The latest Smart Buildings Magazine round table recently took place, which was entitled, ‘What’s your understanding of net-zero and how does this present an opportunity for smart buildings?’

Hosted by Schneider Electric, the panel discussed how net zero will shape our future and the role of sustainability in smart building design.

The wide ranging discussion looked at the involvement required of key contributors and was chaired by Jon Belfield.

Attendees at the debate were;

  • Kas Mohammed - vice president of digital energy at Schneider Electric
  • Claire Curran – MD, Linaker
  • Jo Harris – UK&I Hard FM Ambassador, Sodexo
  • Darren Crannis - technical manager, ECA
  • Jules Barker – global director, Wiredscore
  • Mark Angus – head of FM & Infrastructure, The Francis Crick Institute
  • Mark Richardson – head of sustainable innovation, Troup Bywaters & Anders
  • Magnus Leask – technical director, Hoare Lea
  • Jonathon Winston - manager, Low Carbon Workplace Carbon Trust

Jon Belfield introduced the debate and made reference to a recent conference/meeting/thing he attended where there was a speaker from the CBI. He stated that,”This is the decade of green growth, there is a generational challenge – we need to change the moral outrage of the young into actions for the future and this generation understand and are passionate about climate change but they don’t feel they can do anything about it.”

He then went on to ask the opening question, What’s your understanding of net-zero and how does this present an opportunity for smart buildings?

Mark Angus commented, “I work in a medical research facility and we have agreed a strategy for the next few years I want to know what that actually means. We are in a regulated building and there is only so much that we can do We cannot get rid of anything in the building – I want to learn about what we can actually do as far as our strategy is concerned.”

Jonathan added, “People don’t have a handle on how to achieve net zero. Many see the wider Impacts of operating a building through refrigeration, waste etc as being very difficult to achieve – we need to ensure this is addressed.”

Magnus took practical approach and said companies need to make sure all of the utilities are renewable. He said, “We need to look at how a smart building can achieve net zero for example by looking at simple solutions like a metering package. We can also look at the base build systems and ensure they are working together and how the disparate packages can work together. We also need to accept that software is only part of the solution – we therefore need to look beyond the capabilities of software.”

Darren Crannis said that the ECA’s drive is to help facilitate net zero, but to do this we need skilled people and get systems integrators involved.

Claire Curran, then commented, “It is one of those things that I can see the policy and I understand the technology but we have to be realistic – we have to take out of the atmosphere what we put into it (carbon) but we also want to build new buildings – we have to build buildings but we also need to focus on the buildings that are already here.

“Schools cannot achieve baseline efficiency rates in all areas now – eg air quality in classrooms.

“Let’s look at the baselines for buildings like schools that are already there and help them to achieve net zero rather than just focussing on new technology in new buildings.

“We can only achieve this if we address older buildings with the same energy and enthusiasm which we use for new build and new technology.”

Kas Mohammed added, “Deloitte did a survey where they stated that net zero is not an accounting game Users are mystified by net zero and we have a duty to demystify the issue. Contractors are important if we are going to achieve net zero, but there is still confusion around what it means.

“What is the definition of net zero – the impetus is to remove as much carbon as possible – this means we can get to around 90% there in terms of efficiency – we must do the rest with carbon offsets.

“What this means is that businesses now can shift their mindset of achieving net zero through better building design etc and the reality of the mission becomes far more achievable

“We spend a lot of time in the early planning stages looking at the customer estate and working out what is realistic and achievable from their building versus what can be achieved through carbon offset.”

Mark Richardson then stated that low carbon operations are a value add and, “we don’t seek to make a profit we seek to add value.”

Jules Barker added, “Boards are signing up to things that they don’t know altogether understand. Net zero is both challenging and problematic – there is confusion about what it means My understanding is that it is about whole life emissions. I am concerned that companies are green washing because they mean different things when they say they are aiming to achieve net zero.

“People are now looking at it from the perspective of ‘What is the most financially beneficial way of achieving net zero in a development’ – as a result people can ‘value engineer’ things out because they could just offset the carbon by planting trees. What we actually need to do is reduce the planetary impact of the buildings in the first place while maintaining the quality of the building. We need to find a way to reduce outcomes while maintaining the quality of the building.

Jo Harris had a different perspective, “We deliver a hard FM service We have a lot of influence but not a lot of tools and we need the tools to do the job.

“As an organisation we are focused on decarbonising rather than offsetting but where do the tools come from to achieve it. We work on client sites – they all have a different view on what they need to achieve – there needs to be agreement on a common scale for Net Zero.”

There was some debate that in some industries you cannot achieve carbon zero but Jules disagreed and thinks that you can achieve carbon zero in anything.

Jon Belfield then stated that everyone could be doing a lot more and even if you can’t achieve net zero it is possible to achieve something and if we don’t start now it will be too late.

The question was then put, how can smart building technologies ensure that both embodied and operational carbon are reduced?

There was an argument that people still don’t really know what a smart building is and do we have a definition. It was agreed that clients want to know what the payback or ROI is on any smart building investment and at the moment a baseline is difficult to measure.

Darren commented, “Costs are getting squeezed. If you had bid for a contract 3 years ago and won it this would not now be sustainable to deliver as costs have risen. Companies cannot afford to deliver contracts of 12 months ago because of rising costs. It is getting much worse. If people are forced to deliver things cheaply then it cannot necessarily be done sustainably.”

Jon then suggested that maybe we should be assessing how much it costs for the running of the building – lifecycle rather than just the build costs.

Mark Angus talked about practical issues in the building he manages, “If I knew then what I know now about our building we would have done things differently. We can only learn about our building while we are in it. Often the people who live in the commercial buildings are not there at the design stage.”

Jules thought that one of the problems was that We get an expert to design a building – architect, You then ask experts to design and spec it, Then you hand it to a generalist to reduce costs by taking things out of the specification – this is insane.”

There was then a debate centring around the fact that there is a lack of standardisation in the construction market, as every building has a different BMS and engineers cannot work to the same standards. Jules said that some organisations such as British Land are standardising their BEMS across their estate.

Jo countered by saying that Sodexo used a number of BMSs because they all offer different solutions depending upon the building so the choice is difficult. Clare said that in her experience people often wanted to pull existing products out and start afresh, rather than work with what they have.

The debate concluded by asking whether the UK is serious about net zero.

The sad conclusion from Jonathan was that the Climate Change committee report which was issued recently was quite damning and it doesn’t make great reading.

Jon concluded that, “As professionals in our industry we need to take the lead rather than expecting Government to lead on it. We have to look after the next generation – they don’t have a voice at the moment so we need to create a platform for them to lead us into the future.”