Designing for Net Zero

Bailey Partnership

It’s almost a daily occurrence we switch on the news and hear about the latest big storm, wildfire, flood, or drought taking place and witness the evidence and effects of climate change. As reported by BBC News, the UN has labeled the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report a “code red for humanity”. It’s a stark reminder that inaction is no longer an option and climate change can no longer be avoided. The report made it clear it will take hundreds of years or even millennia to reverse the effects of climate change. Every moment wasted makes it increasingly more difficult to manage the outcome. Already the world has warmed by 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels and the target to limit global temperature increases to 1.5°C as set out in the Paris 2015 summit is now unlikely to be achieved. 

There is no question climate change has to be addressed and carbon emissions reduced if we are to stand any chance of limiting the devastating impact that it will have. Whilst the UK has enshrined in law a requirement to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, many organisations are working to improve on this timeline. We acknowledge the construction industry is a significant contributor to the UK’s Carbon Footprint and is reported to be responsible for around 40% of all CO2 emissions in the UK. As such we understand that as designers and consultants we are in a position to be able to positively influence change and reduce the carbon impact of the buildings we design as well as our business level processes.

As a multi-disciplinary company with many facets and disciplines, we are in a unique position to take positive steps in reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. Our ability to utilise our in-house expertise in Architecture & Interior Design, Building Services, Civil & Structural Engineering, Quantity Surveying, Building Surveying, Facade Engineering, Fire Engineering and Town Planning enables us to pull together in a single direction. As a group, we have set ourselves a target of becoming a carbon-neutral business by 2030 and crucially have committed to delivering all of our projects to “Net Zero” by 2030. 

To achieve this we have created a sustainability group made up of representatives from each discipline with the purpose of improving our Carbon Literacy. It will shape the future of our training and processes, raising awareness of what Net Zero means in real terms so we can actively offer building design which will achieve the targets set out by the UN. This is why we have signed up to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge and encourage all RIBA registered practices to do so. Our path towards Net Zero is built on the commitment of our designers who are passionate about finding innovative and cost-effective solutions to help solve the climate emergency issues we are all facing. Our role is to lead the Net Zero charge and assist, encourage and challenge our clients and industry colleagues, working together to tackle carbon reduction and champion sustainability.

As a practice, we have always strived to produce low-carbon designs within the constraints of the brief. We are accustomed to meeting challenging budgets for local authority and public-funded projects, believing in a fabric first approach using passive design measures, where possible, to avoid the subsequent use of bolt-on products and “Greenwashing”. Whilst many see Net Zero as adding cost to a project, if it is built into a project from the outset these costs can be reduced with the added benefit of lower operational costs and improved saleability. However, reducing carbon, both embodied and emitted, is just one part of the story. We also need to consider living with climate change and what this means regarding building design.

The impacts of climate change on the UK will be felt by the whole construction industry. There is a  need to respond to a number of significant issues from how to reduce the carbon footprint of a project, to the future design features which will be necessary for comfortable habitation.  According to the Met Office, the top 10 warmest years in the UK have all been since 2002. A global temperature increase of 1.5°C could result in summer temperatures reaching 40°C as well as milder winters and we can expect this trend to continue. Sea levels are anticipated to rise by 40cm by the end of the century increasing coastal erosion and the risk of flooding. The top 10 wettest years in the UK have been recorded since 1998 with increased levels of rainfall and extreme weather events expected to become the norm. Our trees and ecology are also changing due to climate change with signs of Spring and Autumn arriving earlier each year and the types of native species which can grow in the UK changing. In addition, the global effects of climate change will inevitably result in population displacement with increased levels of migration to the UK.

MetOffice Climate Change Graphic

Image sourced from the Met Office

With the UK hosting COP26 in November this year (United Nations Climate Conference), we will be publishing a series of articles looking at what we need to consider when designing for climate change within our varying disciplines, what tools or technologies might be available and how we can bring these together to help our clients realise their Net Zero ambitions. 


Dave Vickerstaff, Senior Associate and Architect