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Building Carbon Neutrality

Building Carbon Neutrality

Britain’s buildings account for nearly half of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions through heating, cooling and lighting.

So called ‘green buildings’ are designed to use materials more efficiently and have minimal damage to the environment when they are built. Paying more attention to building design can make a major contribution to protecting us from the impact of global warming.

Building Design

Buildings designed to meet certifications like BREAM require less cooling, use lower amounts of water. LEED, another certification body, claim buildings with their certification can use 25 per cent less energy than non-certified buildings.

This is achieved through the combination of design and materials, such as planting grass on roof tops to keep buildings cooler and passive solar to heat them in the winter. Many green buildings also use water-efficient appliances and fixtures. Well-designed buildings divert lightly used water, such as from kitchens, for use with landscaping. Rain water can be filtered and used for flushing toilets.

The Building Process

The way we construct buildings also has big impact on the environment; especially the way we source, produce and move materials.

Using more sustainably sourced and renewable materials helps to preserve forest ecosystems and keeps more trees alive to filter carbon dioxide out of the air for us all. Sourcing materials locally reduces carbon from transport. 

Reducing waste from construction through off-site construction and using recycled materials means sending less waste to landfill. Re-purposing existing buildings helps to avoid demolition and producing even more waste.

Taking a fresh approach to sustainability ‘in the round’, includes how the building will be used. Considering the internal environment can produce positive social and health benefits too. Using plants to clean the air, materials that release fewer contaminants like volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde and providing lots of natural light, can improve health of the building’s users.

Five considerations to make your next building project sustainable

1. Engage your stakeholders

A carbon efficient new building will require a commitment to change. That may mean trading a higher build cost for lower maintenance. You’ll need the vision and strong support to insist that your new building should be built to the highest sustainable design principles.

2. Compare your building to others

Benchmark your organisation’s sustainability practices and results against your peers to strengthen your case. Specifically compare policies, targets, monitoring and communications related to energy, water, waste, resource use, purchasing and transportation.

3. Insist on smart building technologies

Smart buildings can be more energy efficient, comfortable and lower cost to run than those with legacy systems. However, you may have to justify the higher capital investment. Carrying out some lifetime building costing can help to support your case.

4. Specify renewable energy sources

Renewable energy sources will work when you have complementary energy saving measures such as insulation. The cost of renewables is falling can now be on par with the cost of conventional energy sources.

5. Be clear why you are doing this

When you are looking at carbon neutrality as part of a major construction project, it is easy to get lost in chasing a certification and lose sight of the bigger picture. BREAM or LEED are all well and good, but energy conservation, environmental sustainability and building functionality is not just a tick box exercise.

Work towards a continuous improvement and a holistic view of sustainability, not just what qualifies for the certification.