Construction in Cities – let’s get restorative and focus on carbon reduction and bio-based strategies

Cities hold the majority of the world’s population and often are intensive and congested built environments.  Yet, while they can be seen as worrying sources of global environmental and resource depletion problems, cities can also act as important centres of technological innovation and social learning for a low carbon future, says David Baggs, Program Director and CEO of Global GreenTag International and a Life Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects.

We are probably all aware by now, says David of the shared prognosis of 11,000 scientists who have declared that the world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society. Indeed, they have unequivocally declared that planet Earth is facing a Climate Emergency and that to secure a sustainable future we must change how we live. If we want a healthier future, this will entail major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.

To deal with these pressures, David believes that: “Planning and managing large-scale transitions in cities will require an understanding of urban retrofitting at city scale and needs to occur through mindful decisions from the materials we source, the products we design, through to the design of buildings, interior spaces and infrastructure including green infrastructure. “From our perspective as product certifiers, we believe this is a great opportunity to discover, showcase and embrace ‘disruptive’ and ‘sustaining’ technologies that can contribute to city-based sustainability transitions. The question is, where can we find them?”

“The Climate Crisis is happening faster than predicted with a number of impacts that were predicted, being worse than predicted and unexpected unpredicted events being realised regularly and up to 80 years earlier than predicted.

Firstly, our focus on carbon reduction, I believe, needs to be a LOT more urgent. The built environment sector still has some catching up to do.”

“We have started to focus on reducing carbon impact embodied in the built environment – unfortunately though, many smart technologies have come with huge embodied carbon impacts.”

“Just think of the 1000s of kilometres of copper cabling required in wiring every light power and data point for individual wires in a simple house? Then consider the massive impacts contained with wiring a large multistorey building, or fitouts that churn every few years?  We need to focus on disruptive smart technologies that don’t create these unintended negative consequences.”

“We need to expand our awareness beyond the technologies we seem to default to because they are easier. I think we need to refer, for example, to the ideas of Restorative Sustainability articulated so well by Bill Reid, and to open our minds when we think about technology and what it means.”

Instead of defaulting to only IT based wires and equipment engineered technology, says David, “how about expanding the use of engineered and restorative, natural systems?  Let’s encourage bio-based systems that are typically going to lead to the creation of restorative outcomes that aren’t just about reducing the size of an increased impact but create overall benefit in the outcomes. Essentially, a bio-based system would assist in taking existing carbon impacts out of the system.”

David Baggs will be leading a carbon-issues based discussion at Design Build in Melbourne on Tuesday,  October 27.  Titled, Getting beyond Carbon NetZero to zero: Is it even possible for the built environment, David will be joined by Caroline Pidcock of Living Building Challenge in Australia, Dr Dominique Hes – Beyond Zero Emissions, Richard Haynes of eTool whole Building LCA Calculator and Geoff Heard from Fytogreen.

Global GreenTag International recently increased its interest in bringing greater awareness of building products and materials that are already carbon zero, if not, they are working fast towards carbon zero and beyond to create carbon net benefits. To support this movement by manufacturers, GreenTag re-launched a unique and upgraded peer reviewed Embodied Carbon Product Certification Program called CarbonRATE™ at the end of 2019, which strongly challenges the market to design and manufacturer and use only products that can scientifically identify carbon impacts and benefits.

Photo credit: Dan Freeman on Unsplash