In order to reach net zero by 2035, there are changes we have to make to the way we design, build and inhabit the built environment. And even though most of us are striving towards this goal, it is easier said than done. In the UK, building construction and operation accounts for 30% of our emissions. On top of that, 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings. It sounds daunting, but that’s just because the UK is one of the more ambitious nations when it comes to reducing our impact.
The UK was the first major economy to pass a net zero emissions law. And many local authorities are aggressively aiming to reach that goal by 2030. We can be a leading force on the global stage, but this requires us to look at how we can achieve this and why it might not be happening effectively right now.
A clear plan
Working towards net zero shouldn’t be a box to tick off; it should be part of your entire operation. Time and time again, we see organisations whose sustainability initiatives are almost a separate entity, detached from its goals. It becomes an obligation, not a meaningful policy.
To reach net zero, we have to create a clear plan of how we will achieve it. And for that to happen, it needs to align with your goals and direct your course. One step at a time.
All new buildings will need to be net zero by 2030 and every building by 2050. But that doesn’t mean we should wait until that day comes. It means we need to net zero principles in our operations now. But what facets are there to consider?
Carbon offsetting is the idea that no one building can truly be carbon neutral. For example, it might not be feasible in rural communities where you can’t connect them to a renewable network. Instead, you can offset your emissions by reducing carbon output elsewhere in a community.
It is a great solution for anyone anxious about creating net zero buildings – current technology doesn’t always make it cost-effective to be truly net zero. Offsetting allows you to be as energy efficient as you can during the building process, such as following the Green Guide, while also adhering to net zero regulations. This is where having a clear plan in place is effective as you can distribute your net zero contribution before you begin.
That’s all well and good for newly constructed properties, but how do we bring older buildings up to code? After all, they will still exist in 2050, the year when every building has to be carbon neutral. There are ways to make already existing buildings compliant with these regulations and bring them in line with current and future standards.
For example, there have been pilots into injecting zero-carbon hydrogen into gas networks. The trial injected up to 20% of hydrogen into an existing natural gas network, which can cut CO2 emissions without having to change any existing gas appliances.
Using a 20% hydrogen blend across the UK could save as much as 6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. Ideas like this are perfect for existing buildings as it won’t require extensive refurbishment, instead making the most of what already exists. There was also a refurbishment package in The Netherlands that allowed homeowners to make their house net zero in just 11 days. It came with pre-fabricated panels for insulation and an integrated roof to collect solar energy.
Part L regulations
Part L regulations are reviewed every five or so years, meaning we need to not only meet them but exceed them. As we said before, buildings constructed in the next 5-10 years will still exist in 2050, so we need to ensure they are net zero now.
To complicate matters, Part L works differently depending on the category of the building: whether it is a new dwelling, existing dwelling, new non-dwelling building, or an existing non-dwelling building. How each one is deemed to meet emission targets is assessed differently and you need to be aware of these before you begin your design work. Each involves specific calculations to pass the requirements.
The goal should be not to just meet the targets but exceed them. It isn’t about doing something because we have to, but because we want to. We all have a responsibility to leave the world better than we found it. It’s a mammoth task, but something we can accomplish one building at a time.
Being a sustainable nation doesn’t have to be an impossible task. It is one we can complete by making our approach to sustainability a part of who we are. By using it as a framework for every plan going forward, not as an addendum. We can become net zero now – the question is, are we ready for it?
GLD Technical Consulting works to create buildings that function as beautifully as they look. We are dedicated to helping you meet your net zero goals and work towards becoming a sustainable operation. To find out more, get in touch on 0161 641 7097.