How can the built environment sector collaborate for net-zero?
Last week, experts from Grosvenor, Clayco, Mott MacDonald and Kingspan joined an edie webinar on collaborating for net-zero in the built environment. Here, we round up six of their top tips.
Globally, the global built environment is responsible for almost 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions and 50% of extracted materials. And, with rapid urbanisation and escalating climate change placing huge demands on our building infrastructure, it’s clear that we must move from ambition into action when it comes to achieving a net zero carbon, healthy, equitable and resilient built environment.
To that end, edie partnered with Kingspan to host an hour-long webinar on raising ambitions, accelerating action and enhancing collaboration for the sector’s net-zero transition.
The session, originally hosted on Tuesday 20 September, is now available on-demand. However, if you’re short on time or simply keen to recap the takeaways in written form, we’ve pulled out six of the speakers’ top tips below.
1) Specify emissions requirements as early in the process as possible
Clayco’s vice-president of sustainability Ryan Spies was the first to present, giving an overview of how the low-carbon conversation has evolved in the USA’s built environment sector. He said: “Over the last, I would say, ten years, the idea of embodied carbon has really taken off. Just in the past few years, we’ve been really pushed by clients and designers to lower that embodied carbon by making some smarter choices.”
Ahead of COP26 last year, the World Green Building Council updated its Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment to include new requirements on addressing embodied carbon. The changes come into effect in January 2023. Some GBCs, including the UK’s, had moved earlier on this issue.
Grosvenor Group’s director of climate-positive solutions Andy Haigh agreed, noting that, because there is not much in the way of regulation on embodied carbon, it is up to the sector to innovate and lead by example. His firm is applying a 500kg/m2 embodied carbon requirement to all developments, while the average for a new UK office building is around double this.
Haigh said that telling this to other parts of the value chain can bring forth new thinking on innovative processes and materials, stating: “If you put that [carbon requirement] on the first piece of paper, before you engage an architect, that fundamentally changes the conversation.”
2) Use the appropriate GHG measurement tools
The second presentation for this webinar was delivered by Mott MacDonald’s technical director Eszter Gulacsy, who outlined the evolution of tools for measuring operational emissions from estates.
She spoke about how, while digital twin systems can offer very in-depth information, they can be time-consuming to implement and, therefore, ill-suited for large portfolios. Yet, for large portfolios, “using benchmarks has its drawbacks, by default” as data is not as high-quality.
Gulacsy’s advice for choosing appropriate GHG measurement processes and tools was threefold:
- Define the problem and look at how good your data is
- Use tailored digital solutions and “don’t go into overdrive”
- Decide what level of accuracy you need and keep that in mind
3) Understand that suppliers are at different stages of the journey
All speakers on this webinar stated that their supply chain emissions were far greater than those generated in their operations. As such, supplier engagement is crucial for these firms’ net-zero plans to be credible.
“As a building developer and builder, 99% of our emissions are in Scope 3,” Clayco’s spies said.
Kingspan Insulated Panels’ director of sustainability for North America, Brent Trenga, recounted the firm’s experience hosting a supplier day with discussions on new emissions requirements. He said: “Some were hearing this for the first time and weren’t clear on what we were asking, while others understood. Luckily, we do deal with some larger, multinational companies – and all the pressure being put on ESG for publicly traded companies means that we are not the only ones asking them for these reductions.”
Mott MacDonald’s Gulacsy agreed that, for larger suppliers, emissions measurement and disclosure has rapidly evolved from a “nice-to-have to a necessity”. She noted that smaller suppliers may well be at an earlier stage in their journey.
4) Identify and prioritise supply chain emissions hotspots
Trenga said that his business started with an “80/20” approach to engaging suppliers on new emissions requirements – focusing on the suppliers with the highest contribution to the business’s emissions footprint.
Similarly, Grosvenor Group’s Haigh outlined how the business is providing a six-month mentorship scheme for suppliers looking to set verified science-based targets, as it works towards having suppliers representing 40% of upstream emissions setting verified targets by 2030. Uptake, he said, was far higher than expected, with more than 35 SME suppliers participating.
“Suppliers know this is a market driver, but they don’t know how to start the process,” Haigh added.
5) Challenge yourself on clean energy and the circular economy
Getting suppliers to set science-based targets will doubtless challenge them to rethink processes, procurement and innovation. Having targets aligned with a 1.5C pathway – soon to become the baseline requirement – requires deep decarbonisation across all scopes this decade.
Kingspan Insulated Panels’ Trenga spoke about how a mix of changes is needed to decarbonise, including electrifying processes (particularly in steel), procuring renewable electricity, improving material efficiency, using recycled content and pioneering material innovations. Life cycle assessments are a good way to identify emissions hotspots and, therefore, appropriate interventions.
On renewable electricity, he said he “can’t stress enough how buying RECs and offsets will not change the carbon intensity of the products you’re manufacturing”, urging listeners to increase ambitions on direct renewables procurement.
6) Don’t get carbon tunnel vision
All of the speakers took time to outline how, while the net-zero transition is business-critical for the sector, it ultimately must feed into other parts of the sustainability strategy.
Indeed, there has been an increased focus on how buildings can impact – positively or negatively – those who use them and the communities in which they are based in recent years, partly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, the WELL building standard has increased hugely in popularity in the past two years or so.
Additionally, Grosvenor Group’s Haigh highlighted the intersection of business action on climate and nature. The Group is aiming for a 20% increase in biodiversity on managed green spaces by 2030 and its Grosvenor Gardens project in London is a key part of its climate work for the capital.
“I think we always need to remember that net-zero is one of the many problems we face, and that the biodiversity crisis is just as important as the climate crisis,” Haigh said. “We need to see, as frequently as possible, co-dependencies or co-opportunities to achieve more than one target, rather than just focusing on carbon.”