The event attracted a wealth of real estate stakeholders and industry experts from all sectors, public and private. With the built environment is responsible for nearly 25% of the UK's total greenhouse emissions, Footprint+ provided the perfect opportunity for interested parties to share knowledge and expertise, and to meet like-minded professionals keen to collaborate in advancing climate action.
Such a hot topic provided the catalyst for some thought-provoking discussions. While embodied carbon continues to attracts headlines, the consensus is that a circular economy model, including material circularity, will be key to achieving a more sustainable world.
There were presentations and lessons learnt around how circularity is already being achieved on leading projects, including sites built from entirely reused materials. It was discussed that material banks and supplier take-back schemes should become more widespread and there needs to be a continued focus on finding waste streams to convert old building materials back into high value usable products. We need as an industry to challenge standard practice more to implement a circular economy; conducting more thorough existing building inventories, demolition audits and programming for deconstruction processes that enable high value material reuse.
The importance of reusing existing structures was highlighted and we speak with our Clients regularly on retrofit options rather than new build, challenging assumptions on what is genuinely functionally required. There were fantastic examples of various levels from refurbishment through to full retrofit projects and how existing buildings can be adapted to suit modern purposes. We have great experience to bring to industry in this respect with projects such as Borough Yards and Hotel RIU Plaza demonstrating how existing structures can be successfully reinvented.
The role of timber played a large part at the conference with its advantage in the ability to ‘lockin’ embodied carbon in high value structural framing for 50 years or more instead of using on secondary timber products and releasing that carbon sooner. A number of impressive exemplar timber projects presented with useful insight into key topics such as insurance and conversations about the ways we, as an industry, can further the use of wood products. The question of whether there was enough timber supply to sustainably feed the UK construction market was raised. To answer this potential funding solutions were presented to increase regenerative forestry in the UK, utilising models currently used elsewhere in Europe.
Other key highlights included next generation concrete research. The use of low carbon concretes is something we regularly advise our clients on, so it was great to see more next-generation options being researched and developed at laboratory level. The existing structural capacity within typical current concrete buildings was emphasized, continuing the themes of retrofit wherever possible and what can nonetheless be achieved even when working with an existing frame.
How to incentivise and finance all these changes is though crucial to ensuring success, especially in the mid and lower end market where economics is still the predominant factor behind project decisions. Financial incentives to further research, circularity and regenerative design and the role of legislation were much debated consequently. However, it was acknowledged that alack of consensus and trust within industry can be a major hurdle to improvements. We hope that events like this help to demonstrate the desire for meaningful change within the industry and collaborating with our partners to change mindsets and deliver the truly sustainable construction industry that society deserves.
Summing up, Ruth said, "It was great to be at Footprint+ this year to discuss with others how to progress our ultimate shared goals and bring sustainability to the forefront of design. It's events like these that help keep us up to date with current best practice and enable us to offer optimal solutions to our clients.”
Barry added, "Being amongst so many like-minded industry colleagues who are all passionate about rising to the climate change challenge was fantastic. The topics that were discussed are at the heart of our approach to design and the solutions we are providing. As an industry we are clearly on the pathway to net zero but there remains a way to achieve our collective targets."