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

What If …

What if we lived in a time when the human imagination flourished and anything felt possible.

It was back in 2008 when I first came across Rob Hopkins through his Transition Handbook. This helped shape a lot of my sustainability thinking at the time, (Time for built environment transition?) and in turn participation in Transition Town activities here in the North West. Writing in 2008, from a future 2030, Rob looked back over transition achievements, to when “in 2011, the Government initiated the concept of the Great Reskilling in the training of construction industry workers” with skills and mindset to address a sustainable future.

Of course that reskilling is still to happen within the built environment sector, and is ever important as we look to circular economy, toxic free and nature based construction techniques and materials. Fast forward to Rob’s latest book, What If …From What Is To What If … What if we had undertaken that construction re-skilling back then?.

What If does have a sprinkling of the climate doom gloom we face (and read in many climate change texts at the present) but the focus is on our capability to reimagine a better future and in asking the question how can we unleash the power of our imagination to create the future we want.

This resonates well with me, and with many of the messages I have used over recent years, in FutuREstorative in 2016 and in the series of #imaginebetter keynotes for Specifi and others through 2018 into 2019. And it is indeed core to the Living Building Challenge call to “imagine if every act of construction made the world a better place”

What If takes us on a deeper exploration of ‘imagination’ in an inspiring and urgent call for us to look deeper, to reconnect, with place, with nature, with ourselves and to reimagine a better future with a renewed sense of possibility.

Within sustainable design we focus on topics such as biophilia, that FutuREstorative described as the secret sauce for sustainability behaviour, to rekindle our believe that we can achieve a restorative future. Yet, spending 90% of our time in buildings we increasingly suffer solastalgia – a distress and yearning for earlier times, of better childhood memories, of a cleaner, more natural environment, that ebbs away our power to imagine a better environment, or reclaiming the one we have lost

Worringly, What If details how we are losing our capacity for imagination through dependency on technology, through loss of biodiversity, disconnection with nature and a degradation of of our environment, pushing us further into a spiral of being unable to imagine, and then achieve, a better future.

What is the impact on our imaginations of freefalling biodiversity and abundance? And, the corollary, is a diminished imagination to blame for the tolerance of such abject (biodiversity) tragedy?

What If revisits the power of our imagination, with stories, research and case studies, in play, as a vital element of our health, as a core element of connectivity with nature, of our ability to ask better questions and then importantly explores what if our imagination and desire for a better future came to pass.

On the dustcover, What If is described as a passionate call to action, to revive and to replenish not only our individual imaginations but a collective imagination, and once achieved there could be no end to what we may accomplish.

Rob Hopkins is the co-founder of Transition Totnes and the Transition Network

Biophilia and Beauty

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912

“Beauty is an experience – it is not the property of an object. It is not a permanent state, but the response a person will have to something, another person or action, a feeling or object.”

Over the weekend I sat down to read and review Wellbeing In Interiors, Philosophy, Design & Value in Practice by Elina Grigoriou, recently published by RIBA. A book that is indeed a welcomed and fresh contribution to wellbeing within the built environment. I was struck on the alignment of my thinking with that of Elina in particular regarding ‘beauty’.

The latest edition of Living Building Challenge, 4.0, has moved biophilic design from the Health and Happiness ‘petal’ to Beauty. This takes a little understanding of the philosophy of beauty and nature, something Elina describes within Part 1 ‘Philosophy: prerequisites and outputs of wellbeing’

There is a caveat here., in that we should strive to be far less human-centric when considering biophilia and create buildings and spaces that are both regenerative and beneficial to nature and to humans. Seeing ourselves as part of nature not apart from, and nature as something that happens around us. In this thinking Biophilia would have found a better home in the Place petal, celebrating and recognising our inclusion within Ecology of Place.

Elina refers to the Living Building Challenge, noting the requirement towards creating aesthetically beautiful buildings and spaces, where beauty is a key requirement for a sustainable outcome.

a requirement that neatly explains LBC’s vision in nurturing designs that do not just elevate but celebrate peoples spirit and inspire everyone to be and to do better.”

The conclusion follows that if we design and incorporate biophilic principles within our buildings, we are creating beautiful buildings.

Wellbeing in Interiors also sheds light on another issue I am currently exploring, that of measuring biophilic interventions. Our COST Restore working group looking at KPI’s for interior comfort has identified biophilia as a key performance driver, and exploring indicators that observe successful biophilic designs.

Wellbeing in Interiors addresses this issue in the chapter defining project KPIs and UPA’s (User Profile Activities) within in the ‘Value in Practice: Measuring Wellbeing” section, and again, I am inspired with alignment on my thinking regarding the use of Maslow’s hierarchy (a commonly talked about but underused model) as the basis for inhabitant wellbeing when conducting POE assessments.

Indeed Wellbeing In Interiors provides much fresh thinking for moving the increasingly stale POE and ‘user’ evaluations into a modern, regenerative approach to measuring and monitoring the value of wellbeing interventions.

I look forward to exploring more of Wellbeing In Interiors in future review and insight articles.

Image: Google Earth

Bringing wellbeing to construction with Red List compliant, biophilic net-zero site accommodation.

pexels-photo-985287

… making sure our employees in the field have the same wellbeing …

Readers of this blog, attendees at my presentations, and those I consult and audit with, will recognise my advocacy for implementing wellbeing aspects (that we increasingly build into our projects), for those who are constructing the projects – and into the site accommodation.

It is extremely encouraging to catch up with news from Chicago-based Pepper Construction who unveiled its Net Zero Jobsite Trailer in November at Greenbuild show at the end of last year.

The Net Zero Jobsite Traile is a 12×60-foot structure ‘designed to focus on the human experience, productivity, and quality from every aspect to make sure employees in the field have the same wellness features as those in a traditional office setting.

“Most people spend about 90% of their time indoors, and that environment has a significant impact on our health,” says Susan Heinking, AIA, LEED Fellow, Pepper’s VP of High Performance and Sustainable Construction, who led the project. “That philosophy also applies to the men and women working on our jobsites. We want our trailer to match our values.”

The ‘trailer’ is fitted out with RedList compliant furniture and materials, with recycled felt over the conference room providing sound absorption incorporating biophilic patterns through organic patterns.

Read more here.

If we in the construction sector are serious in delivering healthy buildings, then surely this approach must become commonplace on all projects – certainly those delivering to Well Build Standard, The Living Building Challenge or platinum LEED or BREEAM projects?  And of course should form a part of these standards itself, as a socially just approach.

I will be visiting Future Build in London in March, and look forward to seeing similar innovative approaches from construction organisations  (and by the way I am talking on the 5th)

Knowing the plastic numbers …

With the focus on plastic avoidance, reduction and recycling, do we really know the plastics that we use everyday and incorporate into our buildings, often without second thought to their impact on human and planetary health.

I am often asked by projects and offices what plastics are safe and or recyclable when looking to adopt responsible recycling or procurement approaches in reducing or removing plastics, or to address Red List compliance.

iStock-530479243-5

Plastics are stamped with the now familiar ‘recycling’ chasing arrows triangle, encompassing  an identifying number.  However this does not necessarily mean the plastics are recyclable or indeed ‘safe’ to use in all circumstances. The numbers within the arrows, from 1 to 7, tell a different story, and are key to understanding specification, manufacture, use and disposal ofplastics.

But as even when recycled plastics only break down into smaller components, that as ‘micro-plastics’ cause greater environmental issues, the best plastic strategy maybe to avoid.

#1 – PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PETE or PET. Usually clear in color, the vast majority of disposable disposable beverage and food containers and bottles are made of #1 plastic. Another common place you’d find #1 is in your household cleaning product containers. This plastic is relatively safe, but it is important to keep it out of the heat or it could cause carcinogens (like the flame retardant antimony trioxide) to leach into your liquids. Hence the warning on water drinking bottles to keep out of sunlight. Plus, the porous nature of its surface allows bacteria and flavor to accumulate, so avoid reusing these bottles as makeshift containers.

Products made of #1 (PET) plastic can be recycled but not reused.

#2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE plastic is the stiff plastic used to make milk jugs, detergent and oil bottles, toys, and some plastic bags. HDPE is the most commonly recycled plastic and is considered one of the safest forms of plastic. It is a relatively simple and cost-effective process to recycle HDPE plastic for secondary use.

Products made of HDPE are reusable and recyclable.

Red List: HDPE and LDPE are excluded from the Red List. However the Red List includes Chlorinated polyethylene and chlorosulfonated polyethlene (CSPE)

#3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is a soft, flexible plastic used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, children’s and pets’ toys, and blister packaging for myriad consumer products. It is commonly used as the sheathing material for computer cables, and to make plastic pipes and parts for plumbing. Because PVC is relatively impervious to sunlight and weather, it is used to make window frames, garden hoses, arbors, raised beds and trellises.

PVC, although tough in terms of strength, it is not considered safe for cooking or heating. PVC contains softening chemicals called phthalates that interfere with hormonal development.

PVC is dubbed the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins which it can leach throughout its entire life cycle. PVC’s vinyl chloride monomer building block is a known human carcinogen. Almost all products using PVC require virgin material for their construction; less than 1% of PVC material is recycled.

PVC is a common, strong but lightweight plastic used in construction. It is made softer and more flexible by the addition of plasticizers. If no plasticizers are added, it is known as uPVC (unplasticized polyvinyl chloride) or rigid PVC.

Products made using PVC plastic are not recyclable.

PVC is a widely used plastic found in piping, electrical wire sheaths, and window frames.  It contains phthalates, which are also components of flexible vinyl products, sealants, and finishes.

  • There isn’t a great alternative to PVC wire sheaths.  Metal-sheathed wiring (“armored” cable) can be used, but it is harder to work with and much more expensive.
  • There are a few alternatives to PVC pipes.  Metal (copper, steel, or ductile iron) pipes, which can be used for some purposes, are heavier, susceptible to corrosion, and typically more expensive to buy and install.  Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) and other related plastics are now being used to make flexible, convenient, and cheap pipes that do not contain PVC.  Unfortunately, PEX cannot be recycled and its health effects have not been definitively studied.  PEX degrades with sun exposure and may be more permeable to chemicals than other types of piping.
  • Wood, aluminum, and fiberglass are common alternatives to PVC window frames.  Wood requires additional maintenance, while aluminum frames should be used with some sort of thermal break to insulate the window and prevent condensation.  Prices vary, and the environmental impact of manufacturing should also be considered.
  • Avoid vinyl flooring, cords and hoses, shower curtains, artificial leather, pool liners, or paints made with phthalates.  There are many alternative plasticizers.

Red List: PVC and Phthalates are included on Red List

#4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

LDPE is often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles, and the type of plastic bags used to package bread. The plastic grocery bags used in most stores today are made using LDPE plastic. Some clothing and furniture also uses this type of plastic.

Products made using LDPE plastic are reusable, but not always recyclable.

Red List: HDPE and LDPE are excluded from the Red List. However the Red List includes Chlorinated polyethylene and chlorosulfonated polyethlene (CSPE)

#5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene plastic is tough and lightweight, and has excellent heat-resistance qualities. It serves as a barrier against moisture, grease and chemicals.  PP is also commonly used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottle tops, margarine and yogurt containers, potato chip bags, straws, packing tape and rope. Polypropylene is considered microwave-safe because it is heat resistant and therefore won’t get warped in the microwave. This does not mean it is healthy for you to consume foods which have been microwaved in it! It is always best to microwave in glass containers
PP is considered safe for reuse.

#6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is an inexpensive, lightweight and easily-formed plastic with a wide variety of uses. It is most often used to make disposable styrofoam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging and those ubiquitous “peanut” foam chips used to fill shipping boxes to protect the contents. Polystyrene is also widely used to make rigid foam insulation and underlay sheeting for laminate flooring used in home construction.

Because polystyrene is structurally weak and ultra-lightweight, it breaks up easily and is dispersed readily throughout the natural environment. Beaches all over the world have bits of polystyrene lapping at the shores, and an untold number of marine species have ingested this plastic with immeasurable consequences to their health.

Polystyrene may leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food products (especially when heated in a microwave). Chemicals present in polystyrene have been linked with human health and reproductive system dysfunction.

Recycling is not widely available for polystyrene products. Most curbside collection services will not accept polystyrene, which is why this material accounts for about 35% of US landfill material. While the technology for recycling polystyrene is available, the market for recycling is small. Awareness among consumers has grown, however, and polystyrene is being reused more often. While it is difficult to find a recycler for PS, some businesses like Mailboxes Etc. which provide shipping services are happy to receive foam packing chips for reuse.

Polystyrene should be avoided where possible.

#7 – Other (BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN)

The #7 category was designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate (PC) and “other” plastics, so reuse and recycling protocols are not standardized within this category. Of primary concern with #7 plastics, however, is the potential for chemical leaching into food or drink products packaged in polycarbonate containers made using BPA (Bisphenol A). BPA is a xenoestrogen, a known endocrine disruptor.

A new generation of compostable plastics, made from bio-based polymers like corn starch, is being developed to replace polycarbonates. These are also included in category #7, which can be confusing to the consumer. These compostable plastics have the initials “PLA” on the bottom near the recycling symbol. Some may also say “Compostable.”

#7 plastics are not for reuse, unless they have the PLA compostable coding.

Red List: Bisphenol A (BPA) used to manufacture polycarbonate (clear, hard) plastics and epoxy resins is included on the Red List

 Sources

Red List: https://living-future.org/declare/declare-about/red-list/

The ILFI Red List contains the worst in class materials prevalent in the building industry that may not be included in materials used in construction that seeks to meet the criteria of the Living Building Challenge (LBC).T

The commonly-used chemicals on the Red List are:

Polluting the environment
Bio-accumulating up the food chain until they reach toxic concentrations
Harming construction and factory workers

Plastics by the Numbers: EarthEasy – https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/plastics-by-the-numbers/

GreenSpec http://www.greenspec.co.uk/building-design/toxic-chemistry-health-environment-pollution/

The Seven Types of Plastic and What they mean for your health. https://www.nontoxicrevolution.org/blog/7-types-of-plastic

Green Building Alliance https://www.go-gba.org/resources/green-building-methods/materials-red-list/

 

 

 

Health and Wellness Rating System Comparison

This very useful comparison infographic was published recently on Building Green.  Although US and LEED based, it demonstrates the scope of the emerging rating systems that address, measure and promote healthy building and facility approaches, in planning, design, construction, building in use. Note the infographic on Building Green is interactive with more information.

health-wellness

More:

Living Building Challenge 3.1 Standard

Well 2.0

Fitwel

BREEAM / Well CrossWalk 

 

Modern Slavery : There can be no sustainability in an unequal world

As emphasised in FutuREstorative, sustainability is only possible within an equitable and socially just sector. Whilst we continue to have instances of unjust practices, of Modern Slavery, within our projects, supply chains and organisations, we simply cannot call ourselves sustainable, or worst, label our projects Excellent, Platinum or Outstanding.

FutuREstorative highlighted many innovations, inspirations and approaches that will help us with the transition towards a regenerative and sustainable future. Yet no innovation, technology, biomimic, biophilic or digital thinking will really progress our sustainability performance if we do not have a matched and parallel improvement in equality, equity, diversity and justice.

no sustainability in an unequal world

And now, as we strive for a 1.5°C cap on global warming and the attendant carbon reduction, we need to ensure that equity and equality remain at the top of every sustainability agenda. There can be no sustainability in an unequal world. Indeed sustainability should embrace the three E’s of ecology, economy and equality. As we now recognise that we need a new level of consciousness in the way we relate to nature for design and delivery of healthy, sustainable buildings, we need a similar ‘worldview’ recognition in how we respect those who produce our materials and buildings.

As part of our sustainability journey, our language in construction also needs to evolve – from one that is combative, technical and confrontational to one that is mindful, and embraces a language of collaboration, sharing, care and love.

We need a change in the narrative and address Modern Slavery in the wider context of a truly  ‘Just’ built environment, through for example mapping and monitoring against the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Modern slavery is currently blowing holes in 11 of the 17 SDG targets.

At a recent workshop we explored the causes of modern slavery, and in addition to the nature of our construction industry, (high labour, short-term contracts, geographic locations, fragmented supply chains), it is our continued drive for lowest cost, particularly in labour dominant work-packages that was seen as a real problem.

A powerful action we can take today is to embed modern slavery aspects within built environment sustainability standards and certifications. As for example JUST (Making Social Justice Your Business)  is embedded within the Living Building Challenge.

I closed FutuREstorative by repeating the most important and powerful of the Living Building Challenge’s aims: the transition to a socially just, ecologically restorative and culturally rich future.

This is a revisited version of the closing Epilogue within FutuREstorative. 

 

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Martin is recognised in the 100 modern slavery influencers index