Carrot or Stick? If everyone wants to achieve the goal why isn’t it smoother getting there?

William Poole-Wilson, Principal at Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will

Most people in the architecture and design industry will agree that sustainability is important. More than half of the world’s population live in urban areas and more than a million people move to cities across the world every single week. With this said, cities already use around 75% of the world’s energy and emit up to 80% of harmful greenhouse gases. Even climate change deniers (ever-dwindling in number) don’t deny that the earth’s natural resources are finite.

So if everyone wants to achieve the goal of better sustainability, why isn’t it easier to get there? It’s certainly not down to lack of incentive. We have carrots dangled before our eyes in the form of better public reputation and recognition, kudos among peers and stakeholders, and even the possibility of a speedier journey through the planning system , not to mention long-term financial benefits and the rather less tangible but extremely real opportunity to help preserve our planet. Meanwhile sticks are often brandished to force companies to comply with building regulations and compliance codes, while instituting penalties for low performance. Examples range from the Kyoto Protocol and the government’s 2020 carbon reduction targets to more elaborate schemes like the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.

There are three main reasons why we’re not progressing as quickly and smoothly as we hope: lack of communication, ignorance about the possibilities, and ignorance about the financial cost. I touched on communication in my previous post about Occupant Engagement and here I’d like to talk about a highly ambitious attempt to address the ignorance issue.

Through education we can achieve behavioural change, and behavioural change is a fundamental necessity in addressing not only sustainability issues at design and build but also in on-going operation. The most sustainable building in the world will fail to perform to expectation if it isn’t used as intended.

On 29th September, The Crystal opened to the public. Undertaken by Siemens with Pringle Brandon Perkins + Will as the lead consultant and interior architect, the awe-inspiring building is London’s newest landmark and the world’s first centre built with the sole purpose of developing urban sustainability knowledge.

The Crystal. Image: Edmund Sumner

Following £30 million in investment by Siemens, the 6,300 sq m facility is now home to Siemens’s global Center of Competence Cities, a team of multidisciplinary urban experts encouraging improved sustainability through research, partnerships and collaboration.

Standing proudly on the waterfront of Royal Victoria Docks in East London – the centre of London’s new Green Enterprise District – the Crystal is also the world’s largest exhibition space given over to the future of cities. There are 2,000 sq m of interactive learning covering building technologies, air quality, power and water supply, waste, healthcare and sustainable mobility.

It’s also a conference centre with a cinema screen and 270-seater raked auditorium. It is, in short, a huge think tank for a brighter, safer, more sustainable future. You can even recharge electric vehicles here too.

And a building to educate the world on sustainability needs to shine a beacon of fossil-fuel-free light itself. Originally intended to reach BREEAM Excellent, it became the world’s first building to attain both BREEAM Outstanding and LEED Platinum ratings over the course of the project.

Generating 20% of the building’s electricity, two thirds of the roof is covered in PV panels; the remainder is a green roof consisting of plant species proven to sustain local wildlife. Ground-source heat pumps supply 100% of the building’s heating needs and most of its cooling. Eighty-four percent of hot water is enabled through the PV and heat pumps. No fossil fuels are burned here at all.

The Crystal is also ready to be connected to the smart grid, and the BMS is central to all building operations (heating, cooling and ventilation; lights and blinds; sensors that detect occupancy levels; safety features; and even an outdoor weather station), collating data from 12,000 control points.

Not a drop of water is lost throughout the building. Rainwater is harvested and recycled or reused – 90% of potable water demand is technically possible through treated rainwater alone. One hundred percent of blackwater is treated and reused for irrigation and flushing lavatories. Of course, there’s a dedicated waste recycling area too.

The Crystal’s office space is designed to use on average 83kWh/m2/year (less than 50% of the energy use of comparable office buildings) and generate 65% lower carbon emissions too. And all this created on a tight schedule in a waterfront city location.

Buildings like this show what is possible – and can encourage us to think more sustainably across everything we do.

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