Aviation is a key driver of global economic development, supporting mass employment and contributing 4.1% to the world’s GDP. It has seen multi-decadal growth in both passenger numbers and emissions. As the impact of climatic warming accelerates and the world’s climate action mission ramps up, the urgency with which aviation must reduce its contribution to atmospheric CO₂ will continue to gather pace – particularly given that other industries will find it much easier to decarbonise.
In 2009, aviation was one of the first industries to establish a global, sector-wide plan to reduce its impact on the environment. The commitment at the time was to reduce net CO₂ emissions to half of their 2005 value by 2050 – representing 325 million tonnes of CO₂ (MtCO₂). Nevertheless, global aviation emissions had increased to 915 MtCO₂ by 2019.
Taking their lead from the goal of the 2015 UN Paris Agreement – which set an international ambition to hold the increase in atmospheric warming to 2°C with an aspirational limit of 1.5°C – some nations and industry bodies have gone further and committed to achieving net zero CO₂ emissions by 2050. The UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming – legislating to bring all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050.
With the backdrop of these lofty ambitions, the International Air Transport Association (IATA – the industry’s largest trade association) forecasts that global air passenger journeys will see annual average growth of 3.7% over the next 20 years. This is despite the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on air transport. Other potential limits to growth, including the environmental concerns of consumers, governments moving to suppress growth or a shift to other modes of transport are all expected to have limited impact on the overall growth picture. With all this in mind, is net zero a realistic aim for aviation and how will the industry go about achieving it?
Michael Gill, Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) certainly thinks so in his foreword to ATAGs Waypoint 2050 publication – an analysis of the climate change pathways for aviation to 2050:
“It took aerospace engineers around 30 years to get us from the first commercial air service to the jet engine. The last 30 years have seen us halve the CO2 emissions for every passenger’s journey. The next three decades to 2050, and the ones that follow, will allow us to enter the third era of aviation: that of sustainable fuels, electric and hybrid flight and, eventually, zero carbon connectivity”.
Aviation is perhaps one of hardest industries to decarbonise due to the lack of zero-carbon alternatives. The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – who advise the UK government – agree that whilst a reduction of aviation emissions to net zero is theoretically possible, achieving it presents huge challenges both technological and political. The broad outline will mean first reducing emissions as much as possible, followed by using various GHG removal techniques to offset the remaining emissions. This action will need to be underpinned by a raft of international and domestic policy measures:
• Emissions Reductions
– Derived mainly from improvements in fuel efficiency through new technologies, aircraft design and operational efficiencies.
– Use of sustainable biofuels and potentially synthetic fuel, each giving a large life cycle carbon saving over fossil fuels.
– Managing demand through carbon pricing, taxation and the control of airport capacity.
• GHG Removal (offsetting)
Primarily via bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and the direct capture of CO₂ from the air (DACCS).
• Policy Measures
– Deep collaboration between government and industry.
– Significant and sustained funding for the latest research and development projects in sustainable aviation technologies – driving innovation for engine and aircraft design, biofuels and operational practices.
– Global policies must align with the intent of the Paris Agreement, providing a level playing field for airlines and reducing the likelihood of carbon leakage (where emissions simply move between airlines on the same or similar routes).
The great challenge in the coming decades will be to overcome these hurdles without stifling international connectivity and the many associated economic benefits this brings.
Time will tell if firstly, the political appetite and cooperation exists to drive aviation’s push towards net zero, and secondly whether the required technological advancements come to fruition. If not, then it is likely aviation will no longer be afforded its licence to operate – a scenario the current global economic model cannot endure.
ATAG Waypoint 2050 publication: https://www.atag.org/our-publications/latest-publications.html
Sustainable Aviation Decarbonisation Roadmap: https://www.sustainableaviation.co.uk/
One part of the drive towards carbon neutrality will be played by sustainable batteries. Lithium-ion technology, while a massive step forward from regular disposable lithium batteries, still produces a range of environmental and humanitarian problems.
The spike in demand that we’ve seen for lithium in the last few years, most probably caused by China announcing a gigantic push to electric car production in 2015, has led to an eye-watering estimate regarding the size of the lithium-ion industry, which is expected to grow from 100 gigawatt hours (GWh) of annual production in 2017, to almost 800 GWhs by 2027. Global battery output is expected to triple by 2025.
As we attempt to address the crisis caused by our reliance on petroleum, we risk provoking a mineral crisis, powered by our current method of battery manufacture. Each tonne of lithium needs 500,000 gallons of water for its extraction, which has been having a devasting effect in various regions: on local farmers in Chile, Bolivia and other parts of South America, who then can’t get the water they need; on rivers in Tibet polluted by toxic chemical leaks, which has happened on at least three occasions in recent years.
Similarly, cobalt is an important raw material currently in use in battery manufacture. Approximately two-thirds of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and about one-fifth is estimated to come from sources that can be linked to unsafe working conditions and child labour. Moreover, battery production carries a huge carbon footprint.
It may seem counterfactual to be discussing lithium-ion in this negative manner, given the improvements it brings over lithium and alkaline batteries, the push towards it this century, and indeed the Nobel Prize for Chemistry given to John B Goodenough, M Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino in 2019. However, what the future holds – hopefully – is post-lithium batteries, including redox flow batteries and future battery chemistries that don’t yet exist.
In that regard, Battery 2030+ has followed its 2019 manifesto with a research roadmap earlier this year, which sets out the recommended scientific approach, actions and areas of research required to achieve a carbon-neutral battery. It was developed by a year-long consultation process, has three research themes covering six research areas, and has ambitious and far-reaching aims, as summarised here by the organisation’s director, Professor Kristina Edström of Uppsala University:
“The long-term research directions are based on a chemistry neutral approach that will allow Europe to exceed the ambitious battery performance targets for the full battery value chain, agreed upon in the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) proposed by the European Commission. Thanks to its chemistry-neutral approach, BATTERY 2030+ will have an impact not only on current lithium-based battery chemistries, but also on post-lithium batteries, and still unknown future battery chemistries.”
The three research areas are:
- Accelerated discovery of interfaces and materials, comprising Battery Interface Genome (BIG) and Materials Acceleration Platform (MAP)
- Integration of smart functionalities, including Sensing and Self-healing
- Cross-cutting areas, such as Manufacturability and Recyclability
In terms of the first of the three, a major focus will be on how AI can transform the development of the batteries of the future, which will be smart and connected.
Regarding the second, new concepts in sensors will be able to detect when a battery cell is starting to fail, and that combined with self-healing technology will greatly aid sustainability.
Manufacturing and recyclability will be aided by developing new models and locking them in from the beginning of the process: starting with development, then manufacture, then recycling.
A key ambition of Battery 2030+ is to achieve the lowest possible CO2 footprint. How will this be done? By using sustainably degraded materials, a higher level of material resource efficiency, the smarter functions referred to above, more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes that will reduce cost, and more efficient recycling and remanufacturing methods.
In terms of recycling, life cycle and disposal are a huge issue currently. Lithium is of course a toxic material, and needs to be disposed of properly. While recycling lithium-ion batteries is to be commended, as it reduces energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and results in 51.3% natural resource savings when compared to landfill, it still does not address the environmental issues brought on by manufacture.
Yes, there are fewer greenhouse gas emissions when recyclable batteries are produced and transported, but a longer-term solution is required, hence initiatives like Battery 2030+, which aims to create a circular, carbon-neutral and pollution-free value chain via the use of sodium-ion, multivalent metal-ion, and other post-lithium solutions.
The hope is that the batteries being developed can be produced and recycled cheaply and in as climate-neutral a fashion as possible. The chemistry neutral method being pushed by Battery 2030+ is of major importance here, as the lack of acid or base properties would be a big step forward.
It’s a step we need to take.
One of the most noticeable aspects of lockdown was the reduction in traffic on our streets, and the attendant increase in wildlife. After the initial lockdown period ended and people started going about their business a little more, councils throughout the UK started narrowing roads, and widening cycle lines, at least temporarily. This has provided a boost for environmental campaigners wishing to reduce car usage and increase healthy forms of transport.
This is the context for the current open consultation on the Highway code. We should see this as part of the government’s stated drive to make people healthier and protect the NHS during the Covid-19 crisis.
What is its purpose?
The aim is to improve safety for vulnerable road users: pedestrians; cyclists and horse riders. Here are the main proposals, as laid out on the page linked above:
- introducing a hierarchy of road users which ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others
- clarifying existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements, to advise that drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road,
- providing guidance on cyclist priority at junctions to advise drivers to give priority to cyclists at junctions when travelling straight ahead
- establishing guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders
As can be seen, these proposals are not set out in terms of their environmental impact; rather, they are about safety and equality. However, it’s obviously the case that any proposals that mitigate against the tendency of car drivers to assume they have greater rights than other road users will have the capacity, in however small a way, to contribute to the general cleaning up of our roads.
Furthermore, how we behave on the roads is shaped by the Highway Code, both in terms of how we treat each other, and how we are policed. Alongside the review, there are £50 bicycle repair vouchers available and design guidance for cycling infrastructure.
This is Cycling UK’s take on what is meant by “a hierarchy of road users”:
“Pedestrians, in particular children, older adults and disabled people, followed by cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists. It wouldn’t remove the need for all users to behave responsibly or give priority to pedestrians and cyclists in every situation, but it would ensure that their needs were considered first.”
It has been pointed out by campaigners that this does rather give the impression that some road users are more important than others, and that therefore “a hierarchy of responsibility” would have been a more appropriate phrase.
New rules for drivers as part of the review include a designated amount of space to give cyclists when overtaking that increases with speed and drivers not being allowed to turn left across cyclists at junctions. Cyclists will now be permitted to filter through traffic on either side of slow-moving vehicles, and to ride two abreast, with the idea being that this reduced the amount of time the driver needs to spend in the opposite lane to overtake.
It is something of a truism to state that anything increasing cycling safety has the capacity to increase the number of cyclists on the road. Currently, two thirds of adults questioned in England feel that cycling is dangerous. This is a 5% annual increase.
Therefore, alongside the consultation on the Highway Code, the government has pledged £2 billion in spending on protected cycle lanes, as well as a regulator to stop councils building substandard cycling and walking infrastructure.
An opportunity missed?
However, it’s not clear if that’s enough. Ruth Hannan, a community campaigner I spoke to in Manchester, felt that the opportunity that Covid-19 presented to really make cycling part of the infrastructure via a genuine culture change has not been taken up. One issue mentioned was the lack of citizen engagement and caving into political pressure.
More positively, she felt that the proposed change to the Highway Code was to be welcomed, as it will embed cyclist safety in law. Despite this, there will be challenges, as there will still be too many cars on the road. Around £6 – £8 billion is needed over the next 5 years to double cycling levels, according to both the government’s own figures and cycling campaigners.
Chris Heaton-Harris, the transport minister responsible for cycling, had this to say when announcing the spending:
“I know from talking to people, and looking at my very active cycling social media response, that dedicated infrastructure is essential to make people feel safe. One of the big parts of this investment is to try and make the streets safer for people to cycle on. I tend to believe that in cycling, it’s very much Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams territory: if you build it, they will come.”
It remains to be seen whether this is the case, of course, and indeed if the proposed spend is adequate. We don’t have the figures for 2020 yet, but it is the case that there hasn’t been any significant uptick in people cycling in the last half decade. The evidence we have all seen with our own eyes these last 6 months points to a change in this regard, but sustaining it is of course the challenge. Given the obvious health and environmental benefits of cycling – and more generally not being in cars – it ought to be an urgent task for government, in these pandemic times.
What is it?
The London energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) is a voluntary network of over 1000 professionals working in built environment towards a zero-carbon future. It comprises developers, housing associations, engineers, architects, planners, sustainability professionals, contractors and facilities managers. It is supported by both the GLC and its constituent boroughs.
What is its purpose?
→ engaging with stakeholders to develop a robust and rapid energy reduction approach, producing effective solutions to the energy trilemma of security, sustainability, and affordability
→ working with authorities to create practicable policy alterations to ensure the regulatory system is fit for purpose, placing verified performance at its core
→ encouraging and enabling collaboration between built environment professionals
→ providing technical advice to support exemplar developments, enabling pioneers who aspire to go beyond the current regulatory frameworks”
What is it up to in 2020?
Quite a lot, in short. First, it is of interest to consider how its work fits in with that done by UKGBC, who were the focus of our attention in a piece last month on this site. Of course, they’re both working towards the same goal: a zero-carbon future. With this in mind, both organisations collaborated towards the end of last year on a short paper entitled Ten Key Requirements for New Buildings, which builds on the UKGBC’s Net Zero Framework.
The former should be fairly self-explanatory, but here are some key takeways. It covers five areas:
- Operational energy
- Embodied carbon
- The future of heat
- Demand response
- Data disclosure
The requirements pertaining to four areas of operation: small scale residential; medium/large scale residential; commercial offices; schools. Part of the thinking here is showing the wider world that the industry is thinking collectively about how to design buildings, and isn’t just reacting to government guidelines. LETI thinks that in order to meet climate change targets, 10% of new projects ought to be designed with these requirements in mind. That seems realistic and, it is to be hoped, achievable.
The Embodied Carbon Primer is effectively an add-on offering supplementary targeted guidance for people wanting to explore this aspect of sustainability in greater detail. LETI takes the view that there is something of a knowledge gap regarding what is needed to make reductions in this areas, so this short document is an intervention to address that. As they say themselves: “the leap of knowledge and skill required to be able to fulfil this goal is still relatively large, but far from insurmountable”.
Like much of the guidance out there in the field, there is a confluence of grand targets and empirical hard-headedness: yes, there is work to be done in getting where we need to be; no, that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve the targets, specifically the principal one of net zero carbon by 2050. LETI believes this means that by 2030 all new buildings will need to operate at net zero. Why? Because each new building not operating at net zero represents an increase in total carbon emissions. Therefore, there needs to be a shift in how buildings are designed, constructed and operated, as soon as is feasible. This will also limit future spending on retrofitting buildings that are not fit for purpose.
There are other publications on its website, of course, not least its consultation response to the draft London Plan in 2019. The importance of that plan cannot be overestimated, given London’s size and strategic leadership role in the UK. Have a look at a recent article on our site pertaining to this.
LETI wants you to get involved, and there are many different ways of doing this, from volunteering your time to attending workshops. See here for details.
The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) is a charity that aims to unite the building industry under the shared umbrella of sustainability. Its aim is nothing short of a radical transformation of the way in which the UK’s built environment is planned, designed, constructed, maintained and operated.
It’s not just here, either; the UKGBC is a constituent member of the World GBC, a global network of over 70 GBCs, all aiming to transform the places in which we live, work, and play.
Mainer Associates is one of over 400 members. We’re doing lots of work on Net Zero, which is itself a major part of the WGBC’s work on market transformation towards the 2050 target of 100% net zero carbon buildings.
In the 13 years since the UKGBC was founded in 2007, it has succeeded in bringing together what was a disparate sector in need of cohesive leadership. It shares best practice, develops guidance and solutions, lobbies for better standards, and perhaps most importantly, starts conversations in a diverse sector, the constituent parts of which wouldn’t always necessarily talk to each other otherwise. The work library on its website sets all this out by topic, activity and type, in easy to navigate sections. As you’d expect, it also runs courses and events, and has a news section offering insights. A yearly impact report of its achievements is produced, which you can download here.
In terms of lobbying, it’s not slow to do what needs to be done. Last year, it was a prominent in a letter sent to then prime minister Theresa May, calling for the government to commit to net zero carbon by 2050.
But it’s net zero where it concentrates much of its energy.
The first development to meet the UKGBC net zero carbon definition began in south Wales this spring. As one of the world’s first net zero carbon neighbourhoods, it will track its energy use and carbon emissions in real time. Richard Twinn, a policy adviser at the UKGBC, had this to say:
“Meaningful action over the next 10 years will be critical to help avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The energy used in homes accounts for around 20% of the UK’s emissions, so if we’re going to radically reduce emissions, we need all of our new homes to be net zero carbon in operation by 2030 at the latest.”
This is a very clear example of the positive effect that the charity has had recently. There will be others to come.
Even more recently, it had a role in a letter sent to the prime minister from over 200 business leaders, over a third of which were UKGBC members. It called for a ‘clean, inclusive and resilient’ recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, which would include an investment drive in low carbon innovation, the focussing of support on sectors that can best support sustainable growth, and financial support packages being managed based upon science and the achieving of national climate goals. Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of UKGBC, suggested that:
“A clean, inclusive and resilient recovery from coronavirus is vital if we are to learn the lessons from this health emergency and ramp up action to tackle the climate and ecological crisis and reduce social inequality. The built environment can plan a pivotal role in helping the country to build back better. We can unlock huge opportunities for resilient recovery through measures such as introducing ambitious new build standards; prioritising home energy efficiency; and investing in urban greening.”
Of course, UKGBC wasn’t set up with coronavirus in mind; no one knew what the environment was going to be like in 2020 back in 2007.
But it is the case that the above measure is an excellent example of sustainability leaders thinking on their feet, reacting to what they see around them, and pushing for transformation.
Furthermore, it has refocussed its 2020-21 plan in the context of the crisis, with a greater emphasis being placed upon maximising its digital platforms for the New Normal. In order to optimise access to benefits for members, its L & D strategy is now 100% online in the form of a Virtual Learning Portfolio, comprising courses, webinars and resource packs. This is part of the plan’s overall aim of refocussing around a small number of critical priorities in these trying times.
What is clear is this: 2020 can’t be the year in which the built environment industry loses its focus on its role in the fight for a sustainable future. The UKGBC has an important role to play in ensuring that the vital transition to net zero carbon stays on track, as part of the battle to mitigate the climate crisis.
This summer should see the publication of the new London Plan, which will replace the 2015 version. This will bring to an end a process that began in autumn 2016 with Mayor Sadiq Khan’s A City for All Londoners, followed by a first draft coming just over a year later. The ‘intend to publish’ version became available in December of last year, and not without snags along the way as part of the consultation process, which has included 300 organisations and individuals. Therefore, this is a good time to give some thought to what the thinking is behind it, and what it comprises.
First things first: it’s a statutory document required by the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (the GLA Act, as it’s known). The Act provides a framework for the plan, which is the authority’s Spatial Development Strategy (SDS): how it should be drawn up, altered and replaced. The mayor is required to outline his policies regarding land and spatial development, and comment on how they fit in with other strategies, such as national policies. In its final form, it will be part of the statutory development plan for Greater London, and will have accompanying Supplementary Planning Guidance. It covers the period up to 2041, though there will undoubtedly be updated versions in the coming 21 years.
It functions as a framework, covering economic, environmental, transport and the social issues pertaining to those areas. The aim is good growth, and with that in mind, the mayor has announced six ‘Good Growth’ policies, which function as an add-on to the GLA Act. Good Growth is that which is socially and economically inclusive and environmentally sustainable:
- Policy GG1 Building strong and inclusive communities
- Policy GG2 Making the best use of land
- Policy GG3 Creating a healthy city
- Policy GG4 Delivering the homes Londoners need
- Policy GG5 Growing a good economy
- Policy GG6 Increasing efficiency and resilience
Chapter one tells us about the mayor’s vision for London and explains what the aforementioned Good Growth is. Following that, chapter two sets out the overall spatial development plan for the city. Chapters three to twelve then set out the specific and spatially-specific policies that are required to deliver the Good Growth, for example in housing, transport and social infrastructure.
In this context, what does it tell us in headline terms about future London in terms of the general environment, housing, transport, energy, well-being, carbon emissions, and sustainability?
As you’d expect, the environment is discussed rather a lot, both generally and specifically in terms of the built environment; moreover, it is the overarching thinking behind the discrete policies on transport, housing, and so on, so it makes sense to limit our remarks to the big picture level. In terms of that, the plan’s principal objective is to promote the improvement of London’s environment and the physical and mental health of its inhabitants. As the Plan says in this context:
“A failure to consider the wider implications of London’s growth has increased car dependency, leading to low levels of physical activity, significant congestion, poor air quality and other environmental problems”
Another aim is to deliver more than 50% green cover across the city, with a view to London becoming a National Park city.
In terms of housing, there are 10-year net housing completion targets for local authorities. To achieve this, boroughs need to develop delivery-focussed development plans, optimise the potential for housing delivery on all suitable brownfield sites, and establish ambitious and achievable build-out rates at the planning stage, which incentivise build-out milestones in order to help ensure that homes are built quickly and to reduce the likelihood of permissions being sought to sell land on at a higher value. Transport needs and mixed-use development are prioritised.
Minimum space standards are set out for homes. Also, they must be fit for purpose for a changing world in terms of climate; therefore, the Plan helps meet the challenges of a changing climate by ensuring homes are suitable for warmer summers and wetter winters. The nature of a high-density city means a focus on tall buildings will form part of a sustainable approach to future growth. The mayor has carried out a London-wide Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA). The former has identified the need for 66,000 additional homes per year.
Many of the city’s neighbourhoods lie within the 20% most deprived areas in England, and are consequently designated Strategic Areas for Regeneration in the Plan. Development plans should aid in creating mixed and inclusive neighbourhoods – a phrase used extensively in the Plan – in which communities collaborate in the development of planning policies that affects them.
Regarding overall design, the focus is again on Good Growth. This requires area assessments and an understanding of the importance of both respecting character and accommodating change.
To move on to transport, plans developed by boroughs should support and facilitate the mayor’s strategic target of 80% of all trips in London by 2041 being made by foot, cycle or public transport. To that end, the Plan suggests that:
“All development should make the most effective use of land, reflecting its connectivity and accessibility by existing and future public transport, walking and cycling routes, and ensure that any impacts on London’s transport networks and supporting infrastructure are mitigated.”
This requires an integrated approach, which is essential to the healthy functioning city in the 21st century. Moreover, getting Londoners out of their cars is the only realistic solution to the road congestion challenges the city faces. To this end, the mayor will work with partners to minimise freight trips on the road as well. All this will require sustained investment.
Above are the changes required in transport mode share in central, inner and outer London to achieve this shift to 80% share for public transport, walking and cycling.
The Plan also provides 10 Healthy Streets indicators that are intended to facilitate this mode share change with a view to promoting health and reducing health inequalities. The context? Streets are 80% of the city’s public spaces. A part of this is reducing road danger by promoting what the Plan is calling Vision Zero which involves “designing and managing a street system that accommodates human error and ensures impact levels are not sufficient to cause fatal or serious injury”.
As part of the aim of reducing emissions, development proposals must refer to the mayor’s nationally recognised Whole Life-Cycle Carbon Assessment and contain demonstrable actions. Guidance to this effect was released in April and considered on this site recently. The Whole Life-Cycle Carbon approach ensures that operational carbon emissions reduce year-on-year, as targets become more stringent. It also allows the capture of unregulated emissions (such as those from cooking and small appliances) and of embodied emissions, which includes those associated with raw material extraction, manufacture and transport of building materials and construction.
Furthermore, the Plan makes clear that the mayor is committed to London becoming a zero-carbon city by 2050. The city’s homes and places of work produce 78% of its greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide is the most prominent, and all new development needs to meet the requirements of this policy.
Of course, reducing the use of traditional forms of energy is a significant part of this aim, and boroughs should ensure that all developments maximise opportunities for on-site electricity and heat production from solar technologies. This will support London’s energy resilience and encourage the growth of green jobs. To provide a clear approach, the mayor has produced Energy Planning Guidance, with the hope of providing certainty to developers and all relevant stakeholders. Comprehensive monitoring is also required for assurance purposes. All this is driven by the need to increase efficiency and resilience. With that in mind, the Plan use four pithy phrases to sum up its approach to minimising emissions: be lean; be clean; be green; be seen.
But energy isn’t just about emissions: it’s also about reducing lighting on tall buildings, prioritising renewables and new technology, air quality, minimising demand, building design, and the appropriate use of BREEAM ratings, among other things.
The Plan needs to be seen in the context of the government’s overall planning policy and guidance; while it’s the key document in terms of the capital city, London is not separate from the rest of the country, and their needs required a conjoined approach. Moreover, constituent parts of the city’s infrastructure have their own planning documents and local plans, which sit within or need to take account of the London Plan.
What does the Plan have to say about social well-being? It is its overarching aim; its raison d’être, if you like. All development plans need to assess their potential impact on the well-being of communities. Well-being strategies speak to health and social care in the document, in particular, with a view to identifying priorities for action. Health Impact Assessments provide a framework to undertake this. Social well-being also requires the conservation and enhancement of historical sites, heritage and culture, and an appropriate approach to the night-time economy, for all of which London is deservedly famous.
Sustainability is also woven throughout the Plan and needs to be demonstrated in the areas discussed in this article. It forms a key element of the capital’s transformation plans, and for local plans, which must consider their impact upon the capital overall. These Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) were published in October 2016 and set out how health and care services will evolve and become financially sustainable over the 5-year period to 2020/21.
This short overview can only scratch the surface of what is a document of over 600 pages; the length gives an idea of the depth of ambition. Only time will tell if reality meets the ambition.
The London Plan will be with us soon. As part of that, the Greater London Authority (GLA) released Whole Life-Cycle Carbon (WLC) Assessments guidance in April, which will be consulted upon formally once the Plan is approved.
As you would expect, a wide range of stakeholders has been consulted, including developers, industry and technical experts. The draft sets out a requirement for developments to calculate and reduce WLC emissions.
The context is that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has declared a climate emergency and set the ambition of London being net zero-carbon.
What are WLC emissions?
They are the carbon emissions that result from the combination of the materials, construction and use of a building throughout its life and afterlife, effectively, as demolition and disposal form part of the cycle.
The approach considers operational (both regulated and unregulated) and embodied emissions in tandem over a project’s life cycle, and determines the best opportunities to reduce lifetime emissions.
This dual approach, which pays attention to the carbon intensity of the structure itself as well as to reducing its operational energy, is part of the relatively recent move away from simply focusing on operational emissions alone. The RICS guidance uses the following example to illustrate the potential pitfalls of focussing solely on the operational side:
“The embodied carbon burden of installing triple glazing rather than double can be greater than the operational benefit resulting from the additional pane.”
The integration of these two elements needs to be understood as part of the sustainability agenda and the imperative of working towards a low carbon future.
What’s in the guidance?
The document covers three principal areas:
- Aims, benefits and targets
- Process and methodology
- Assessment content
Let’s consider each of these in more detail.
Aims, benefits and targets
An overarching aim is the London Plan net-zero carbon target for all major developments, with the GLA supplying Energy Assessment Guidance on how to achieve this. Furthermore, major developments must be seen to be doing this through transparent monitoring and reporting. All referable planning applications must calculate and reduce WLC emissions.
There are manifold benefits listed in the guidance, including:
- Ensuring that the built environment contributes to achieving the net-zero carbon city
- Achieving resource efficiency and cost savings by encouraging the re-use of existing materials and the retrofit and retention of existing structures and fabric
- Identifying the carbon benefits of using recycled material and of designing for future reuse and recycling to reduce waste and support the circular economy
- Encouraging a ‘fabric first’ approach to building design thereby minimising mechanical plant and services in favour of natural ventilation
- Considering operational and embodied emissions simultaneously to identify the best solutions for the development over its lifetime
- Identifying the impact of maintenance, repair and replacement over a building’s life-cycle which improves life-time resource efficiency and reduces life-cycle costs, contributing to the future proofing of asset value
- Encouraging local sourcing of materials and short supply chains, with resulting carbon, social and economic benefits for the local economy
- Encouraging durable construction and flexible design to contribute to greater longevity, reduce obsolescence of buildings and avoid carbon emissions associated with demolition and new construction
Other documents submitted at planning may have an impact upon the WLC assessment, such as Environmental Impact Assessments, Design and Access Statements, Sustainability Statements and Resource Management Plans.
Process and methodology
WLC Assessments are required at three stages: pre-application; stage 1 submission (RIBA stage 2/3) and post-construction (RIBA stage 6). They must be carried out using a nationally recognised assessment methodology. Actions to reduce emissions must be demonstrated.
The assessment needs to cover operational, embodied and post ‘end of life’ benefits. All this must be done under the appropriate framework BS EN 15978 and be underpinned by the RICS Professional Statement: Whole Life Carbon assessment, which functions as the methodology here.
Both BS EN 15978 and the RICS PS set out for four stages in the life of a project, which are known as life-cycle modules, and which must be presented discretely, based on a period of 60 years:
- Product sourcing and construction: to reduce carbon emissions both at this stage and the subsequent ones. Processes in fabricating products and methods of construction are important.
- Use: to understand how the building will perform, to minimise future emissions from maintenance, repair and replacement, and to minimise operational energy use via due consideration of the building’s overall resource efficiency
- End of life: to capture the emissions from deconstruction and demolition, transport, waste processing for reuse, recovery or recycling and disposal, until the site is cleared, level and ready for further use
- Benefits and loads beyond the system boundary: to develop scenarios regarding what will happen to a building after it has been demolished or dismantled in order to facilitate future reuse, recycling or recovery. This and the previous module together form the circular economy module
Materials, products and grid carbonisation are considered in the remainder of this section.
A WLC assessment template has been constructed, which gives applicants all the required information for submission at each of the three stages. Throughout this section, and indeed the whole document, user-friendly diagrams and tables are employed to aid applicants during the process.
For example, the Principles for reducing WLC emissions lists sixteen areas to be considered, with each having a separate list of relevant modules to which it pertains. They form a one stop shop for emission reduction.
Furthermore, headline information is given in this section, as is a note regarding software tools, which are listed in one of the three appendices. The three stages are explained in easy to follow steps.
As applicants will want to understand the process, transparency is assured via a list of what will be scrutinised in the assessments.
This assessment is an important step in emission reduction. For context, the World Green Building Council estimates that globally construction is responsible for 11% of carbon emissions.
London, as one of the world’s great cities, clearly has an important role to play in recusing carbon emissions and moving in the direction of the required environmental targets. Transparent and rigorous guidance like this can only push the city and the rest of the UK in the right direction.
With the construction sector given the government go-ahead to recommence this week, now is a good time to have a look at what effect Covid-19 has had so far on building and sustainability.
The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) has produced new guidance, BREEAM has made changes to its assessment requirements, surveys have been undertaken, and occupier expectations in professional environments are changing rapidly.
In terms of building work during the pandemic, at the start of May, based on a survey with an admittedly low sample, a quarter of businesses were fully operational, with 58% operating in a limited fashion. Moreover, 83% are still tendering for new projects. This suggests some optimism in the sector regarding work starting up once more, and that has been proven well-founded after Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation on May 10th.
However, with the vast majority of analysts predicting a major downturn, and with the UK economy posting a 2% contraction this week, its biggest quarterly fall since 2008, reality may not meet the expectation of the companies bidding for tender, especially as construction tends to function as one of the most predictive parts of the economy: when it’s up, we’re booming; when we’re not, it reduces dramatically.
To return to the IEMA, it’s worth a closer look at what’s going on there. It is the largest professional body for environmental practitioners in the world, and has put this on its website:
“Environment and Sustainability professionals face many challenges during the current health crisis ranging from the immediate term issues of performing daily roles and progressing the environment and sustainability goals within the organisation; to the long term future of the profession as business, society and the economy start to rebuild in the wake of the global impact of COVID-19”.
What is of most interest to us for the purposes of this article is ‘progressing the environment and sustainability goals within the organisation’. Why? Because it speaks clearly to the world in which we operate, and its long term future. Daily roles in administration can of course be done from home, and Sunday’s announcement from the prime minister means assessments and other work streams can begin again in earnest. However, as we start to come out of lockdown, changes to the way that business and society at large operate will create many challenges for the sector. The IEMA suggests these will come in the following areas, which I am listing, followed by some brief examples:
- Impact assessment
– how monitoring and surveys should proceed
– how statutory timeframes can be met
– how applications might be considered by planning authorities
- Environmental Management and Environmental Auditing
– sharing experiences and approaches to remote auditing
– what are the compliance obligations
– what are the implications for waste, resource management and packaging
- Corporate sustainability
– What are the strategies that will maintain commitments for environmental and sustainability work?
– Managing risks, dependencies and vulnerability
– Rejuvenating the case for sustainability when it might be a lower priority during a time of crisis
- Climate change and energy
– Links with the climate risk and adaptation agenda
– Maintaining momentum and planning for post-covid climate action
– Mandatory energy schemes and any adjustments
This is not an exhaustive list and there is much more to be said, but it’s clear that even this abridged version suggests that the sector is going to continue to experience upheaval. While it is certainly the case that companies are continuing to sign up to sustainability initiatives and are attempting to fulfil their corporate responsibilities, it is the case that a slow-down in uptake is likely to occur, as companies focus on the here and now: Return on Investment (ROI); cash flow; in short, survival strategies. Companies that have already embedded sustainability – in the supply chain, or in corporate decision-making – are more likely to keep to the required agenda than perhaps those only starting to take their first tentative steps in that direction.
BREEAM, as might be expected, have responded well in practical terms. Showing understanding of the difficulties caused by the situation, a bulletin has been released aiming to assist “assessors, and our wider stakeholders, with continuing to conduct assessments in a robust manner whilst also taking a practical view in light of the COVID-19 global crisis and its impacts on many territories”.
They have provided guidance in four areas, which again are listed, with examples drawn from the bulletin:
- Submitting assessments and certification
– Provide an account of the particular circumstances of the place and nature of the assessment within the report
- Gathering evidence for site assessments
– Where an assessor cannot personally visit or gain access to the site, they can appoint a suitable individual, for example a main contractor or asset manager, to undertake a formal site assessment on their behalf
– In such cases, the report should contain photos and/or a virtual tour, but where this is not possible – such as when a site is closed – built drawings and written confirmation from the design team and main contractors that the requirements have been met will be acceptable
- In use re-certification
– When site assessment is not possible, either by the assessor or a nominated individual, desk-based evidence will be accepted where:
– Evidence demonstrates that the criteria are being met as far as possible without a site assessment
– There is a firm commitment for a follow-up site inspection to be carried out when it is safe to do so, in line with local government guidance on Covid-19
- Timing of workshops, testing and other subsidiary evidence submissions
– In respect of workshops, the key consideration is that they take place at a time when they have a meaningful impact and achieve the aim of the criteria
– In respect of indoor air quality testing, where possible, the construction programme should allow time for the indoor air quality testing to be undertaken post-construction/pre-occupancy, in line with the BREEAM criteria. However, where it can be demonstrated that this is not possible, due to restrictions relating to COVID-19, it is permissible to undertake the indoor air quality testing post-occupancy.
Examples of when this will be the case are given.
– In respect of subsidiary, third party assessments such as ecological site inspections or audits, desktop surveys based on available information (e.g. planning surveys, agents’ reports, photographs, Google Earth), can be used as an alternative provided there is enough material for a confident recommendation and/or outcome to be achieved
What this tells us is that there has been a sensible approach to assessment in its various forms. BREEAM clearly understand the new imperatives of the new normal, and have adjusted their methods accordingly. It will be interesting to what extent any of these new approaches continue once we are out the other side of Covid-19.
Finally, how to create safe office spaces is of course very much on the agenda. This concerns not just the organisation of already-existing spaces, but the design of new ones, which is already changing. The British Council for Offices (BCO) has released a briefing note outlining what we are more likely to see more and less of in the next period. In the latter category, unsurprisingly, is hot desking; in the former, apps to remind people of various hygiene methods. Here is an indicative list from the briefing:
- The introduction of screens to protect receptionists
- The replacement of gendered communal toilets with pod-based ‘superloos’ that feature touchless doors, taps and soap dispensers
- An increase in bike storage, in the context of workers being likely to avoid public transport
- Limits on the number of people that can occupy a space, use a meeting room or share a lift at any one time
- An end to communal cutlery, coffee pots and water bottles
- The adoption of ventilation and humidification systems which create environments that make transmission tough for viruses
These are all sensible measures, though of course they have a cost, and may well need to be underpinned by legislation. What is the case is this: unless a vaccine is found, it’s extremely unlikely that office work will go back to the way it was before.
Considering the extent to which the Covid-19 outbreak is connected to environmental damage, it may well be that the sustainability agenda is in the long term given a new lease of life by the crisis. Certainly, short term signs are good. The noises coming from CEOs are the right ones. For example, a recent interview for GreenBiz, Mariano Lozano, CEO of Danone North America said this: “ultimately, we believe that this challenging moment can be used as a catalyst to help others recognize that the health of our people and of the planet are all interconnected.” The challenge for all of us working in the sector will be to make sure that thought stay at the forefront of people’s minds once we’re through the worst of this.
It was a long, but routine, training ride. In the calendar for this year was La Marmotte for a second time, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège aka ‘The Old Lady’. The winter bike had been put to good use in its first season, and he was raring to go.
Had those hours busting a gut on the Wattbike paid off?
The training ride would go up and into the Goyt Valley before heading towards Hathersage, then back home via Mam Tor and Whaley Bridge: 165km with 3,000m of elevation.
Sadly, this is one training ride that will never be forgotten, for all the wrong reasons. Around mid-morning after coming out of the Goyt Valley, Ben was involved in a collision and was air lifted to Stoke for emergency care on a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
He was in a coma.
What followed was a very long road to recovery that has been both exhausting. That being said, it is gratifying that rehabilitation is being provided and that he is at least on a ‘road’, however long.
It was 2 years before Ben got back on a bike. He struggled to find the motivation for his once-loved pastime. That was until a good friend called and very nervously asked if Ben wanted to do the Maratona dles Dolomites in Italy.
The relief of finally having a goal, was similar to the feeling he felt when getting on his bike for the first time in two years – a huge weight lifted off.
So, along with 5 close friends he is doing the Maratona on 05.07.20. They will all be raising money for the Air Ambulance, so critical for Ben and so many others in providing immediate emergency care in hard to reach places.
In the current situation, clearly mass participation events in high risk areas have been stopped in their tracks, which initially removed this key goal from Ben’s rehab.
That is until he was convinced by a couple of new online platforms, which are excellent at mimicking the real thing. With the right kit, and group of friends, the Maratona could actually be done in augmented reality, using ANT+ enabled training equipment.
We are offering you the opportunity to be part of it, to ride it, to sponsor it and follow it.
All proceeds will be going to Air Ambulance services across the UK. This vital public service, which covers 3850 square miles and remains a charity, needs your support as much as ever. Read more about it here.
Ben’s story is one of many that could be told. Please donate.
Fitwel (facility innovations toward wellness environment leadership) is a building ratings system designed to be used for both commercial interiors and housing. Its guidelines provide an operating model for healthier buildings. It’s not just for existing buildings, either – it can be used in the design of new buildings, too.
The thinking behind it? Supporting health and wellbeing.
Launched in 2017 by the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and General Services Administration, it has been rolled out universally since then. Fitwel Champions are committed to implementing the Fitwel Standard across their built environment portfolio.
Fitwel asks a question that is key as we enter the third decade of the 21st century: what is the role buildings can play in encouraging healthy behaviour, and consequently healthy lifestyles? Back in the 19th century, in the context of cholera and other infectious diseases, the relationship between the environment and public health started to be understood, leading to an increase in the construction of public parks and healthier (for the time) buildings. Nowadays, more and more of us are on board with the idea that we need to eat well, and exercise, but in what sort of environment? That is a question to which Fitwel can provide an answer.
All the required information is readily accessible and free, so a case can be made that it’s a genuine attempt to make an intervention in health and wellbeing. Also, certification is facilitated by Fitwel’s interactive, digital interface that gives you direct access to details about project performance and the impact upon health. You can register, benchmark, and submit either a single project or a portfolio for Fitwel certification.
What comprises the Fitwel standard?
There are a number of different scorecards, depending on whether you’re thinking about whole sites or individual buildings. For the former, it’s just two:
- Community scorecard
- Commercial scorecard
For buildings, there are significantly more:
- Multi-tenant base building scorecard
- Multi-tenant whole building scorecard
- Single tenant building scorecard
- Commercial interior space scorecard
- Retail scorecard
- Multifamily residential building scorecard
Further information, including downloadable scorecards, case studies, fact sheets and pamphlets, can be found here. The scorecards have over 55 strategies for design and operation that are intended to improve buildings through focussing on an extensive range of both health behaviours and risks. Each action has discrete point allocations, pertaining to the strength of the associated evidence, and the impact on the health of the occupants that can be demonstrated. Obviously, a strategy that has greater number of multi-faceted impacts will gain more points.
Fitwel sees health holistically, with no dominant category or area of focus, and because of this, all the strategies are voluntary, and do not have individual prerequisites. This means that there should be significantly fewer barriers to using the system. There are 7 categories that strategies can address:
- Those pertaining to community health
- Those that reduce morbidity and absenteeism
- Those that supports social equity for vulnerable populations
- Those that instil feelings of wellbeing
- Those that improve access to healthy foods
- Those that promote occupant safety
- Those that increase physical activity
Becoming a Fitwel Champion means that a company can offer its clients an additional way to attain Green Building Certification, and one that is recognised under the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). Furthermore, as each strategy is voluntary, there are also fewer initial barriers or costs prohibiting any project from attempting certification.
Mainer Associates are working with a number of clients to examine appropriate assessment methodologies in order to demonstrate sustainability in the built environment. Air quality and more generally, health and wellbeing are at the forefront of people’s minds – just as much as energy, or carbon emissions. Mainer have invested time and budget in to becoming Fitwel Champions, as our chosen methodology for assessing health and wellbeing in the built environment.