The XCO2 Energy team descended on Ecobuild last month, speaking at and attending over a dozen conferences and seminar sessions. We grilled a few manufacturers to get the insider info on what they think the next big thing will be, and did the standard small talk over a glass of wine at the UK-GBC party. The atmosphere seemed a little more subdued this time compared to previous years; possibly a function of the government’s continued efforts to take the teeth out of every scrap of environmental policy and pervading pessimism and frustration for those of us with a sustainable mind set, who are determined not to throw in the towel. In these changing times, more than any other, we should be looking to push forward with new ideas and innovative thinking, and striving to deliver better performance and more user focused projects, regardless of the message from on high that the #longtermeconomicplan is way more important than the long term performance of our buildings and the long term effects on our climate.

Despite this overarching feeling of uncertainty of the path to sustainable building there were some interesting points that came out of the discussions, seminars, presentations and showcases, which highlight the key opportunities as well as the challenges on the road ahead.

It was great to see the Passivhaus Trust following in the footsteps of Innovate UK and monitoring completed Passivhaus buildings, compiling operational data to be issued as documentation for future reference on the Passivhaus design. In particular, the demonstration of broader applicability for the standard and its tenets on projects with challenging internal environments, such as leisure centres and archives (typically heavily conditioned, closely controlled spaces), is a great indication of the potential this kind of approach can have. As always, there is a lack of widely available data to highlight the value to developers and occupants in a tangible format, but there is definitely opportunity here. The challenge is in exploiting the data and using it in such a way as to break the current design conventions.

More and more people are referring to “the business case” as a driver, showing a shift from the more traditional policy reliance and in some areas linking well with the concept of triple bottom line benefits. The UK has the Climate Change Act 2008 requirement to achieve 80% reduction in annual CO2 emissions from 1990 levels. If we want to be anywhere close to achieving that we’ll need all new buildings to be nearly Zero Energy Buildings (nZEB) from 2020. To do this the industry need to evolve quickly and combine business and legislative drivers to ensure we all get there. The first step on the journey is to understand how can we achieve a balance between technical risk and financial rigour, to enable development that is economically and environmentally (and sociably!) sustainable.

Occupant engagement, breakthrough innovation, smart technology, energy storage, embodied carbon and knowledge sharing were all hot topics. The latter particularly so as the Building Data Exchange is up and running with a treasure trove of Innovate UK’s Building Performance Evaluation findings. As always, there were a great number of show case projects exemplifying and extoling the virtues of the particular theme, as well as half a hall’s worth of associated products. The question is how do we as an industry facilitate the transition from case study to standard approach?

In the wake of Ecobuild it was sad to see the closure of the Zero Carbon Hub. At Ecobuild ZCH’s Managing Director Rob Parnell noted “…it is in our duty to advise the government on how to create regulations in order to reduce the CO2 emissions”. It is interesting to reflect on this statement in a post-ZCH world and consider how we can take a step forward in helping to develop better regulations. Too often in the past we’ve seen policy makers ignore the advice of the industry or selectively focus on the loudest (most politically active) few. To the extent that we now see a significant and growing policy and funding gap. The question here is what should fill the void and get us back on track to zero carbon?

Over the next few weeks, we will be looking to continue the conversation and try to answer some of the questions raised above in a short series of blogs culminating in an informal debate with an expert panel of policy influencers and building professionals, which we will be hosting, on The Policy Gap on Thursday 28 April as part of Green Sky Thinking Week. Tickets for which can be found here.