Is Building as Usual still a sustainable, responsible option?

Buildings represent a critical piece of any global low-carbon future.

Within the buildings sector, both residential and commercial, early movers towards efficiency can reap multiple benefits. These include more valuable, resilient buildings that offer better living and working conditions for owners and tenants, associated improvements in health and productivity, and higher occupancy rates.

Business Briefings on the Latest Climate Science is a highly readable series of briefings from CISL* at University of Cambridge, born of the belief that many sectors, including the building sector, could make more use of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5)**, which is long and  highly technical, if it were distilled into an accurate, accessible, timely, relevant and readable summary.

The briefing can be downloaded here, and of particular interest is the warning of doing nothing, too little or too late that will severely impact and comprise future generations for decades, locking in many of problems we are seeking to eradicate.

  • The longevity of buildings presents the risk of energy performance ‘lock-in’ whereby today’s sluggish ambition confers a legacy of less than optimal buildings to future generations.
  • Avoiding lock-in requires the urgent adoption of state-of-the-art
    performance standards in all buildings.
  • Radical change within the building sector requires aggressive and sustained policies and actions across the design, construction, and operation of buildings and their equipment.
Building as Usual v Building for the Future Infographic
Building as Usual v Building for the Future Infographic

CISL, together with the Cambridge Judge Business School and the support of the European Climate Foundation  a series of documents synthesising the most pertinent findings of AR5 for specific economic and business sectors

** The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) concluded that climate change is unequivocal, and that human activities, particularly emissions of carbon dioxide, are very likely to be the dominant cause.


2050: A built environment digital future within a climate hell?

15005533690_89bee8ef08_zCan a digital future help the built environment adapt to or mitigate a climate hell?  Two reports issued recently (01 Sept) caught my interest, both based on 2050 timelines:

Built Environment 2050: (BE2050) A report on our digital future by the influential group of young construction professionals. BIM2050,  illustrating the need for organisations to consider new skills, new processes and strategies around emerging digital technologies, with a focus around a BIM future The report comprises essays focusing on three key areas; education and skill; technology and process; and the culture of integration, highlighting risks, challenges, opportunities and benefits that come with large scale innovation and game-changing new technologies. Graham Watts, CIB comments in the intro  “It is an important discussion document of ideas and concepts that will, I hope, spark debate in the wider construction community.”

and, the other report issued on 01 Sept?

Reports form the Future, United Nations report, based on 2050 weather forecasts and reports warning of floods storms and searing heat in what it describes as a climate hell. (A Bulgarian weather forecaster in 2050 shows a red map with temps of 50deg) The blatant doomsday, disaster movie (think day after tomorrow) nature of the report is intentional, raising awareness in advance of the upcoming UN Climate change summit in New York, encouraging a faster response to climate issues.

So how can the built environment, itself responsible for a whooping negative 40% impact on climate change, adapt, mitigate and address climate change and how will a digital future contribute?   

The future of our industry is facing a high degree of  complexity, extreme competition and uncertainty with respect to the outcomes of climate change, availability of resources and the disruptive nature of innovation.

Regardless of their origin, (climate change) factors will indirectly stimulate a rate of change in our sector, which will have a direct impact on every aspect of the built environment as we know it.( BE2050)

The emerging, regenerative sustainability, (eg Living Building Challenge) thinking considers:

– The need to start doing more good, not just continue being less bad, flip from ‘nearly zero’, or ‘zero’ to net positive and heal the future. Not only in water and energy, but also in waste and addressing circular economy thinking.

– Addressing the wider health impact of buildings and facilities – removing harmful and toxic materials from the built environment in production, construction, in use and in disposal (or recycling)

– Working together in what may seem unconventional collaborations

– Create a new responsible industry! Turning the traditional social image of construction on its head

Given this, how will a digital future contribute? 

When reflecting upon Building Information Modelling in its context to a sustainability race, one realises that BIM is not just about modelling or intelligent design, but ultimately represents our emerging digital capabilities as an industry, and our future potential to meet these demands. (BE 2050)

After all it is big data, driven from BIM applications that is driving innovative approaches such as seeing buildings as material banks, not waste generators. The BE2050 report invites an ongoing debate, one absolutely essential to keep BIM and Digital approaches from falling into a bubble, (BIM for BIM’s sake?) and start debating the wider contribution for eg :

– Product data libraries that carriers health and material recipe composition to enable informed decisions through digital value engineering

– BIM approaches that  address functional and financial reuse and reincorporation of buildings and products from end of one building’s life into the next.

– BIM education that removes discipline silo’s and places BIM as a powerful tool to progress restorative sustainability approaches

Both reports are to be welcomed in the ongoing debate to correct the built environments sustainability failings of the past and face up to responsibilities for the future…

Greening the Building Supply Chain

UNEP’s Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI) has, together with Skanska and other partners, assessed ways and means for ‘Greening the Building Supply Chain’, which constitutes the purpose of this new report. While there is increasing awareness and efforts to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, the work to realise reduced material use, water consumption and waste generation in the overall delivery of buildings and throughout the construction system have been less advanced. Source: Construction21 

chrome and glassThe report makes good background reading and guidance as we start to address the Sustainable Procurement requirements within the new ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Standard

And, not surprisingly the report cites BIM as a key intervention for greening the supply chain, to ‘facilitate green  life cycle decision making and supply chain collaboration early in the design process, improve construction and procurement processes, but also facility management, to maximize resource efficiency potential over the building life cycle’


Download the report here

Download the Action Framework here