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designing for net zero.



It has been really heartening to see how many people have engaged with our Net Zero posts and polls, and we are delighted to be joining our peers and clients in the fields of construction, design and architecture in preparing for a carbon neutral future. Achieving Net Zero targets is a fundamental business priority but it can only be achieved by working in a collaborative manner and learning from the experiences of others, so in this article, we will be discussing how to design for Net Zero.

Why design for Net Zero?

Not only is design the most appropriate time to consider the long term impact of any build; it is also the most cost-effective time to incorporate sustainability measures which will help to create a resilient environment that achieves all of its commercial goals whilst delivering an energy efficient, comfortable building for its future occupants.

The seven steps to designing for Net Zero

1. Optimise design.

BIM techniques can be effectively deployed at this stage to design the building's facade. Considerations should include strategies for maximising natural light to limit the use of artificial lighting, reducing heat loss and glare, optimising occupant comfort and ensuring adequate ventilation.

Designers should consider the extent to which they can minimise the use of mechanical heat and cooling systems by implementing renewable energy sources and sufficient insulation into the building's fabric. 

2. Prioritise measures to reduce in-service energy consumption.

When a building is occupied, it must be maintained at a comfortable operating temperature, but designers should consider the extent to which operational energy demand and consumption can be reduced through the introduction of next gen technologies and alternative approaches. 

Industry standards such as NABERS, Design for Performance and Passivhaus can provide useful insights at this stage of the planning process.

3. Eliminate fossil fuels.

Consider what renewable energy sources can be embodied into the build to supply long term, reliable and low carbon energy. Not only is this a vital step to achieving Net Zero, but it will also dramatically improve air quality for the local community.

4. Design for resilience.

Consider the ways in which the building can become as self-sufficient as possible. This could include providing on-site renewable energy storage, including backup power sources, to reduce reliance on third parties.

5. Employ innovative construction solutions.

The carbon associated with the actual build can be limited through a variety of means, including off-site modular construction, the use of sustainable materials, reducing the amount of building waste that is consigned to landfill and using circular economy principles.

By using innovative solutions such as these, it is possible to drastically reduce the environmental impact of new builds, reducing air and noise pollution at site and generating goodwill within the local community.

6. Consider the whole life cycle of the building. 

Whilst conducting a whole life costing exercise, also consider the whole life carbon on the proposed build. Measure and record all anticipated operational carbon emissions, including those resulting from maintenance, refurbishments and eventual deconstruction.

By understanding the whole life carbon impact of each build, it is possible to set embodied and operational carbon reduction targets, determine whether alternative measures or solutions should be employed at any stage of the building's life cycle and identify any carbon offsets that are required to remain compliant.

7. Be transparent.

Garnering public trust will only be possible by transparency in carbon reporting. It is sensible to continually monitor, record and disclose as required the operational, embodied and whole-life carbon generated by the build throughout its entire life cycle, continually seeking opportunities to optimise carbon management and implementing new strategies as they become available.

The link between education and design

Education and designing for Net Zero are intrinsically linked; indeed, our ability to deploy proactive design strategies to achieve Net Zero is a direct result of becoming more educated as to the need to reduce carbon emissions to protect our planet for future generations. 

As we become more aware of the threat that is facing our planet, we look for green practices, opportunities to make improvements and to promote environmental awareness. Revolutionising the design process for our built environment is a fundamental step in this process, which will lead to a more resilient and sustainable future.

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