60’s early days of cutting mountain teeth through scouting and venture scouting to ski touring, alpinism and bothy trips through wilds of Scotland, Mike had been a constant source of inspiration and friendship on so many levels and will be hugely missed.

Although here in Canada, our thoughts are so much with friends back home today.

Thanks for your friendship Mike. The memory of your obvious delight, (often seemingly nonchalant, hands in pockets) in striding across Scottish or Alpine ridges will remain one of my lifetime pleasures.

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Backcasting for a future sustainability.

The UK Living BuildiUK_collaborative_logong Challenge Collaborative hosted at Leeds Sustainability Institute at Leeds Beckett University is currently  working through the Standards petals and imperatives to develop a UK translation or ‘overlay. It is therefore timely to revisit and remind us of Mel Starrs insightful review of the Living Build Challenge following her visit to our Green Vision conference that focused on aspects of the LBC.

“For those who might not have come across the Living Building Challenge yet, it is a deep, deep green target based certification scheme. The ‘challenge’ is described as ‘the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions’. The International Living Future Institute, who operate the scheme, have approached green building certification from the opposite end than say BREEAM or LEED. Rather than starting with where we are today and adding incremental improvements, they have ‘backcasted’ from their ideal end point.

Full article here

SnapseedIndeed it was this idea of backcasting and in particular this image shared via twitter from an ILFI conference some years back that really ignited the formation of the UK Living Building Challenge Collaborative. Backcasting cos sustainability can be seen as an approach that sets future restorative and visionary end points with required practices and imperatives in order to back cast a path and encouraging rethinking of current approaches for getting there. Rather than as with current mainstream sustainability standards, that focus on making current practices a little less harmful through incremental improvement steps.

The Collaboratives exploration of the Petals continues on 11th March with Water and then 22nd April with Energy. More information of these, past sessions and future dates can be found here.

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Not knowing the construction industry carbon footprint is not acceptable.

Minimising and reducing carbon in construction has been a central plank of industry sustainability strategies for a good many years. It is therefore embarrassing for the industry, as Construction Manager reports, that we don’t still don’t have an industry handle on or indeed understand construction carbon figures.

An earlier Sustainability Strategy for Construction set a 2012 target of 15% reduction from the 2008 figure of 48T of CO2 / £million spend which should give us about 42 T / £m at 2012 with targets for further reductions by 2020 and 2050 in line with UK reduction targets.

Although … Peter Hansford “The strategy is to achieve a 50% cut in construction sector emissions from 1990 levels by 2025, and the GCB (Green Construction Board) is tasked with making it happen”

Indications are that, dispute a focus on sustainability, with just about every organisation in construction self-claiming to be sustainable,  construction emissions actually rose by 13% over the period 2008 – 2012.

As a major emitter of CO2, (when adding in transport and travel) the construction has a socially responsibility to address and reduce.

The fact that as an industry we don’t really know is down right unacceptable.

Our ConstructCO2 tool shows an average of 97.5kg / £k based on all construction types. As we gain more data (currently 300 projects) we can break this down into more meaningful targets, but since the first project on ConstructCO2 our benchmark has not fallen below 90kg/£K. (As an industry we should be below 40kg/£K)

When we founded ConstructCO2, we set out to keep it simple to record and used the strap line of Monitor, Understand and then Reduce.  Having monitored for a number of years we now understand the causes of construction carbon

Ashford School CCO2 A2 Poster

and can take steps to reduce through proactive planning.

Reducing Construction Carbon - Infographic


Why then, as industry we do not understand or monitor Construction CO2?

  • Cash in King, Carbon is Queen was a rallying call from Construction Advisor Paul Morrell – but very few rallied.
  • BREEAM hasn’t followed through – with just the requirement to record travel, transport and energy use, but not to reduce, monitor over time or collate. As an industry we have a mass of disparate spreadsheets across the country containing probably all the data we need.
  • Recording data at site level is deemed too time consuming, put into the too busy to do box by contractors, excepting of course the enlighten contractors using ConstructCO2 who see the benefits of doing so – or their clients are telling them to do so.
  • In the main, clients are not requiring projects to record and act on carbon emissions as a project key performance indicators.
  • Reducing carbon at site entails a collaborative approach from all on construction method, specification, procurement, planning, sub contractor management and so on. We simply don’t collaborate on reducing CO2.

Benefits of Monitoring CO2 (as reported by ConstructCO2 users)

  • Every kg of CO2 reduced equates to x£ not spent
  • Reducing CO2 from material and waste transport improves the local spend
  • Reducing mileage CO2 from personnel travel reduces driving time stress on operative & managers, improves productivity and time on site. Car sharing also reduces the fuel cost of operatives and managers.
  • Understanding the carbon issues enables more informed procurement, selection and logistics management

As Shaun McCarthy, Director of the Sustainability Supply Chain School said on twitter, its not Rocket Science,

Indications are that the GCB and WRAP UK will take up the mantle of managing data on construction carbons. Lets hope they talk to ConstructCO2, understand our lessons learnt and keep it simple but effective.

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