The climate change crisis is the greatest challenge we will face in our lifetime, with rising temperatures having a significant impact on our planet. To tackle this global issue, in 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass legislation committing the country to net zero emissions by 2050.
What is Net Zero?
‘Net zero refers to the amount of greenhouse gas produced, and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.’ National Grid
A 2017 report by the United Nations Environment Program found the built environment contributes nearly 40% of the world’s total carbon footprint. While another report found in 2014, the UK generated 202.8 million tons of waste, with construction responsible for 59%.
The built environment has two primary types of carbon: Embodied carbon – the total greenhouse gas emissions generated to produce a built asset and Building Operational carbon – the collective CO2 emissions produced for a building to run like energy, heat, and lighting.
Embodied carbon emissions are more difficult to reduce than operational carbon and come from manufacturing the building materials, transporting those materials, and the construction practices used.
So, how can we carry out more sustainable fit outs?
1. Reusing, Recycling, and Reducing
Make choices as if our natural resources were running out (because they are). Start by choosing multifunctional products, compact building form, minimalist design and lower specifications. Reduce the number of products and materials required. Reuse furniture, manage the energy used for machinery, opt for higher quality materials, and encourage recycling culture from day one.
2. Sustainable Materials
Swap out high embodied materials such as cement and steel for gentler materials like timber, bamboo, and wool. Cement replacement in concrete and reclaimed bricks are also options.
Choose materials from local suppliers with accredited products for lower transport-related emissions and higher durability. Understand where materials come from as production and transportation processes have a significant impact on carbon footprint. Check a product’s life-cycle environmental impact on the EPD (Environmental Product Declarations).
3. Waste Management
Plan for deconstruction instead of demolition. Use prefabricated units, modular construction materials, simplified connection details and building systems. Off-site construction accelerates build time, reducing waste, noise, and transport on site. For extra measure, use the waste hierarchy as a tool to provide waste management guidance.
As mentioned in our previous post, construction is slowly adopting technology to reduce waste and create gentler processes within the industry. However, the property and construction industry still has some work to do as one of the least digitalized industries.
Technologies currently being used to improve sustainability include solar power, biodegradable materials, smart tech and water efficiency technologies, for example, rainwater harvesting.
We have listed four simple options to deliver greener fit outs. But there are, of course, 100 different ways the built environment can reduce its carbon footprint and save the planet. A solid place to start is with a tangible sustainability strategy involving all key stakeholders, the whole team, and partners.
Once we integrate these eco-friendly processes into our day-to-day, we will see real change and create room for innovation with technology.