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Driving change across construction for net zero

With the UK government recently committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, sustainability expert Emily Loquidis discusses the latest industry innovations and trends and how they might help drive change across the construction process and to meet climate change targets.

AECOM has considered four recent industry trends and approaches designed to help achieve net zero:


  1. Defining net zero
    One of the most pervasive challenges in pursuing net zero goals has been defining what exactly the term means. To help address this, as part of a net zero task group convened by the UK Green Building Council, AECOM and other practitioners contributed to the recently published, A Framework Definition for Net Zero Carbon Buildings.

    The framework aims to provide the industry with an agreed definition of what it means to be ‘net zero carbon’ both in construction and operation. This includes how net zero buildings should look to promote deep energy efficiency through design, such as developing supply solutions based upon on-site and off-site renewable energy such as photovoltaics, fuel cell technology, battery storage and wind etc., and pursuing a carbon offset policy. The whole building lifecycle - looking at embodied (construction) carbon and operational carbon over a building’s lifespan - also needs factoring in when determining a building’s true carbon footprint.

  2. Considering the energy ecosystem
    Consider looking beyond the one building or development to determine its position within the wider ecosystem. This includes the infrastructure that serves buildings, nearby communities, neighbourhoods and the connections that underpin them. A net zero community should take a long-term investment view and consider Energy Supply Company (ESCo) models that create incentives to invest in energy efficiency, and low carbon technologies for period of 20-50 years.

    Connecting resource flows between buildings and levelling out supply and demand through virtual platforms, i.e. Blockchain, is a novel answer to implementing net zero at scale. Platforms such as these which map transactions to facilitate peer-to-peer trading could also turn consumers into producers, or ‘prosumers’. For example, if a house with solar panels generates more energy than it consumes, its owners could sell the excess.

  3. Verifying performance
    Transparency and data consolidation from net zero buildings is important information for the UK residential market as it shifts to net zero carbon.

    The Living Building Challenge bans combustion through traditional boilers, biomass and combined heat and power (CHP) systems. With other green building councils and global NGOs launching standards, practitioners will have a range of tools to work with to supplement understanding.
  1. Making the most of waste
    In considering the whole ecosystem, map resource flows to determine how waste from one system can be reused by another. Several new approaches can be adopted across the wider industry and passive energy-efficiency strategies can be used to drive down demand:
  • Design out complexity and use hi-tech solutions that do not require layers of technology to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Incorporate heating, ventilation and air conditioning solutions that separate ventilation from space conditioning and reduce fan energy.
  • Attention on tuning controls for performance monitoring and feedback.
  • Integrate renewable, waste heat recovery and energy storage with low carbon technologies.
  • Recognise that occupant interaction with the building is critical to achieving net zero status in operation.

Hear more from in the "Achieving net zero - tackling climate change and achieving a sustainable future in social housing" session at 14:00 on Thursday 28 November in the Mears Theatre at HOMES UK. Register now to confirm your place.