FutureBuild opened its doors to the industry in early March 2019. An event, previously known as EcoBuild, which aimed to explore and tackle the biggest challenges impacting the built environment and beyond. With over 700 speakers over a vast range of talks, we have provided our thoughts on five of the best talks our team attended.
Talk 1: Valuing landscape, trees and green infrastructure
This session focused on the latest advances in valuation tools for green infrastructure (GI) assets, as well as the wider issues surrounding their efficiency in influencing decision making.
An overview was given of the benefits provided by trees and GI, and described how tools like CAVAT have the power to encourage developers to retain mature trees. Many local authorities are now asking for financial compensation calculated by CAVAT for any trees lost to development and we now use this tool when working with design teams to build tree retention strategies.
Of the many services provided by GI, the uplift of 10% in house prices seen by Urban and Civic when GI is integrated into their masterplans is likely to stand out to developers.
Next it was outlined how landscape architects are starting to measure the health and wellbeing benefits of natural play space, as one of the many functions our urban greenspace is now expected to perform.
Finally, the findings from research on citizens’ ‘willingness-to-pay’ for city centre street trees was described. The research found 75% of people would be willing to pay (£140/household/pa) for a city-wide tree planting programme and were willing to pay more for the resultant air purification and flood risk alleviation. This ‘City Tree Fund’ could have massive implications for public spending through avoided costs on healthcare and flood defence, if put into practice by local authorities.
Greengage advocate the inclusion of Green Infrastructure on all projects where this is viable and have experience of using valuation tools including CAVAT and i-Tree amongst others. The benefits of Green Infrastructure are numerous including biodiversity, health and wellbeing, climate change adaptation, flood resilience, air quality, noise reduction and place making.
Greengage, along with other environmental and sustainability consultants, have a responsibility to ensure the benefits of GI are communicated and understood by our clients and therefore reflected in proposed schemes. The message has to be about shifting the perception of GI to an asset rather than a constraint to development.
Further information on our thoughts on Green Infrastructure are available in issue 3 of our Engage Thought Leadership series.
Talk 2: The Environment Challenge – How can we enhance the environment in a post-Brexit world?
This talk covered the future of environmental protection legislation in the UK and how this can be strengthened following Brexit. The main take home message from this talk, which Greengage are of the same opinion, is as follows:
– The draft Environment Bill does not set any targets for the future of the country and that the Office for Environmental Protection is too closely linked to the government for any successful scrutiny of law.
– That the EU directives will continue to be influential and companies will still have to comply with the same standards that exist now.
– If the Environmental Bill is going to ‘leave the environment in a better state than inherited (following Brexit)’, as Michael Gove has stated, policies should be made stricter.
Panellists also raised concerns regarding the threat to the future of environmental protection posed by the devolution of the UK nations and how it was imperative that the governments of these nations must align after Brexit.
Talk 3: Operational and Embodied carbon and energy – outcomes in lieu of notional calculations
This session focused on how theoretical calculations are of diminishing relevance as we move towards a culture of measurement of total impacts. The panel made suggestions on practical guidance for project teams, and addressed the issue of whether embodied carbon can be supported as a carbon “offset” as we tackle the issues needed for a Net Zero built environment.
Discussion points covered whole life carbon assessment and how operational and embodied carbon assessment should go together and not be conflicting. It was demonstrated that the cost uplift is only 10% (from standard build to a low embodied carbon building).
It was recommended that the industry should aim to design buildings with simpler building envelopes as this provides further operational and embodied carbon reduction at the same time. Suggestions on how embodied carbon can be reduced concentrated around finding alternatives to cement and steel and making alternatives more cost effective.
The final discussion point regarded the need for Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and discussed why the LCA use only a 60-year projection when infrastructure uses 120 years and Victorian buildings still stand after 120+ years, an issue that Greengage agree needs to be looked at. Operational Carbon would be much higher in that case and the Embodied carbon from refurbishments should be added to the mix.
At Greengage we believe that Operational and Embodied carbon should go hand in hand but not combined into one package as operational carbon assessments are much more progressed to-date. In the future, as Embodied carbon assessments make it into the London plan and regulations and one detailed approach is adopted then these should be combined to one carbon figure for the life of the project.
Talk 4: Climate Change Challenge- How can the industry help achieve a built environment fit for the future?
This session was a call to action to the industry to ensure that the 1.5 degrees limit, compared to pre-industrial levels, set by the Paris Agreement can be met. A background was provided on the science that is used to predict the effects of climate change, which informed the Paris Agreement. It was noted that there are “disconcerting gaps” in implementation in the built environment industry.
Louise Clarke and Paul King provided an overview of what their companies, as developers, are undertaking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as ensure that their developments are adaptable to the anticipated future effects of climate change. Paul King of Lendlease emphasised that development should be designed to be ‘net zero’, for example Elephant Park, which is targeting to be Climate Positive or net carbon negative when it completes in 2025. His key message was that the bar needs to be set high so that we are doing as much as possible now to limit the impacts of climate change.
Talk 5: Rebel Leadership – The challenge to achieve real change
Focusing on the need to change how we deliver growth and development in order to provide a more sustainable future, attendees were asked to explain what they thought rebel leadership looks like and what positive effects it can have. Rather than being content with the status quo of the built environment world, the session called for everyone to question, challenge and call out bad practices that needed to change.
We heard from a range of individuals about what they were doing to bring about change, and how they had achieved this. There were some common threads that reoccurred with each rebel leader’s presentation:
- The industry should challenge the green credentials being communicated by individuals and organisations by avoiding reading just the headline and scratching beneath the surface. We have a responsibility to ask difficult questions and be strong leaders (which sometimes ruffles some feathers!).
- We should all spend 5 minutes each day asking ourselves how things could be done differently and to not just follow the norm of how it has been done in the past. Small ideas at grassroots level often lead to eventual change on a far bigger level.
- In order for change to happen, we shouldn’t be afraid of failure. There was an agreement that education now drives people to expect the correct result, first time. However the biggest innovations often occur through testing and improvement, and sometimes failure.
As sustainability consultants, it is our responsibility to challenge clients and assist them in getting the most sustainable solution possible. We firmly believe that as an organisation we should always be learning, questioning how things are done and suggesting new approaches, even if that means refinement and improvement over time. Whilst there are a host of tools and mechanisms for assessing sustainability, we always try to use these as the output, with bespoke, intelligent advice being the foundations.