Simon Bell joins Landscape Institute panel discussion

Last week, Simon Bell, Director and Landscape Architect based in our Belfast studio, was part of the Landscape Institute’s CPD Conference, ‘Mitigating Climate & Biodiversity Emergency’.

The discussion, titled ‘Embodied Carbon – Techniques for Changing Behaviour’, explored the different methods of measuring carbon emissions; operational, embodied and whole life and relating that to the practice of Landscape Architecture.

Simon’s contribution showcased our recent Research and Development (R&D) work, highlighting where learnings have been made in initiatives on the topic of whole life carbon, and identifying where changes need to be made within the landscape discipline.

We need to understand the way in which products’ embodied carbon has been calculated, before we can explore the possibilities for reducing it.

In addition to this, the prioritisation of material re-use and an emphasis on local, natural, and ethical products and materials and circular principles which allow for re-use in the future, will all contribute to the carbon ‘bottom line’ – the whole life calculation.

With our practice adopting the RIBA 2030 Sustainable Outcomes as a guide to the design process, we have mapped the process of achieving these against the RIBA Plan of Works. By developing a series of process diagrams for each stage, we have developed the tools to help our teams select the correct methodologies and tools for each specific project, at the right time in the design process.

However, to successfully achieve the outcomes, it is important for a universally recognised method of analysing whole life carbon – something that RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) have developed. We need to understand the way in which products’ embodied carbon has been calculated, before we can explore the possibilities for reducing it. In addition to this, the prioritisation of material re-use and an emphasis on local, natural, and ethical products and materials and circular principles which allow for re-use in the future, will all contribute to the carbon ‘bottom line’ – the whole life calculation.

The collaborative R&D project, ‘Circular Twin’, with partner organisations Morgan Sindall, Lungfish, SCAPE and Cundall, was driven by answering the question, ‘What happens if we put carbon before capex?’ The methodology behind the project was cross-discipline collaboration at every level, where every decision was made based on carbon, as opposed to cost savings. By utilising digital tools to ‘twin’ an existing build, what the working group developed was an industry-first approach to the construction process, which resulted in carbon savings meeting future embodied carbon targets with little cost uplift.

The project was a response to a series of industry reports and initiatives as well as global climate discussions, the construction industry recognising the need for change and taking action to assess what was required to deliver a low to zero carbon response., in order to demonstrate how their implementation would affect carbon levels. These included:

  • The Construction Playbook – for Whole Life Carbon and Cost​
  • UKGBC Net Zero Buildings Framework Definitions​
  • COP26​
  • The Social Value Toolkit from the Construction Innovation hub – Driving better social, environmental and economic outcomes through value-based decision making.​

The team uncovered a revelation – that virtually cost-neutral, low carbon construction has been hidden in plain sight by our industries’ reliance on traditional design and procurement approaches. ​

​Embodying the philosophy of More Zero, Less Net, we subscribe to the UKGBC guidance on minimising the embodied carbon through design and delivery of low carbon buildings and places.

That is, we start with upskilling our workforce through behavioural changes, then on to removing embodied carbon through careful design, leading to operational energy savings; and only then do we consider renewable solutions. Finally, we look to offsets, which must be minimised.

Developed by Morgan Sindall and validated by Arup, RICS’ carbon calculator, CarboniCa was absolutely fundamental to the Circular Twin process. It uses the latest RICS standards on whole life carbon assessment to measure the carbon levels of our built environment assets.

Before starting the design process, a comparative process was undertaken, listing all systems and materials for the structural, construction and internal elements to enable easy selection of the lowest carbon options, and then initiate conversations with the relevant supply chain. This pre-planning element reimagined the design process and had a huge impact on carbon reduction in the design and procurement process.

Circular Twin is circular by design, and circular by nature.

Some key features include: the absolutely mission critical alliance of the client, contractor and designers; bottom-up design input from the supply chain, and ability to re-circle each Gateway as many times as necessary.

The Circular Twin approach has been created deliberately to dovetail with the existing RIBA plan of works. We found that an elongated RIBA Stage 2 was most advantageous for helping design out carbon through input with the supply chain.

And finally, we advocate that each of these circles can spin as fast as the supply chain is empowered to input and can revolve as many times as deemed necessary through the design process. We also advocate that the more the circles turn, the better the carbon performance and improved cost-minimisation-certainty.

The team set out to achieve the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge targets for both embodied and operational carbon, as ambitious, industry recognised benchmarks. We achieved a 40% improvement on current Part L Standards for operational energy and improved on the 55kwh/m2/yr RIBA target, with an anticipated EUI of 45kwh/m2/yr.

In respect of embodied carbon, the project achieved a figure of 340kgCO2e/m2, against the RIBA 2030 target of <500kgCO2e/m2, before offsetting. A typical school built to current standards would expect to achieve <1400 kgCO2e/m2.

What is important to note, is that we have achieved these ambitious LETI and RIBA targets using simple and readily-understood techniques, significantly sooner than anticipated.

These are of course building targets, and more work needs to be done to understand what the targets should be for landscapes, both as part of greater schemes, and as standalone landscape projects. For example, what should the embodied carbon target be for a public square, a school playground, a street, or a park? How much carbon sequestration could we target from a new woodland or a new wetland? Simon and Noor will be working with others on the Landscape Institute’s Embodied Carbon Working Group to begin to set out what these targets should be. In the meantime, we can encourage the landscape supply chain to calculate and publish the embodied carbon of their products.

We believe we have re-defined a design and procurement methodology that could make achieving low carbon an affordable and everyday part of creating new infrastructure that anyone and everyone can use. ​

What is required is a change in mindset and methodology to achieve it.​

 

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