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Positive impact: this time next year

Adam Strudwick, Principal at Perkins&Will, muses on a greener future for our new regular Positive Impact feature, celebrating social, economic and environmental sustainability.

03/03/2022 4 min read

It’s January 2023 and the good folks at Mix have asked me to write a summary of the amazing progress that our industry has made in the last 12 months, on pivoting how we create, procure and deliver more sustainable interiors projects. The progress we have made is immense and has only been made possible through open cross-collaboration between peers and competitors, and the inherent community spirit uniquely found in our corner of the construction industry.

– The year kicked off with a bang. A bill was brought before the House of Commons that proposed the regulation of embodied carbon, achieved through reporting whole life carbon emissions of buildings and setting limits on embodied carbon in construction. Life Cycle Assessments are an important way of understanding the carbon impact of interiors and the collection of data should happen on all projects, to help us make informed decisions on where to focus investment and where reduction should happen. Since then, it has been encouraging to see more organisations using solutions such as One Click LCA to calculate the data. The more these tools are used, the more intelligent and accurate the system becomes and the richer the outputs.

– In March we received our first RFP (request for proposal) from a client that wanted a pre-demolitions audit as part of the scope. This is something we have been doing for a while at Perkins&Will when projects have a strip out element, but it’s good to finally see clients asking for this. We also saw a big movement in the interiors world from producing demolition drawings to creating demolition buildings. This tells me that designers and contractors are reappraising the strip out process, prioritizing reuse over recycling.

– The furniture market made a step change in 2022, with many of the main furniture dealers developing robust propositions for delivering high-quality second life FFE products. Now we need the manufacturers (who are still way behind the curve) to come to the table with products that deliver second life options. A major project of ours launched in early summer and demonstrated that super high quality and design-led corporate interiors can be delivered whilst taking a re-use approach.

– By the early summer we saw more educated discussions taking shape on carbon budgeting for interiors projects. The ability to have informed targets, that can be represented as a kgC02e/sqm metric, will really help to drive down carbon through design, construction and use. More occupiers are developing carbon budgets for their real estate portfolios to sit alongside and shape their financial budgets. This is key as we move into a period where corporate real estate teams will need to manage their carbon and finance budgets hand-in-hand. In interiors we have pushed for carbon budgets to not only consider lifecycle stages A1-A5 (product to construction) as is traditionally done for new build, but to also take into account B1 – D (inc. use, end of life stages and beyond) and consider the impact of a lease duration and quicker churn periods on interiors projects.

– It was a positive step at the BCO (British Council for Offices) Conference in June when the industry voted to ban traditional Cat A delivered buildings. For too long our industry has preached about sustainability whilst delivering millions of square feet of built space which was obsolete at its point of install – purely for unfounded letting purposes. The recent spate of buildings that have been delivered with a looser, more adaptable and reactive base build provision is testament to that decision. These spaces – that are highly marketable, allow for fast paced fit outs and greatly reduce waste – are an example of easy wins we should all take. It’s just a shame that it took so long for the market to change.

– A huge milestone was achieved in August when five of the leading fit out contractors came together to lease and run a warehouse facility for the joint storage, quality control, and distribution of second-life and reusable materials and products. The initiative, which includes logistics management for collecting materials from live sites, is a game changer in starting to build a construction economy that prioritises and commercialises re-use over recycling. It needed a joined-up approach as individually the initiative didn’t stack up but through partnership it became a viable, scalable and growing proposition.

– In September the then Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans to implement a new ‘carbon tax’ that pushes the 2008 Climate Change Act much further. This tax means that occupiers and landlords will need to invest in meaningful sustainable design to reduce their tax burden. This, in turn, will drive down the price of sustainable design, making the cost benefit for going above and beyond clear for all.

– Through Q4 we saw a big pick up on interiors projects being completed that have detailed materials passport integration. In order to truly develop a more circular construction economy and deliver effective recovery and reuse of components, products and materials, it’s important that information on those elements is easily accessible, with defined data and an increased value for recovery and reuse. We are looking forward to the industry maturing further so materials passports (and other approaches that support buildings as material banks) become an integral part of the project completion and O&M process.

– Towards the end of the year, we began to see the results of our request that contractors include disassembly drawings for major packages in their O&M manuals. For centuries architects and designers have produced drawings that show how things go together, but a move towards showing how things come apart is important and will accelerate a more circular construction industry.

– As the annual end of year awards ceremonies came around, it was clear that the best designs eschewed post corporate aesthetic of ‘everything everywhere’, and instead focused on a ‘less, but better’ approach that celebrates a newer idea of what is beautiful.

So, there’s my round up of the progress we made last year. Oh sh*t, it’s still January 2022! Well, we can all dream a little sometimes.

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