That the business case for sustainable buildings in unequivocal, even in a high carbon, low regulated world. However, there is a lot of subtlety sitting behind the analysis, which is why setting out the seven themes is important. For example, if you’re operating in a very high carbon world, the business cases linked to asset values and investment are weaker, but from a risk perspective the business case is much stronger since buildings must be able to resist the impacts of greater extremes of temperature and weather.
The report also makes the case for social value. What is meant by this?
Social value is the benefit the built environment can bring to people and the community. That means designing places that are productive to work in, keep occupants healthy and support the local community economically, socially and environmentally. In addition, we’re tracking trends which will become more important for the future. These include older populations in more developed economies, increasing loneliness – especially with the pandemic – and year on year growth in neurodiversity. These social considerations and green building techniques apply to all stages of the project lifecycle and its supply chains, from planning and design to construction and throughout its operation.
Going back to the report as a whole, what are the standout aspects for the construction industry?
Firstly, the report provides clarity around the difference of a 1.5oC and 3oC world. Also, in the context of COP26, many countries have made net zero commitments, generally to be achieved by 2050, which gives us much more certainty about the trajectory of net zero for countries, and by definition the building standards that we and our clients will be working on. Even in the last three years, investment in carbon reduction has moved from a nice to have, to a fundamental part of how we approach the built environment.
The other key issue is the need for resilience. Climate action is a two-sided coin. First, we have to get the carbon out of buildings, not only in the way they are used – reducing the impacts of heating and cooling for example, but also in the way they are built. This means reducing the embodied carbon through the reuse of structural elements, selection of low carbon materials such as timber, modular construction, and so on. On the other side of the coin is the absolute necessity of designing buildings that will withstand hotter, wilder, more extreme weather.
What are the key implications of the report, for WSP and for our clients?
As the report’s title states – we can’t afford NOT to invest in a sustainable built environment. There used to be a green premium, relating to the costs of adding green features. Now to deliver a net zero building is embedded in the cost of doing business. If our clients don’t do it, their assets will be worth less. And the timeline that we have for the decarbonisation of buildings is rapidly accelerating. For example, in the UK, consultation is currently underway to raise energy performance requirements for all private rented commercial buildings in 2027, and again in 2030. This is well within the timescale of projects that are starting now, and it would be inconceivable for us to design buildings below those standards making them unlettable by 2027 or 2030.
It’s the responsibility of all of us at WSP to see the future more clearly and advise our clients and design to that future. And we must ensure that all our people have the skills to design to these future climate scenarios.
Finally, the report’s compelling business case not only goes to the heart of our Future Ready thinking, but also endorses the significant investments clients are now making to decarbonise their assets and build in resilience for the future.