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Annual review 2022

Three minute insights:

Built environment

Net-zero legislation will affect the whole built environment. Investors and customers expect action on climate change too. It’s not a case of ‘if you should act’ but ‘by when’ to remain legally viable, investible and relevant.

James Middling, global lead for the built environment

James Middling

What were 2022’s hot issues?

More than 40% of the world’s carbon emissions originate from buildings, and only 1% of current buildings have any environmental credentials beyond the legal minimum. Decarbonising the built environment is perhaps the biggest challenge the sector has faced in 200 years. All our major built environment clients have committed to achieving net-zero and we are already seeing some major innovations.

For example, in the UK we led development of a new ‘GenZero’ schools solution that will be carbon positive over its lifetime, embodying more carbon in its materials than will be emitted over its lifetime. Construction of the first GenZero school started in autumn 2022. It has been designed for manufacture and assembly (DfMA), using a combination of standardised timber modules, that will be replicated nationally. We’re employing a similar DfMA approach to design a new generation of net zero hospitals for the UK’s National Health Service. And in Australia and Singapore, we’re working with developers and major estate owners to plan decarbonisation at precinct scale.

The counterpart to carbon reduction is climate resilience. In sun-scorched downtown Los Angeles we’ve designed a major redevelopment of an early 20th century entertainment palace, the Hollywood Pacific Theatre. It includes a public rooftop park to shade and cool the complex from the top down, and new atria to stimulate cooling through airflow.

What’s been keeping us awake at night?

Decarbonisation will require potentially significant investment. To help, we launched a digital decision-making tool, Smart Invest, in 2022. It is being used by the City of Niort in France to simulate and assess alternative across a range of 150 building assets as diverse as libraries, swimming pools, technical buildings, museums, schools and police stations. It weighs environmental, operational and investment objectives, helping set priorities and manage risks.

Last year we also developed a Net Zero Carbon Estates Tool to rapidly model and develop decarbonisation strategies at precinct and estate scale. It focuses on energy and carbon hot spots – heating and cooling energy demand – and identifies lower carbon options. The tool also addresses building management and use, and ways to account for and compensate for residual emissions. It is being used by large clients internationally.

What are the risks associated with not acting?

Net-zero legislation will affect every part of the built environment. Investors and customers are expecting action too. Being an early mover carries the risk of selecting the wrong technology. However, to delay risks falling behind traditional and new competitors.

And what are the benefits of acting?

The climate agenda – decarbonisation and resilience – is closely allied with sustainability more widely. That includes electrification, energy efficiency, low carbon materials, modern methods of construction and waste reduction/the circular economy. In the last year we’ve been employing all of these on expansion of Auckland airport, New Zealand, which will be among the most sustainable of its type in the world when complete in 2024.

We’re helping our clients address this hot issue holistically, as part of a necessary wider transformation of assets and business systems needed to pursue and attain better environmental, social and commercial outcomes.

What are the challenges?

Often built environment disciplines and systems are treated separately, and needs including digitalisation, decarbonisation and climate resilience seen as competing needs. In reality, our clients achieve better performance and value for money when they are treated holistically.

What next?

Seek to understand how each system across your built environment supports your business outcomes and how they could deliver improved outcomes through integration. Develop a strategy to upgrade and integrate the relevant systems to transform your business outcomes and use the benefits of reduced running costs, improved operational efficiency, better decision making and more resilient systems to support your commitment to decarbonisation.


Annual review 2022

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