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‘Sustainability is a working concept. It’s a holy grail’



Andrew Simmonds, chief executive of the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB), tells Blue & Green Tomorrow how the organisation’s 1,400 individual and organisational members are attempting to shift the UK onto a path of sustainable design and construction.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013.

What is environment conscious building?

It is when we build with a clear awareness of our place in the biosphere – the human ecological niche. The more we understand about the impact of materials sourcing and building practices – as well as the impact of buildings in use – the more environment conscious we become.

This obviously requires multidisciplinary thinking – and this was one of the key aims of the original group who set up the AECB and underpins AECB activity to this day.

What is the AECB’s definition of a sustainable home?

Sustainability is a working concept. It’s a holy grail – to live in balance with the natural world.

You could argue that spending an awful lot of money at a particular point in history in order to make something that is as low impact as possible, is not sustainable, because only wealthy people can do it. However many such projects do offer valuable insights into strategies and techniques, materials and products that might offer more sustainable ways of building.

The AECB tries to facilitate clear discussion of the issues, draw out what worked and what didn’t and always encourages honest sharing of experiences, emphasising the need for real world data on building performance.

There is no clear definition of what a sustainable home is, but the AECB is trying to make sense of it by concentrating on principles of robustness, integrated strategic thinking, reporting via clear performance metrics and use of ambitious and clearly defined energy and comfort standard targets.

No man is an island, so for a single isolated building to be super energy efficient and generating all its own heat, power and water (i.e. the autonomous house model) is not necessarily a sustainable solution – at scale – although it might be seen as a very green approach for that building. It’s about developing low impact new-build and refurbishment solutions that work appropriately at building, street, estate, village, town and city scale.

Is there a typical person who looks to make their home less damaging to the environment?

Probably not. AECB members represent a cross-section of people from across the industry and professions – as well as students, self-builders, tenants and owner occupiers.

People seem to start at different places. It may be a concern for the environment, their children or grandchildren; it may be their health; their need for improved comfort levels and lower bills; it may be because they love tinkering around with or exploring new technologies or materials; sometimes their own business case may lead them to adopt an environment conscious approach.

Wherever people start from, we do say quite clearly to people that the priorities are to reduce your energy demand (be as ‘lean’ as you can), and make sure you do that in a way that is healthy, safe and robust – we are very aware of unintended consequences particularly from energy efficient retrofitting of existing buildings.

We do have a social conscience at the AECB. We’re very aware of the political side of construction and particularly sustainable construction – and the social aspects to energy, climate change and built environment policy.

What does the future of the housing market look like in terms of sustainability?

Currently, it’s obviously abysmal. That goes without saying. I think a lot depends on the 2015 general election result. For the green building movement we have a very unsympathetic administration at the moment – and although a good clearout of green building codes or standards that may not be working might be attractive, the question needs to be asked, what will replace them?

The principle of enshrining green building practices in the building regulations offers a nice moment of simplicity and clarity – but they need to be more ambitious. Speaking hypothetically and with complete modesty, if the AECB was tasked with developing the next government’s sustainable built environment policy, you would see something sensible, effective and with huge economic and environmental benefit.

Currently the things we’d like to see happen are not really finding fertile ground. That probably goes for most environmentalists or climate change scientists; it’s a pretty depressing time for us at the moment. After 2015, we don’t really know what might happen, but either way I think we’re going to be going through some very rocky times for a long period.

Having said that, sensible, effective, integrated, democratic and hopeful policies would give us all a real sense of progress. All political parties need to get to grips with integrated energy and buildings policy – and to shake loose from corporate lobbying that is twisting thinking about this hugely important area and preventing development of an effective buildings, energy and climate change strategy.

Meanwhile, I think there will be a slow but constant increase in numbers of people wanting to install energy efficiency measures – led by the wealthier, by those downsizing and those retiring or retired people hunkering down for an energy expensive old age.

Properly built or refurbished sustainable homes,  with a real focus on build quality, attention to detail, energy efficiency and air quality, for example as exemplified by the Passivhaus approach, produce excellent results, and this is becoming more and more evident.

The homes produced using the Passivhaus methodology are very comfortable. They do what they say on the tin and there is usually no significant performance gap – certainly not if fully certified. This, for the first time in the UK, represents a building methodology that delivers good, consistent results – and as such it should be invested in.

Andrew Simmonds is chief executive of the Association for Environment Conscious Building.

Further reading:

Sustainable design should change our behaviour for good

Creating a low-carbon home of your own

Superhomes for a super future

Mythbusting on sustainable homes

The Guide to Sustainable Homes 2013


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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