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HOK’s Gary Clark: Designers Must Act Now to Avert Climate Emergency

Gary Clark, chair of RIBA’s Sustainable Futures Group and regional leader of Science + Technology for HOK, recently gave a “Thinking Out Loud” presentation in the firm’s London studio on what designers and the real estate industry can do now to combat climate change.

Excerpted from EG News and Data:

Ambitious targets to deliver net-zero-carbon buildings by 2050, and nearer-term goals for property companies to overhaul the way their portfolios operate in the coming 10 years, mean the hard work “starts now, starts today,” said Clark, who is also chair of the sustainable futures group at the Royal Institute of British Architects. “This year is the point of no return,” he added. “This is it.”

Clark’s arguments now come at the broad real estate industry from all angles, but the startling numbers have lost none of their impact. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 7.6% reduction in carbon emissions each year until 2030 must take place with immediate effect to address the climate crisis. The UK construction industry contributes about 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. “That’s why it is so important that we take responsibility for this,” Clark said.

RIBA’s 2030 Challenge, which the institute launched late last year, tasks chartered practices that sign up with reducing operational energy demand in buildings by at least 75% and embodied carbon by 50%-70%, before offsetting; reducing potable water use by at least 40%; and achieving a range of health and well-being targets in properties.

That should put the industry on a course to achieve net-zero whole-life carbon by 2030 for not just new buildings, but also existing buildings that will need to be retrofitted. The latter category is “the elephant in the room, and we must address it this year,” Clark said.

“If we do nothing, it’s a straight line to [an increase in global temperatures of] four degrees – that is unlivable,” Clark said, adding: “We need the trajectory to go faster for new and deep retrofit buildings. We need to hit that 2030 [target], it’s absolutely critical that we attempt to do this. And we can’t build any new unsustainable buildings going forward, because that 30 years [between now and 2050] is probably when we’ve got to deal with existing building stock.”

Watch Clark’s entire “Thinking Out Loud” presentation:

Clark also contributed an Op-Ed to Architects’ Journal in which he outlined 10 vital things architects and designers can do immediately to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Excerpted from Architects’ Journal:

  1. Call your client and offer to help read the energy meters and tune up the performance of your previous buildings (research has shown that 20 per cent energy and carbon reductions are possible).
  2. Prioritise deep retrofit of existing buildings. Offer options that avoid knocking down existing buildings.
  3. Carry out whole-life carbon analysis and target net zero carbon.
  4. Target DEC A-rating for non-domestic buildings. Work collaboratively with your service engineers to step up to the challenge together.
  5. Target Passivhaus performance levels for domestic buildings.
  6. Target 50 per cent reduction in embodied carbon in your building design. Work with your structural engineer to step up to this challenge.
  7. Target 40 per cent reduction in potable water use by the creative storage and re-use of rainwater.
  8. Be mindful of health and wellbeing, and use the principles of the Well Building Standard.
  9. Target significantly enhanced bio-diversity and urban green cover, including productive landscapes.
  10. Sign up to the RIBA 2030 Challenge and declare your buildings’ operational data.
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