Thoughts on Net Zero

Tom Wildbore

9 October 2023

Over the last few months, we have seen the UK’s Net Zero policy and other critical environmental issues becoming increasingly politicised. Unfortunately, most of this new coverage seeks to polarise the debate, sowing doubt and continuing to delay collective action when it is urgently needed.

In contrast, I find it so encouraging to see more individuals and organisations in the built environment sector showing leadership on climate and environmental issues. This leadership is definitely serving to increase confidence and accelerate change across the industry. Much of this leadership was on show at this year’s Footprint+ conference held in June. We need more good news stories to demonstrate the benefits of regenerative, low carbon design and for me there were many to take away from this conference.

The UK Climate Change Committee’s 2023 Progress Report published in June highlights that the buildings sector decarbonisation is not on track. Whilst the scale of the challenge is clear, increasingly too are the solutions.

It is positive to see the opinion across the industry swinging on many critical sustainability issues, such as embodied carbon and retrofit, overheating and fossil fuel free heat. The high-profile Marks & Spencer demolition planning rejection is hopefully an illustration of how much progress has been made in this area. Updates to the London Plan design standards in favour of dual aspect dwellings are a welcome step to addressing overheating, albeit bringing some new challenges to the way we approach urban design. The 2022 updates to Part L seem to have finally tipped the balance on heating technology in favour of heat pumps on many projects. At Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt, we are excited to be grappling with these issues with enhanced focus, taking more time up front testing our designs and looking for lower carbon and retrofit options.

It is exciting to have been part of the progress being made at ACG over the last year. We have been investing heavily in improvements in both the environmental performance of our projects and our business operations. Many of the different threads being pursued have begun to come together over the last quarter and we are now really seeing the results.

We are currently working with Climate Essentials, as part of a Basingstoke and Deane Council pilot scheme, to monitor and reduce our carbon emissions in order to develop a net-zero strategy. This will be followed by an ISO14001 accredited environmental management system which is currently being developed.  We have revamped our sustainability project reviews with a bespoke sustainability design guide and performance tracker which provides our project teams with the most up to date environmental design information as well as allowing us to measure and benchmark project sustainability performance through each RIBA stage.

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