In the #BuildingLife Ambassador Spotlight Series, WorldGBC is profiling leaders who are tackling the whole lifecycle impact of the built environment and have endorsed our call to action:
“We call on the European Commission and national governments to support #BuildingLife by committing to ambitious policies to tackle the TOTAL carbon and resource impact of our sector.”
As we approach the COP26 climate summit in November 2021, where COP26 President Alok Sharma has committed to working with WorldGBC and other global organisations on a Cities and Built Environment Day, it is especially important to achieve industry-wide backing for the goals of #BuildingLife.
With this in mind, we are delighted to introduce the first Q&A of the #BuildingLife Ambassador Spotlight Series, with Tina Paillet. Tina is Chair of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Europe Board. The RICS is a globally recognised professional body effecting positive change in the built and natural environments. Through RICS respected global standards, leading professional progression and its trusted data and insights, RICS promotes and enforces the highest professional standards in the development and management of land, real estate, construction and infrastructure. Its Europe network has over 10,200 members.
In this interview Tina discusses:
- How COVID-19 can serve as a wakeup call for climate action
- The work of RICS on the whole lifecycle impact of the built environment
- The importance of the EU Taxonomy and the need to embrace circular economy
- What she would like to see achieved at COP26
Why did you choose to become a #BuildingLife ambassador?
Tina Paillet: When I was asked to support, I didn’t hesitate for a minute. Through the COVID-19 crisis, we have realised that we only have one planet and we are all interconnected, we need to be working together to combat global threats like COVID-19. I strongly believe that the current crisis has enhanced awareness that climate change is the next major global crisis and can only be combated globally. And we have a very small window of opportunity to do that.
We can’t combat climate change, however, if we don’t tackle the whole lifecycle impact of the built environment. The construction and building industry represents 36% of carbon emissions in the EU, so is a major contributor to climate change. The large majority of action to date to reduce the sector’s impact has been focused on buildings’ operational emissions. But when you look at the amount of embodied carbon in building materials – from their extraction, manufacturing, transport and construction phase, to their ongoing maintenance during operations and finally the demolition and disposal of those building materials – we’re talking about over 50% of those emissions according to a whole life carbon emissions study carried out by RICS. Given that these emissions are mainly front loaded at the time of construction, it is critical to focus on their reduction at the outset.
The #BuildingLife campaign came just at the right time, it’s an opportunity to focus the minds of policymakers and enterprises on working towards a more holistic view of the environmental impacts of the built environment.
Can you explain a few ways in which RICS is working towards a sustainable built environment?
TP: RICS has been working, as a founding member or associate, in a number of different institutions and partnerships. One of those is the Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group (EEFIG) where we prepared an underwriting toolkit, which is aimed at financial institutions looking at ways to better design financial projects and energy efficiency projects.
We’re also a consortium partner, with WorldGBC and others, of the Energy Efficient Mortgages Action Plan (EeMAP), which aims to incentivise and channel private money into energy efficiency investments. And we participated in the working group on the Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor (CRREM) model, which is a framework, funded by the EU, to accelerate decarbonisation by modelling buildings.
Also, RICS has worked on the provision of the EU Building Stock Observatory, which is a pan-European initiative to improve the monitoring of the energy performance of the built stock across 28 EU Member States and contribute towards providing measurable data and evidence on the progress towards reaching both EU and national policy objectives regarding energy efficiency in buildings.
How is the RICS working to tackle whole life carbon and the circular economy in the built environment?
TP: We have raised awareness on the importance of circularity in buildings by publishing articles such as Circular Economy in the Built Environment (rics.org) and also through our RICS World Built Environment Forum.
We worked on a really interesting study with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Arup called “From principles to practices: Realising the value of circular economy in real estate” .The study looks at use cases of how the circular economy can be rolled out, proving the business case for investors and construction clients alike. It’s very pragmatic. In the study, we targeted issues that we found were creating waste within the sort of linear, ‘make take waste’ approach and carried out five different case studies:
One on Flexible spaces about the listing and short-term use of underutilised building spaces on online platforms.
Another one on Adaptable assets, buildings that can accommodate multiple uses within their lifecycle through retrofit.
The study also looks at Relocatable buildings, on the deployment of temporary, modular buildings on unused sites to create short-term spaces.
Performance procurement is another case within the study, extending the product-as-a-service model seen in individual systems such as lighting, elevators and lifts, to the building level.
Finally, the study develops a very interesting case study on Residual value via the creation of a new commodity futures contract to allow transfer of ownership of materials contained within buildings on a centralised exchange.
Another key initiative for embedded carbon reduction, but also for the reduction of construction and demolition waste, are circular economy building material platform exchanges. A small but growing number of such virtual platforms are being set up at the moment. Let’s say, for example, a building owner who is starting to refurbish a building, strips it out and has a number of materials that could be reused. He could put them on a virtual platform and say “I have this raised flooring”, a material that is often thrown away and replaced with brand new raised flooring which is exactly the same. That’s one example, it could be sanitary fixtures, curtain wall, structural pieces, stone, HVAC systems – the sky’s the limit! RICS is a partner in some of these circular economy initiatives and we can’t encourage them enough.
What areas of the built environment sector would you see the greatest or least progress being made on the whole life carbon approach?
TP: The key to ensuring that the whole lifecycle approach goes mainstream, is to bring onboard the financiers, the investors, the clients. I’ve spoken to construction companies who would love to [take a whole lifecycle approach], but their client doesn’t want to pay extra for it. If the client does ask for a whole lifecycle approach, then this is going to support design and construction teams in order for them to deploy it, and it will encourage the manufacturers to innovate.
How can the RICS influence policy on whole lifecycle impact of the built environment?
TP: For me, it’s crucial to get [a whole lifecycle approach] into EU policy, because then through its directives EU policy cascades down to national policy. And the other area is at city level. I find that cities are being extremely pragmatic and proactive about the circular economy, about energy efficiency and the renovation wave.
The EU Taxonomy is going to be the tool by which all investors in the green economy and the building and construction industry will be measured. RICS worked on supporting the technical group on developing the Taxonomy. The Taxonomy today in its main thresholds is targeting increased operational energy efficiency. I feel really strongly about this and we have stressed this point to the European Commission: if we want to move to a circular economy, if we’re really pursuing carbon neutrality by 2050, we need the carbon itself to be part of these thresholds of the Taxonomy. Let’s bring the full carbon lifecycle into the Taxonomy. That’s where it should be measured.
How can the RICS influence private sector action?
TP: Governmental policy is the main key to spurring action in the private sector. So for me, RICS’ advocacy in that direction is already a key initiative. Another key initiative is providing the private sector with the tools and globally recognised standards to effectively measure [whole life carbon], along with the training of design and construction professionals so that this becomes part and parcel of their process of putting a project together. What we don’t want is for the circular economy to follow a piecemeal approach.
This is not a box ticking exercise, it needs to be really upfront, this is the way you need to think about designing: it’s extra time, it’s extra energy, and it takes different know-how and skills. This is where we need to be supporting the professionals in the building and design sector to get completely trained up in something which is very new.
I initially worked as an architect and experienced first-hand how deeply engrained design processes and reflexes can be. We had been told for years you need to make the insulation thicker, the building needs to be hermetically sealed, operational energy efficiency is the “be all end all” when it comes to sustainability. As time moves on, and climate change and carbon emissions rise in importance, a new reality comes to light which is that from a carbon neutral standpoint, the old paradigm may no longer be the best solution. We need to think about the lifecycle impact of a building and the sorts of materials we are employing. Maybe we can forego that third pane of glass, even if we’re a little bit less energy efficient from an operational standpoint, because efficiency from the whole lifecycle is going to be much better. This is where I think we have a role to play in the training and awareness side of it, as RICS has a very strong training programme and can also champion these complex issues through focused research and thought leadership.
A very important point for me, is the fact that industry needs harmonised standards to measure embedded carbon. Today, there are various silo industry approaches to this topic, but having a common carbon passport and an EU database containing reliable and comparable data of embedded carbon will allow the sector to “measure to improve” and for whole lifecycle assessment to become streamlined. Secured, measured, comparable data and reliability are key. This is ambitious but it is now the moment to go for it.
From a built environment perspective, what are you hoping to see achieved at COP26?
TP: I want to see a good part of the trillions of US Dollars and Euros that are being pumped into the economy as a rebound from COVID-19 being earmarked to attain our carbon neutral goals. That is really key. At COP26, I foresee that there will be more carbon target-setting and stricter goals. I hope we will see the whole lifecycle approach come into play in these new targets. I also feel strongly that the circular economy should be part and parcel of this discussion, as it has been largely overlooked until now.
#BuildingLife is a project led by WorldGBC and ten European Green Building Councils in Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the UK.
The initiative aims to achieve the mix of private sector action and public policy necessary to tackle the whole-life impact of buildings. #BuildingLife will galvanise climate action in the built environment through national and regional decarbonisation roadmaps. It focuses not only on the operational emissions of buildings, but also the environmental impact of the manufacturing, transportation, construction, and end-of-life phases of built assets – often called embodied emissions.
Tackling these emissions is essential to addressing the total impact of the buildings sector and progressing towards the European Green Deal’s aim of a climate neutral Europe by 2050.
Get involved with #BuildingLife or find out more information about the project, by getting in touch with your local Green Building Council.