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Summary of BSRIA Briefing 2019 – a Climate of Change

The Briefing is BSRIA’s annual flagship event, featuring industry-leading speakers who provide insight into new trends and innovation likely to impact the construction industry. On 15th November 2019 at the London Brewery venue BSRIA Executive Director Julia Evans introduced this year’s theme – a Climate of Change.

It’s really happening

“We have upset Energy Balance of the Planet” – said Professor Chris Rapley CBE from University College of London in the presentation providing evidence that man-made climate change has become the reality. For several decades now, more energy has been absorbed than emitted at the top of Earth’s atmosphere. We have recently witnessed 14th consecutive month of record-breaking global temperatures on land. In the ocean, 2015 was recently analysed to have been the warmest year within the 136-year records of extended reconstructed sea surface temperature and the fourth such record-breaking year since 2005. 

The world is “hotting up”, causing the Arctic sea ice cap to diminish. Once it is gone, the atmosphere can interact directly with the ocean, resulting in further warming, further ice melting, and unpredictable weather patterns.

We are getting perilously close to the +1.5°C climate warming “guardrail” that has been set up as a target to maintain control of the climate warming process. If we allow climate warming to reach +2°C benchmark we are likely to lose control of the climate change-related environmental consequences. The “runaway” climate change could occur. Further temperature increases would render large parts of the world uninhabitable. The major consequence would be migration on a scale far larger than what we have seen in recent years, resulting in social and political instability. 

Prominent voices have tried to bring the climate change threat closer to people’s attention, calling for shared responsibility and a change in both people’s thinking and their behaviour. Ordinary citizens, including schoolchildren, have joined the call in an effort to spread awareness and push for decisive action. It has been successful. Research institutes have noted a high level of social concern about climate change. Let’s seize the moment. “Over to you,” said Prof Rapley, “What are you going to do?”

Download the "Hotting up" presentation

Prof Chris Rapley, BSRIA Briefing 2019

The Circular Economy 

Paul Quinn, Director of Merton Regeneration at Clarion Housing Group introduced the concept of the circular economy for buildings which, in a nutshell, is about leaving behind the make/use/dispose philosophy. It’s a new opportunity for businesses and Clarion are pushing the concept hard by requesting circular economy credentials from their suppliers. Circular economy is gaining traction, with the current draft for the spatial development strategy for Greater London, due to be published in February/Mach 2020, being a good example. This includes a policy of requiring planning applications, referable to the mayor of London, such as developments of 150 residential units or more, to include a circular economy statement.

Paul spoke about the Merton Regeneration project, which is a long-term project involving the creation of 2,800 new homes in South London. Where demolition is necessary, they’re aiming for maximum recovery values through pre-demolition audits. In the new builds, they’re maximising recycled content and designing out waste. Clarion’s focus on promoting circular economy principles through their supply chain is bringing excellent results as they are receiving a good response. 

Download the "Circular Economy" presentation

Paul Quinn, BSRIA Briefing 2019

Technology for the Zero-Carbon Future

Marylis Ramos, PRP Architects’ director of development consultancy and research, brought emphasis on latest technology developments providing ideas on how it can help achieve a zero-carbon future. Marylis pointed out that we are now in a fourth industrial revolution (sometimes called industry 4.0) with artificial intelligence and big data coming to the fore. Buildings are becoming cognitive – smarter than smart. The “Edge” in Amsterdam, claimed to be the smartest, greenest building in the world, has 28,000 sensors in it. 

A powerful tool in the design of buildings is the digital twin – a digital building that works in parallel with the real one enabling life performance monitoring and adjustments. Once built, the physical building can feed information back to the twin. There’s also generative design – a concept where the designer applies the rules and the system generates the solutions for designers to choose from. Microgrids and blockchain will enable localised energy generation and trading – people can trade energy with each other safely. This should help promote the transition to heat pumps and electric vehicles

Marylis Ramos, BSRIA Briefing 2019

Compliance 

Adam Mactavish, operations director of Currie & Brown, talked about some of the issues surrounding the proposed changes to Part L for new homes in England. 

Carbon intensity of the electricity grid has dropped radically in recent years. As a result, heat pumps have become a sought-after low carbon heating solution. However, the cost of electricity isn’t going to come down any time soon, so heat pumps aren’t necessarily a low-cost option. We currently install about 28,000 heat pumps a year compared to about 1.5 million boilers. To make such a massive supply chain change, skills change, and design change are needed. 

Adam remarked that the new Part L will make new homes much more efficient but do little for the existing stock of around 29 million homes. Technological solutions for these may involve heat pumps, maybe hybrid with gas heating, or eventually hydrogen. There’s also a lot that can be done with better energy efficiency and better control systems. We have the technology, but not at the scale we need yet. Change is, however, happening fast, with some new housing schemes already fully electric. But we need to focus on quality.

Download the "Sustainability in residential buildings" presentation

Adam Mactavish, BSRIA Briefing 2019

Servitisation 

The final technical speaker of the day was Eszter Gulacsy, Technical director (sustainability) at Mott MacDonald. Eszter talked about another hot topic disrupting the industry – servitisation. In brief, it’s the transformation from a product-centric approach to a service-centric approach. 

There are some examples of servitisation in construction. Facilities management is generally provided as a service, as is the specialist design and manufacture of components such as building façades. Even lighting can be offered as a service, rather than a product. But there are barriers to wider servitisation in the construction industry. Risks must be managed. The skills shortage needs to be addressed. Standard forms of contract aren’t really set up for servitisation, and there may be certain conflicts of interest. 

Industry 4.0 is giving us a technological push towards servitisation – we’re now in a new era of AI, sensors, data and machine learning. These create opportunities in construction for viewing buildings as a set of outcomes rather than just products. Building as a service idea and the possibility of continuous performance monitoring lend themselves well to servitisation.

Download the "Servitisation in Construction" presentation

Eszter Gulacsy, BSRIA Briefing 2019

“Hold on tight to your dreams”

Technical presentations provided an excellent insight into paths that the construction industry can undertake to support efforts in fighting the climate change challenge. 

After lunch, Dame Kelly Holmes delighted the guests with an inspirational speech on chasing the dreams and dealing with successes and disappointments on the way.

It takes courage and effort to make a change. BSRIA is there to inspire the courage and support the industry efforts to deliver change that is needed to take an active part in global efforts to limit climate change.

Dame Kelly Holmes, BSRIA Briefing 2019