Sustainability calculations in a book

- Insights

24TH November 2023

Our Approach to Net-Zero

Simon Beaumont-Orr

24TH November 2023



“When I started studying architecture I was given a stationery list; rOtring pens, mechanical pencils, scale rulers, set squares, French curve sets – all the required tools to start designing buildings, but looking back there was something missing. Today we find ourselves spending increasing amounts of time looking at graphs and understanding the numbers behind design. This has been the crucial shift in more recent years, we can no longer design by ticking the ‘sustainability box’ and adding a few adjectives to a design and access statement. They say the first four corners of your building are free, and then every additional corner costs you; increased embodied carbon(KgCo2e), operational energy(kWh) and pounds and pence to build. We must understand these figures to understand the impact of each design decision and so that we can stand by our buildings, be genuine and confident that we are working responsibly, within the boundaries of the planet and supporting net zero objectives.

What’s this meant for us at ADP? The recent Passivhaus Trust RIBA Overlay demonstrates this well, showing that we have to be thinking about more earlier on. We can’t push all the critical detail to post-planning. Climate-appropriate design requires a much deeper understanding of materials, structures, services, interfaces and the coordination of them all much earlier. Crucially, energy and carbon modelling must run parallel through the early stages to evidence this and inform the design, not just retrospectively reported on at the end. If we know the structural solution is going to mean not achieving the required U-value everywhere, we must calculate how much we need to increase the fabric thickness by to compensate. If we know an element of design will mean an unavoidable thermal bridge, we need to understand the numbers to see if it’s at a scale to fundamentally undermine overall performance. If we understand these aspects early we can resolve them and remove the considerable risk and expense of addressing them in more complex ways later on when a project is more constrained.

Fundamentally, however, when we are talking about understating performance numbers for buildings within a net zero context it’s not just about knowing the figures at design, it’s seeing those same numbers (or better!) tick over on the installed energy meters year-on-year in-line with what we expected. Again this is where applying Passivhaus methodology and certification comes in, with rigorous quality assurance throughout design, construction and handover, removing performance gaps and delivering the low energy and indoor environments we should expect.

Taking this approach should be seen to support creativity and innovation to deliver buildings that are climate-responsible and bring joy and wellbeing. So it’s a calculator that now takes a more prominent role amongst my stationery. I can’t remember the last time I refilled a rOtring pen but my  solar-powered calculator is on the window sill recharging as I type.

Written by:

Sustainability Lead
Simon Beaumont-Orr

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