Wishing you a clean New Year

The publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report in mid November 2007 was a significant piece of research.  It offers a stark wake up call to start this New Year. 
The Mitigation of Climate Change volume of the Report states, among its conclusions, that buildings offered the largest share of cost-effective opportunities for greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation among all of the sectors examined, including transport, power generation, agriculture and other industries. It highlights how current, commercially available and proven technologies in new and existing buildings could achieve GHG reductions as high as 70-80%.
To summarise the IPCC’s thinking, the long lifetime of buildings and their equipment, as well as numerous market barriers mean that available technologies are not currently being applied to the level required to achieve a low carbon future.  The traditional building design process, further compounded by a fragmented market structure, is probably the most significant obstacle to this.
The way forward – integrated design as an enabler for true sustainable design, which has been my vision for many years, is also recognised as such by the IPCC.
From our work across the globe we’ve been directly involved in and have been able to watch how regulatory and voluntary schemes are starting to drive significant changes in the building design process.  There is a clear trend towards performance based codes that address the overall energy consumption of buildings, rather than prescriptive ones which consider separate areas.
While prescriptive codes may be easier to enforce, the advantages of performance based policies are clear – they allow optimisation of integrated design, as well as leaving room for the creativity of designers and innovative technologies.  They offer the holistic approach.
One of the most advanced and comprehensive pieces of legislation to date is the new European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which importantly addresses the energy performance of both new and existing buildings and includes the creation of a certification scheme which aims to address the landlord/tenant barrier.
Such regulatory and voluntary schemes are starting to drive significant changes in the building design process.  The EPBD has been an important regulatory driver across Europe, while in North America it has been market forces rather than regulations that have been driving change, voluntary codes and commitments such as LEED and the 2030 Challenge have taken precedence.  Australia is similar with its Green Building Rating System, BCA and Greenstar.
Successful implementation of such performance based codes requires education and training among practicing design professionals within the building industry, as well as building officials and inspectors. 
The IPCC Report notes that there is a significant need in most countries to create comprehensive, integrated programmes at universities to train future building professionals in the design and construction of low energy buildings, and that such programmes would be significantly enhanced if they included an outreach component to upgrade the skills and knowledge of practicing professionals.
This must focus on how designers can create buildings that perform well and are also more energy efficient.  While at the same time allowing them to reassure their clients the design will perform as predicted, as well as ensure the design process is productive.
As an industry we could be doing much more about this. I believe that every building designer is part of the solution and that achieving a lower carbon future requires us all to step things up a notch – the tools are available, let’s use them. 

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