COP26 is the global summit that has brought parties together to accelerate action towards tackling Climate Change.

At Chetwoods, both reducing the impact on our planet and considering sustainability in every design we do are extremely important to us. As a firm, we recently became the first architects practice to receive Climate Positive Status, and last year one of our designs became the World’s First Net Zero Carbon for Construction Verified Building.

However, the construction industry is still responsible for producing a staggering amount of carbon, so as a practice we know we need to do a lot more, and our industry still has a long way to go.

Below we have outlined the top five topics we hope will be discussed at COP26:

  1. Retrofit Retrofit Retrofit

Whilst it seems a little obscure, there is a reason why there is an activist group called Insulate Britain. 80% of the buildings that will be in use in 2050 already exist and many are far from fit for the future. Considering the carbon that has already been spent in constructing each building, we need to be improving and safeguarding our building stock. We should not rely on renewable technologies like air source heat pumps alone; we need to reduce our energy demand too.

The construction industry is keen to get going, LETI have released a guide to help us navigate this. We would like to see some support from government to help push the retrofit industry on, with provision for additional training, incentives like 0% VAT on retrofit, effective green programmes and green mortgage products.

  1. National embodied carbon regulation

Carbon resulting from the sourcing, manufacturing and erection of construction materials is frequently still overlooked in policy. We don’t believe it should be as it can’t be compensated for later using a different technology, it is set at practical completion. It is for this reason that the AJ Retrofirst Campaign was created, as the demolition of existing buildings results in wasted embodied carbon. The RIBA and LETI have set voluntary targets for embodied carbon, however it should be regulated to avoid excessive use of high carbon materials. ACAN agree and have created this petition.

  1. Circular economy principles as a solution to reduce carbon in the built environment

In order to reduce embodied carbon we ought to recognise that circular economy principles need to be applied in design. We need to erase ‘waste’ as a concept. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has already started requesting Circular Economy Statements to accompany planning applications that are referable to the Mayor, and as a practice we have been involved in creating one of the first. We would like to see this become a requirement on all built environment projects. Every project should consider the whole life cycle of its components.

  1. Better transparency across the construction industry

We are seeing the results of the Environment Social Governance (ESG) revolution and a new wave of benchmarks which ensure that big developers are practising what they preach, however it isn’t necessarily translating across the entire supply chain.

We need more transparency from building material manufacturers to be able to collate accurate carbon measurements at the very least (see all the questions we ask here). We also need a directive to encourage manufacturers to disclose the ingredients of their materials in a clear and effective way, just like in the food industry.

  1. Improvement to internal air quality

External air quality has been discussed at length over the last decade, however little light has been shed on internal air quality. We spend approximately 90% of our time inside where the air quality has the potential to be five times worse than that outside. We would like to see new developments take this into consideration. We ought to be ensuring that buildings are adequately ventilated and constructed using materials that do not offgas. They must mitigate pathogen spread and the exacerbation of respiratory illness. This is especially important following the COVID-19 pandemic.

For further information on our thoughts around COP26, keep an eye on our social media channels over the event. One of our architects is in Glasgow and will be providing regular updates on the conversations occurring. To find out more about our sustainability approach, click here.

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