Event Summary

Net Zero 2022 | Photos and summary

Net zero deadlines, and whether they will be met, along with sustainability by design and in practice were all topics under discussion by almost 250 people who attended the Net Zero conference in Manchester.

The event, which took place at the Science and Industry Museum, was sponsored by Clear Fibre, For Housing, Hydrock and Morgan Sindall Construction. It was chaired by Julia Hatmaker, deputy editor of Place North West.

Scroll down to see photos from the event.

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Presentation – AHR

The first presentation was by Rob Hopkins, sustainability director at architecture firm AHR.

He said: “We’ve had the problem described to us for long enough. What we need to start talking about is what the solutions are.”

He broke it down into several topics and the first was glazing. He said: “This is going to have the single biggest impact on reducing the amount of energy that we use in our buildings – 40% should be an absolute maximum. That should be a planning requirement for every single building that  we build anywhere from here on in.”

Next was enhanced ventilation, which means a need for better air quality, followed by air tightness and using products that enable that, rather than plasterboard and plywood.

He also highlighted the need to get the skillset right for everyone involved in the construction industry: “It’s about getting people into the right mindset.”

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Rob Hopkins shared several key areas for developers and architects to focus on that will boost sustainability credentials. Credit: PNW

Hopkins then spoke about thermal bridging and energy loss, talking about one new build project he did a calculation for which, based on last year’s energy prices, saw £200 a year of energy seeping out of its executive homes.

And he called for more clarity and regulation: “There’s no legislation that actually pushes us down this route in England. If you go to Scotland and you want to build a public building, we’ve been given targets of 57 kilowatts per square metre. That’s what you’ve got to achieve. Wales is 38 kilowatts They’ve actually given us a number. In England, we can’t wait for the government to tell us what to do.

“Fortunately, the banks and funders have woken up to this. They don’t want toxic assets on their portfolios anymore and we found that particularly in places like Manchester, if new-build is not net zero carbon, they won’t sign a cheque and I think that’s a great thing. That’s forcing people to actually think about this in a much more realistic fashion.

“Our clients are now coming to the same conclusion which is brilliant, and I just hope that everyone in this room takes that message away. Don’t wait for legislation. Let’s go and sort it out now.”

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From left: Phil Marsden, Rob Hopkins, Eve Holt, Bev Taylor, and Sabine Dunstan. Credit: PNW

Panel – Sustainability through design

  • Phil Marsden, project director, Muse Developments
  • Eve Holt, director, Greater Sport
  • Bev Taylor, director of energy and environment, Bruntwood Works
  • Sabine Dunstan, development surveyor, One Heritage Group
  • Rob Hopkins, director and head of sustainability, AHR

The conversation started with design considerations and what future generations would think of what is being built now.

Rob Hopkins said: “We’ve got things that are just getting planning permission with 100% glazing in a city centre. Will a young professional who is 25 want to spend money on an apartment like that in 2050? I’m not convinced they will.

“And number two, I think the mortgage markets going to change massively. Will you actually be able to get a mortgage on a building that is fully made of glass in 2050?”

Eve Holt added: “If I looked ahead 50 years, I think how car-centric our designs are. I think we’ll be looking back and thinking how much space that we dedicate to cars and to vehicles that just clutter our streets and take up all that space for living.”

The discussion then turned to whether sustainability had to be expensive.

Phil Marsden said he didn’t think it did and added: “I think you’ve got to have a clear vision, and a clear plan for your projects and that creates the sort of culture that’s got to come from the client.”

Bev Taylor agreed: “I think it’s not having that whole life view, not just looking at pounds, shillings and pence for the bill. It’s about looking at the operational efficiencies of that building, what its maintenance schedules are going to be like and creating that wider vision rather than just focusing on short pounds per square metre gains.”

Biodiversity was one of the hot topics of the morning.

Sabine Dunstan said: “If any of you have been to a new-build housing development, you’ve got these gardens which are essentially just a roll of turf and fencing around the edge. They don’t even provide a single hedge, bush, shrub, let alone wildflowers or things which might actually support habitat.

“At the moment, the proposed legislation says that private gardens will be excluded from any biodiversity calculations, or at the very best, there’ll be marked low quality because oh, they can’t manage them. But why don’t we change that? Why don’t we have regulations where actually we’re handing over really quite nice gardens for people. And I know, if I was given a house that had a nice wildflower flower bed and some hedges that attracted wildlife, I wouldn’t be decking over it, I’d embrace it and enjoy it.”

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Phil Marsden: ‘The biggest challenge we’re quickly going to face in terms of getting to net zero is around embodied carbon.’ Credit: PNW

Offsetting was also a burning issue. Hopkins said: “I can accept that is a methodology that needs to be explored, but it should be the absolutely last methodology that you ever put on the table. There are so many other avenues that you can explore before you get to offsetting.”

Holt agreed: “I really question some of those figures, it’s actually very little for some of them. It does feel like it’s performance – it doesn’t feel like it genuinely is offsetting.”

And Dunstan said: “I think there are going to be scandals that come out where firms are claiming to be carbon neutral because of offsetting and I think there’s going to be outrage when it transpires that people were displaced to plant those trees. Local people in different countries with land rights that have been removed from them.”

A question from the floor asked about retrofit as opposed to demolition.

Marsden said: “The biggest challenge we’re quickly going to face in terms of getting to net zero is around embodied carbon. How do we move away from traditional materials? Therefore, reuse of buildings just becomes so far more important.”

It was decided that the government needed to do more to set sustainability standards for development.

Marsden said there needed to be policies in place for operational energy and biodiversity. He added: “Getting everybody in the industry doing that same thing is so important.”

Dunstan then pointed out: “I think there’s massive inconsistency across the whole country in terms of what local authorities are choosing to do. Even within a five-mile radius of here, we’ve got different local authorities requesting different things…

“We need clear guidance and consistency for local authorities so that we’ve got a unified strategy.”

Taylor was asked about the existing built environment and how it should be tackled. She said: “Retrofits are our bread and butter [at Bruntwood Works]. It’s what our business was built on. If you go around Manchester at the moment, and you look at what we’re calling our pioneer schemes – 111 Piccadilly, Blackfriars and what used to be Lowry House – you can really see the benefit of investing time and cash in retrofit.

“At the moment, they are our best performing buildings, and I think it shows the value of what you can do with careful design choices.”

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Brendon Kenny of Changing Streams spoke of the need to eradicate plastics in construction. Credit: PNW

Presentation – Changing Streams

The second session began with a presentation from Brendon Kenny, co-founder of Changing Streams CIC, which is supported by the University of Liverpool.

He said Changing Streams began when a construction expert called Neil Maxwell visited the Arctic and experienced first-hand what was happening to the environment.  Brendon also explained how he had sold nails, screws, nuts and bolts for 24 years and had pioneered pre-packaging them in heavy gauge plastic bags rather than the traditional cardboard boxes – at a rate of 40 tonnes of plastic bags a day.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” said Kenny. “So this is my penance for my past life – give something back and make a change.”

He asked the audience to consider whether plastic is worse than asbestos and took them through the timeline of plastic in the 20th century – through to when it became commonplace on construction sites, particularly when double glazing was married with uPVC windows.

He added: “Plastic is cheap, it’s convenient, it’s versatile. But is it really cheap when, throughout the 21st century, we’ve started to get the reports around microplastics? I hate to tell you all, but you all now have plastic in your bodies.

“Since our launch of Changing Streams in 2019, plastic waste in construction has increased by 46%. There’s a whole battle between us plastic guys who say ‘plastics are really, really bad’ and net zero guys who are going to be using plastic to help to create net zero buildings, and that’s going to be a challenge.”

He detailed the projection that by 2050, 34 billion tonnes of plastic will be produced and said it takes roughly three kilos of carbon to make one kilo of plastic, adding: “Unless we actually tackle this problem, we’re never going to tackle the net zero problem.”

Changing Streams is the bridge between academia and industry and researchers are working hard to ensure what they create doesn’t create another problem in the environment.

Kenny encouraged those in the room to sign the Changing Streams Charter and commit to reducing plastic in their organisations, as well as to develop a plastic reduction plan for their companies and supply chain.

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From left: Joanne Holden, Matthew Pygott, Euan Hall, Brendon Kenny, Jenny Martin. Credit: via PNW

Panel – Sustainability through construction and operation

  • Joanne Holden, sustainability director, Peel L&P
  • Matthew Pygott, senior carbon consultant & lead verifier, Hydrock
  • Euan Hall, chief executive, The Land Trust
  • Jenny Martin, part of the carbon improvement team, Morgan Sindall Construction
  • Brendon Kenny, co-founder & head of engagement, Changing Streams

A key factor in achieving net zero is being able to measure sustainability. Matthew Pygott weighed in on the issue.

“We need to have a really robust quantification methodology to quantify not only products, but projects and buildings,” he said. “I believe that the BRE has a very important part to play in releasing robust data, such as the impact database, but also promoting the use of software and tools.”

A question from the floor asked if the biggest push would come from investors, government or all of us raising the bar.

Euan Hall said: “I think it’s going to come from investors. What’s going to improve their shareholder value, which is what they’re interested in.”

Joanne Holden agreed. She said: “It’s big news at the moment, but I think it’s rapidly going to become standardised as well.”

Pygott added: “The public, shareholders, businesses – everybody is aware of the challenge right now and that’s going to push the lenders to invest in green projects, but they want confidence that a company is going to achieve the credentials.”

Hatmaker then asked about the benefits of sharing knowledge.

Jenny Martin said: “In terms of collaboration, we’re finding that we can’t do this on our own, we’ve got to have our supply chain involved very early, so they work with us to help us produce carbon assessments and prove that they’re actually meeting those targets.

Brendon Kenny added: “We help the supply chain understand that if they don’t change, they don’t get the business. So unless they adapt their products and be more open and put their data out there to be scrutinised, then they’re not going to be selected.”

Holden said: “I totally agree with you on sustainable procurement because that that is absolutely the hook, therefore we need to integrate it into our tender processes to ensure we’re bringing the right teams on board, they understand we’re going to measure this through KPIs.”

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Joanne Holden: ‘We’re finding that with our potential occupiers, sustainability is one of the first things that they’re asking us.’ Credit: PNW

Hall introduced the term ‘greenwash’ and said we needed to think long term about the potential solutions we have today.

He said: “In 20, 30 years’ time, I think your kids will look back and say ‘why on earth’? Did you think electric vehicles would be the solution? Do you realise how much lithium had to be mined for that? Do you realise we never thought about how we were going to recycle the batteries? We’re not thinking about that. We’re just presenting people that simple solution and I think people get cynical about that.”

Martin added: “The DfE is pushing net zero carbon and renewable technologies to put loads and loads of PV panels on the roofs of buildings and to achieve net zero carbon in operation. And then they have to start creating canopies to put PV panels on. You’re actually creating more of an issue with carbon with what you produce in manufacturing all these PV panels in the first place.”

Pygott said: “We’re finding scarcity of materials, particularly low carbon materials. The supply chain is really key in coming out with that innovation. Because the research isn’t there, the standards haven’t been updated.”

Hall added: “People are risk-averse. We set up processes where everyone thinks they have to avoid risk completely, rather than manage the risk. And people are frightened in the supply chain of taking a decision that someone might turn around and blame them and say ‘you’ve got that wrong’.”

Hatmaker asked Holden how Peel tackles the decision on refurbishment vs new-build, as well as rising construction costs.

She replied: “It’s about asking the right questions. Do you even need to build this building? Should it be a refurb? How are we going to do it? What do we need anyway?

“We’re finding that with our potential occupiers, sustainability is one of the first things that they’re asking us when they come to view some office space, for example. It’s about the whole life cost, it’s about actually futureproofing this building.”

A question from the audience asked how the industry can lobby the government for rapid change.

Kenny answered: “I think as an industry, it’s got to come together. It has to go as a unified voice. No one’s going to do it in silos, collaboration is absolutely key.

Hatmaker asked for a show of hands from those who thought the target of net zero by 2050 was achievable. Less than half a dozen people raised their hands. On the panel, Holden said: “It’s too late.”

The panel were then asked what they thought was the single most important thing to focus on.

Holden began: “It’s central government setting policy on renewable energies.”

Pygott said: “That understanding of the risk of ‘what if we don’t achieve what we’ve all promised’, and what’s going to be the implications of that?”

Hall’s view was: “I think the only way we will achieve it is for politicians, all the way up the chain, to start acting together, instead of thinking of the election cycles.”

Kenny’s advice was: “I’d say buy better quality, consume less and take plastic out of your diet.”

And Martin had the final words: “I think everyone’s got to take their own pledge. It’s alright talking about it, but what if none of us actually start implementing it ourselves? Just little things like when you go to the shops, you know, making sure it’s not wrapped in plastic. We’ve all got to start making a difference.”

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Nearly 250 people attended Place North West’s Net Zero event. Credit PNW

The presentation slides can be accessed below:

Robert Hopkins, AHR
Brendon Kenny Changing Streams

The next Place North West event is North West Build-to-Rent on 5 MayTickets are currently on sale for the in-person event.

Click any image to launch the gallery

Story by Suzanne Elsworth for Place North West.

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really enjoyable discussion – lots of great input from all and ideas .

By Euan Hall

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