On Carbon … Planes, Homes and Emails

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The airline industry is in the news again with Ryanair being told by the advertising watchdog to stop adverts that claim it to be the greenest airline in Europe,

The airline industry has become a focus of both carbon ‘anger and angst’, along with a reawakening of the carbon offsetting debate. Yet carbon is not the only issue for the airlines, it is socially unjust (with only some 15% of the population flying regularly) and the other greenhouse gasses such as NOx do damage to health and environment at point of emission – something that cannot be offset.

But, with this sector contributing only 2% of globally emissions we must also look closer to home and to improve our carbon understanding and literacy.

Our homes and buildings contribute 40% greenhouse gas emissions, with 28% through design and the way heat cool and light, the way we live, play and work within our homes and buildings. 11% is through the manufacturer of building materials, with cement and concrete contributing a whopping 8% of total world co2 (if it were a country it would rank 3rd in emission output)

In 2019 the built environment sector woke to climate warming design flaws with a large number of architects, engineers and contractors committing to address the Climate and Biodiversity Emergency. The RIBA 2030 climate challenge sets tough challenges to reduce embodied carbon in homes and buildings by 75% by 2030.

With the huge housebuilding programme across the country these are commitments and challenges our house building sector should be embracing today. Failure to do so only stokes a future of ever increasing emissions, biodiversity degeneration in addition to the health and finance for future generations.

The Government is currently consulting on ‘The Future Homes Standard‘ – an update to the building regulations for new homes. However, the proposed changes to building regulations are likely to make buildings less energy efficient not more, according to the work of London Energy Transformation Initiative (Leti), a network of more than 1,000 architects and engineers. Perhaps even more worrying is a proposal to prevent local councils from going beyond national standards and demanding greater energy efficiency or lower carbon emissions.  If you haven’t as yet, you should be writing to your MP on this as part of the consultation. (Friends of the Earth Manchester have useful information and how to do this)

But perhaps a sleeping giant of carbon emissions is the vast amount of data we generate, share and reshare, store only to never return to. And a major contributor are emails. We have all seen the warning at the bottom of emails, “Please consider the environment before printing.” But if we care about global warming, we might want to consider not writing so many emails in the first place.

Right now, data centers consume about 2% of the world’s electricity, but that’s expected to reach 8% by 2030. Moreover, only about 6% of all data ever created is in use today,” according to research from Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

That means that 94% is sitting in a vast “cyber landfill,” albeit one with a massive carbon footprint.

“It’s costing us the equivalent of maintaining the airline industry for data we don’t even use,”

Understanding carbon is complex and giving rise to awareness courses and events on carbon (or eco) literacy courses. Ideally we need a reliable and accurate equivalent to food labelling that informs us of the carbon or ecology footprint of our flight, our homes and our emails … and all the other stuff we use and do.

A good place to start is Mike Berners Lee (Professor at Lancaster University and Sustainability Patron for Cumbria Action ) ‘How Bad are Bananas’

And of course we need to list not the rising young generation and to paraphrase Greta Thunberg from her talk at Davos ‘we cannot address the climate emergency with clever carbon number fudging, accounting or offseeting – we need zero carbon’

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"We Need Real Zero"

Once again Great Thunberg has shaken our thinking on carbon with her speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos. With our focus on “net zero emissions” “low carbon economy” and “carbon neutrality” are we cheating and fiddling around with numbers? are we “offsetting emissions” by just paying someone else to plant trees whilst we carry on as normal?

Another wake up call. Here is the full transcript of her remarks, taken from the New York Times, host of the WEF in Davos

selective focus photography of hands

One year ago I came to Davos and told you that our house is on fire. I said I wanted you to panic. I’ve been warned that telling people to panic about the climate crisis is a very dangerous thing to do. But don’t worry. It’s fine. Trust me, I’ve done this before and I can assure you it doesn’t lead to anything.

And, for the record, when we children tell you to panic we’re not telling you to go on like before. We’re not telling you to rely on technologies that don’t even exist today at scale and that science says perhaps never will.

We are not telling you to keep talking about reaching “net zero emissions” or “carbon neutrality” by cheating and fiddling around with numbers. We are not telling you to “offset your emissions” by just paying someone else to plant trees in places like Africa while at the same time forests like the Amazon are being slaughtered at an infinitely higher rate.

Planting trees is good, of course, but it’s nowhere near enough of what is needed and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature.

Let’s be clear. We don’t need a “low carbon economy.” We don’t need to “lower emissions.” Our emissions have to stop if we are to have a chance to stay below the 1.5-degree target. And, until we have the technologies that at scale can put our emissions to minus, then we must forget about net zero. We need real zero.

Because distant net zero emission targets will mean absolutely nothing if we just continue to ignore the carbon dioxide budget — that applies for today, not distant future dates. If high emissions continue like now even for a few years, that remaining budget will soon be completely used up.

The fact that the U.S.A. is leaving the Paris accord seems to outrage and worry everyone, and it should. But the fact that we’re all about to fail the commitments you signed up for in the Paris Agreement doesn’t seem to bother the people in power even the least.

Any plan or policy of yours that doesn’t include radical emission cuts at the source, starting today, is completely insufficient for meeting the 1.5-degree or well-below-2-degrees commitments of the Paris Agreement.

And again, this is not about right or left. We couldn’t care less about your party politics. From a sustainability perspective, the right, the left as well as the center have all failed. No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency and create a cohesive and sustainable world. Because that world, in case you haven’t noticed, is currently on fire.

You say children shouldn’t worry. You say: “Just leave this to us. We will fix this, we promise we won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.”

And then, nothing. Silence. Or something worse than silence. Empty words and promises which give the impression that sufficient action is being taken.

All the solutions are obviously not available within today’s societies. Nor do we have the time to wait for new technological solutions to become available to start drastically reducing our emissions. So, of course the transition isn’t going to be easy. It will be hard. And unless we start facing this now together, with all cards on the table, we won’t be able to solve this in time.

In the days running up to the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum, I joined a group of climate activists demanding that you, the world’s most powerful and influential business and political leaders, begin to take the action needed.

We demand at this year’s World Economic Forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments:

Immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.

And immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.

We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021. We want this done now.

It may seem like we’re asking for a lot. And you will of course say that we are naïve. But this is just the very minimum amount of effort that is needed to start the rapid sustainable transition.

So either you do this or you’re going to have to explain to your children why you are giving up on the 1.5-degree target. Giving up without even trying. Well I’m here to tell you that, unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight.

The facts are clear, but they’re still too uncomfortable for you to address. You just leave it because you think it’s too depressing and people will give up. But people will not give up. You are the ones who are giving up.

Last week I met with Polish coal miners who lost their jobs because their mine was closed. And even they had not given up. On the contrary, they seem to understand the fact that we need to change more than you do.

I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing a climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?

Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else. 

Thank you.

A Carbon Hierarchy for (Net) Zero Carbon Construction

This is Part 2 of Zero Carbon Series. See Part One Carbon That Was then This is Now

Writing in FutuREstorative back in 2016, I looked at what a construction project would look like in response to the Living Building Challenge‘s “what if every act of construction made the world a better place”

  • Projects would be net positive in all aspects, on place, nature, water, health, even knowledge and of course carbon.
  • Construction projects are carbon-positive: Strict carbon planning and management is key. Remaining carbon emissions after all carbon management improvements have been made are addressed with restorative offset programmes.

FutuREstorative drew on a Total Carbon Study from the Integral Group, DPR Construction and others that looked at the carbon profile through the life of a refurbishment project (DPR’s Construction San Francisco Office) and reported a number of key findings:

  • 􏰀For new buildings, it is critical to focus on reducing embodied emissions;
  • For existing buildings we need to focus on reducing operating emissions.
  • The largest reductions came from the use of high-mass and energy- intensive materials.
  • Carbon and Construction carbons are not understood.

Lloyd Alter writing in Treehugger established Upfront Carbon as a key concept term in addressing the ‘Climate Emergency’. ‘Embodied carbon is not a difficult concept at all, it is just a misleading term … I have concluded that it should be Upfront Carbon Emissions, or UCE”. (By the way, Lloyds article Let’s rename “Embodied Carbon” to “Upfront Carbon Emissions” is a must read that also illustrates how twitter conversations, with Elrond Burrell, can lead to improved industry thinking)

ARRO: a project carbon hierarchy

To achieve a positive carbon project, focusing on the essential upfront carbons,. FutuREstorative proposed a robust carbon hierarchy approach. As the waste hierarchy of ‘recycle, reuse, dispose‘ has become part of our construction waste lexicon so ARRO – Avoid, Replace, Reduce and Offset.should become part of the carbon lexicon

ARRO: From FutuREstorative,

Avoid: carbon through regenerative low carbon design, construction planning and sustainable facilities management …

Replace: high carbon techniques and activities with low carbon, regenerative solutions…

Reduce: seek to reduce carbon through local material and supplier procurement and a focus on construction travel and transport, carbon productivity and construction efficiency …

Offset emissions that cannot be managed out. But be aware you cannot offset the toxic greenhouse gas emissions eg NOX from use of diesel plant and transport.

It is worth noting that the RIBA 2030 Challenge calls for a reduction in embodied (upfront carbon) … rising incrementally from 50 in 2020 to 75% over the next decade before offsetting become acceptable

Asked recently at the end of a keynote zero carbon talk for three actions that we should be doing today, I responded with firstly to Take Back, secondly to Stop and thirdly to Think like a Tree. Admitedly, his was on the spot thinking, but based on a decade or so of engagement with sustainability thinkers, researchers, scientists, practitioners, it makes the basis for a good strategy

Take Back – On our watch , over the last 30 years , of urging sustainable construction, carbon in the atmosphere has increased from 320 to 415ppm. And we in the built environment are responsible for 40% of that increase. To get back to the science based safe target of 350 we need to be taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Therefore, the most responsible thing we can do is to design and construct buildings that are carbon sinks. Buildings that lock carbon away.

Stop – or at least severely reduce putting pollutants and carbon, into the atmosphere.

Think Like a Tree – carbon is an essential building block within nature. We need to rethink and understand carbon cycles, acknowledge that carbon is not the enemy. We need a better construction carbon and eco – literacy so we fully understand carbon as a natural currency cycle, evaluating carbon efficiency (carbon productivity) as we do financial efficiency.

Once we see carbon as a ‘currency’ then we can understand carbon productivity – how much value of building are we delivering for each unit of carbon emitted. This should become the KPI for projects, alongside or even replacing the measure of productivity in labour terms. It is one of the most simple of KPI’s., or could be, construction cost divided by upfront carbon. We tightly monitor and measure construction value, and we measure construction carbon, albeit unevenly.

In conclusion then …

An ABC for (Net) Zero Carbon Construction

Adopt a carbon strategy: of take back, of stopping emissions and of rethinking carbon as natural cycles,

Build robust carbon ARRO hierarchy strategies that Avoid, Reduce and Repair and Offset into every project

Carbon productivity monitored as a core KPI, with strong carbon leadership and literacy, that matches the level of focus we have on financial and safety performance within the industry


Next: Part 3 – Just What is Construction Carbon and Ecological Literacy


Image Source: Unsplash, EJ Yao

Carbon: That was then, This is now.

The biggest contribution we can make to the climate crisis is to urgently deliver buildings that store carbon.. The zero-concrete, zero-cement Cuerden Valley Park Visitor Center, Lancashire,, designed and constructed to Living Building Challenge Standard, demonstrates that is possible.

The plethora of climate, carbon and biodiversity targets, visions and reports within, and beyond, the built environment, may seem to cause confusion, but there is a core, science based purpose. However, the explosion of focus on climate emergency, over the last six months or so, driven by IPCC, CCC, Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and others has changed the narrative … from why to how.

Reading the latest, Transforming Construction report published recently by the NFB, I realised we have many, perhaps too many, reports re-emphasising or regurgitating the why, we now need more how. The urgent how challenge of adapting existing and construction new in the climate emergency is to quickly reduce the upfront and operational carbon emissions from our buildings and infrastructure. Indeed the biggest contribution, and responsible contribution we can make is to deliver buildings that store carbon.

Our last 30 or 40 years of sustainability reports and events on why we need to understand and monitor carbon hasn’t shifted the sustainability needle. In fact on our watch, despite great sustainability initiatives, the situation has gotten worse and is escalating … in the wrong direction.

In 2012 the Construction Vision 2025 called for a 50% reduction in built environment carbon by 2025. It’s probably fair to say the bulk of the construction sector has done little towards this. Indeed when presented now the reaction from many contractors is ‘thats impossible’

That was then: this is now.

The climate crisis is a rapidly changing picture and as we have more understanding there is the recognition there is no time to lose. The recent paper published in the journal BioScience endorsed by over 11000 scientists emphasises “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”

For background see rethinking carbon posts here on Fairsnape blog.

How we address carbon management over the next 10 years is vital – if we haven’t moved significantly on the 1.5 deg warming Paris pathway we are stuffed. 2030 is far more important than 2050.

Having recognised an emergency exists, are we dialling 999 and requesting firefighting services in 20 years?

Caroline Lucas

The UK Green Party 2019 manifesto If Not Now, Then When, is based on the premise New green homes, new green transport and new green jobs will get us on track to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 and provide new opportunities for everyone to live happier and more secure lives.

One ‘how’ solution, for clients, designers, planners, contractors, manufacturers and facilities, that can move us forward rapidly as a visionary pathway to a regenerative future’ is the suite of standards and tools associated with the Living Building Challenge from the International’s Living Future Institute, (includes Living Building, Living Communities and Living Product Challenges, Declare and Just labels, Net Zero Energy and Net Zero Carbon tools)

Round up of Carbon Visions and Targets

IPCC 2018 if we want to hold the line to 1.5 degrees, we have to slash emissions by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. Then we have to reach net-zero around 2050. Note Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report re-emphasizing the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for all sectors by 2020

Extinction Rebellion Net zero 2025

Cities, eg Glasgow – carbon neutral city by 2030

RIBA 2030 Challenge – Reduce embodied carbon by at least 50-70%, before offsetting. Target net zero whole life carbon for new and retrofitted buildings by 2030. And on embodied, up front carbon based on 1100 kgCO2e/m2 (M4i benchmark)
– 2020 < 800 kgCO2e/m2 30%
– 2025 < 650 kgCO2e/m2 40%
– 2030 < 500 kgCO2e/m2 60%

The NZGBC Zero Carbon Road Map proposes that
– building owners start certifying their existing buildings to zero carbon in 2020 and have all their buildings zero carbon by 2030
– building developers construct their new buildings to zero carbon, and 20 per cent less embodied carbon, by 2025.

World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) global Advancing Net Zero Campaign which has set targets for all buildings to be net zero carbon in operation by 2050 and all new buildings to meet this standard by 2030. Bringing embodied carbon upfront

UKGBC “We need to take urgent action to almost halve global emissions by 2030 and eliminate them completely by the middle of the century”

“By 2030, all buildings and infrastructure will, throughout their lifetime, be climate resilient and maximise environmental net gains, through the prioritisation of nature-based solutions.”

Committee on Climate Change
Using known technologies, the UK can end our contribution to global warming by reducing emissions to Net Zero by 2050. (Scotland a net-zero date of 2045, Wales, a 95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.)

Green Construction Board Buildings Mission 2030 report shows that net zero operational carbon is already possible.

Architects Declare Adopt more regenerative design principles in our studios, with the aim of designing architecture and urbanism that goes beyond the standard of net zero carbon in use.

Building Services Declare: Adopt more regenerative design principles in practice, with the aim of providing building services engineering design that achieves the standard of net zero carbon

Structural Eng Declare Adopt more regenerative design principles in practice, with the aim of providing structural engineering design that achieves the standard of net zero carbon.

UK – Parliament Declaration – all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

NFB Transforming Construction: zero carbon by 2050

Next: Part 2 An ABC Guide to Construction Carbon

Investors call on construction material companies to commit to net zero emissions by 2050

Brick, Stone, Blocks, Building Material, Construction

With the construction materials sector exposed to significant transition and physical risk resulting from climate change, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) recent paper, Investor Expectations of Companies in the Construction Materials Sectoroutlines the steps that investors expect companies to take to manage climate risks and accelerate action to decarbonise in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The guide is endorsed by other investor networks that make up the Global Investor Coalition of Climate Change, and was developed in line with the goals of Climate Action 100+ in order to inform investor engagement with construction material firms on the initiative’s global list of 161 focus companies.

Investors supporting the Climate Action 100+ initiative expect construction material companies to make commitments in respect of

  • Implement a strong governance framework which clearly articulates the board’s accountability and oversight of climate change risk and opportunities.
  • Take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their value chain, consistent with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the increase in global average temperatures to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • Provide enhanced corporate disclosure in line with the final recommendations of the TCFD5 and, when applicable, sector-specific Global Investor Coalition on Climate Change Investor Expectations on Climate Change to enable investors to assess the robustness of companies’ business plans against a range of climate scenarios, including well below 2°C and improve investment decision-making.

Climate change risk is especially acute for companies that manufacture cement. As the most widely used construction material globally, cement is the source of 7 percent of global man-made carbon dioxide emissions. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest global emitter, behind only China and the US.

RE:Sources

Declare is a construction materials transparency disclosure programme.

The Living Product Challenge is a climate responsible framework certification programme for manufacturers to create products that are healthy, inspirational and regenerative, giving back to the environment and people. https://living-future.org/lpc/

The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), is the European forum for investor collaboration on climate actionand the voice of investors taking action for a prosperous, low carbon, future. 

Smart material reuse and sustainability innovations reduce construction and operation carbon.

Smart material reuse and sustainability innovations at British Land development will reduce carbon in construction and operation by 33% …

British Land Development at 1 Triton Square works closely with design teams and contractor to retain much of the original building. Smart material reuse and sustainability innovations mean that the building will produce 33% less carbon in construction and operation than best practice new build equivalents – a reduction of 35,600 tonnes of CO2e.

This saving is greater than the building’s operational emissions over the next 20 years and it exceeds the ambitious carbon reduction targets required to meet the UK’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s equivalent to the emissions from heating and powering 8,800 UK homes for a year. High efficiency equipment, low-carbon materials and a circular approach to waste are all part of our BREEAM Outstanding sustainability plans for 1 Triton Square.

https://www.britishland.com/sustainability/strategy/sustainable-development

Part of a Fairsnape Climate Emergency Solutions series

XR: The Extinction Symbol, Business and the Built Environment

The current use of the extinction symbol by Extinction Rebellion, is establishing the symbol as the image of climate breakdown akin to the (CND) peace symbol. In addition, the vision, messages and demands from Extinction Rebellion, (echoed by Greta Thunberg, the SchoolsStrike4Climate and David Attenborough’s BBC Climate Change: The Facts) is resonating with business and the built environment sector. And as I mentioned in a tweet this morning – XR has done more for climate change, climate breakdown awareness than the sustainability movement has done, with (as the Guardian reported) Support for Extinction Rebellion in the UK has quadrupled in the past nine days as public concern about the scale of the ecological crisis grows.

The symbol represents extinction. The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species. The world is currently undergoing a mass extinction event, and this symbol is intended to help raise awareness of the urgent need for change in order to address this crisis. Estimates are that somewhere between 30,000 and 140,000 species are becoming extinct every year in what scientists have named the Holocene, or Sixth Mass Extinction. This ongoing process of destruction is being caused by the impact of human activity. Within the next few decades approximately 50% of all species that now exist will have become extinct. Such a catastrophic loss of biodiversity is highly likely to cause widespread ecosystem collapse and consequently render the planet uninhabitable for humans.

https://www.extinctionsymbol.info

Although aimed at the Government, we can learn from XR – their demands are very closely aligned to those seeking a regenerative built environment

Extinction Rebellion ‘Demands’:

1 ACKNOWLEDGE: tell the truth by acknowledging and declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with others to communicate the urgency for change

2 ACT: Act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025

3 COLLABORATE: create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

The recognition that the XR movement is ‘on to something’ is being recognised by business and the built environment – see for example An Open Letter to Business Supporters of Extinction Rebellion by Jim Bendell and It’s time to dump Earth Day and join the Extinction Rebellion by Lloyd Alter

We believed that we had time and techniques to reform this capitalist system towards something sustainable. It was a wonderful idea at the time, and even got its swansong with international agreement of sustainable development goals

Jem Bendell

Decarbonization by 2025 is a very tough goal, but …we have met tough goals before. We won’t get there by looking at bird photos and picking up litter on Earth Day once a year

Lloyd Alter

This mornings twitter conversation …

Neil Swift @NeilGSwift  Construction one of the biggest emitters XRconstruction could do good business?@invisiblstudio @FCBStudios @ArchitypeUK @fairsnape interested in your thoughts?

Martin Brown @fairsnape Indeed @NeilGSwift current activity @GretaThunberg @ExtinctionR #DavidAttenborough has done more to raise #ClimateBreakdown awareness than built environment sector has ever done, despite our products being (40%) of problem. We need a #XConstruction mindset urgently

Where to start? … ‘tell the truth’, … acknowledge a #ClimateEmergency exists and our built environment role .. and set zero carbon targets for 2025,

Martin Brown @fairsnape At the moment we are on track to fail our own industry strategy target carbon reduction 50% by 2025 … how will we explain that to next gen? #XConstruction

Whether you agree with Extinction Rebellion approach, or not, we need all means, advocates, media and approaches to raise awareness, tell the truth and starting acting.

USE OF EXTINCTION SYMBOL: No extinction symbol merchandise exists, and it never will do. The free use of the extinction symbol by individuals in their personal artwork or other forms of expression is strongly welcomed and encouraged, but any form of commercial use of the symbol is completely against its ethos and should therefore be refrained from. To reiterate, please do not use the symbol on any items that will be sold, or for any other fundraising purposes. There are no exceptions to this policy.