COP27: the well-being of inhabitants at the heart of the specification of green buildings
Lee Jones is Head of Manufacturing Solutions at NBS and Acting Head of Sustainability at Byggfakta Group
With COP27 taking place later on November 6, the construction industry is gearing up to receive the latest advice on climate change. For construction, an industry responsible for almost 40% of all global CO2 emissions, this will give a hint of what is to come, shaping the legislation to come.
“If specifiers are to make the best possible decisions, they need product data to be as detailed and accurate as possible”
However, it is not just decarbonization efforts that make COP events important. They also provide guidance on other areas for improvement, such as the economic, ethical, and social landscape. A good example is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Blueprint – a ‘people first’ framework designed to get industries to think beyond their usual remit. This includes “promoting mental health, fighting infectious disease, and reducing deaths from pollution and hazardous chemicals,” as well as many other topics. Applied to the construction industry, this means creating impressive spaces that promote health and well-being – those that work with the environment rather than against it.
When we think of exceptional architecture, we think of buildings that harness light and space to make us feel good. It is well known that regular access to daylight can help improve mental health. However, the industry’s reliance on glass has become a problem. Latest research from Loughborough University has warned that the number of heat-related deaths could triple by 2050 due to rising temperatures. And who could forget the ‘melting of cars’ on the street caused by reflected light from London’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ skyscraper in 2013?
The UK government’s climate change advisory body has also warned against designing buildings that get too hot during summer temperatures. Modern glass buildings become “greenhouses” that overheat the people inside. In turn, buildings are becoming increasingly dependent on energy-intensive air conditioning measures to keep occupants cool, creating additional but avoidable emissions.
This is just one example of why precise specification is now so important – not only to meet the climate challenge, but also to prioritize the well-being of the occupants using said structures. In the case of sunlight and ventilation, this could mean specifying trees and foliage that create natural shaded areas and lower surrounding temperatures. Alternatively, focusing on the design and placement of diffused sunlight to provide natural light in the deepest parts of buildings is another path to success.
If the climate crisis worsens – and research on our current trajectory suggests it will – then there will be an increasing need for data requirements to prove that sustainable building materials and techniques have been used. from the earliest stages of design. This makes information management more important than ever. Specifiers need access to detailed information and in a format they can use, not just to make decisions about a building’s carbon impact, but to think more broadly: how can design affect the physical and psychological well-being of the occupants?
This is where digitally delivered data – or, more specifically, construction product data – comes into its own. Increasingly, third-party certifications will be required to meet project sustainability requirements. This means that specifiers will require detailed proof that building products can work and that they have been externally verified. Up-to-date digital data helps specifiers in this selection process, so they can be sure they are choosing the cleanest and most environmentally friendly products possible.
The increasingly complex legislative landscape also drives the need for construction data. Prescribers will need to ensure that they comply with legal requirements; changes to Part L of the Building Regulations, the Future Homes Standard and the Building Safety Act are just a few examples of areas where detailed digital data could help ensure that standards have been met and not overlooked .
Yet this requires a two-way street. If prescribers are to make the best possible decisions, they need product data to be as detailed and accurate as possible, and easily accessible. For building product manufacturers, this means continually updating product specifications and providing them in digital format, where information can be evaluated quickly and efficiently. If the construction industry is to focus more on providing a healthier built environment where societies and individuals can thrive, digital specifications will need to be at the heart of developments.
It is therefore not surprising that “digital data” is now referred to as “new oil”. Used and formatted effectively, it can help the built environment not only meet sustainability goals, but also create healthier, happier communities that serve generations to come. Let’s just hope that COP27 participants realize the potential of data and achieve the progress we would all like to see.