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Sustainability expert warns of perverse outcomes

The zero carbon agenda ignores social and economic sustainability and could lead to highly perverse outcomes, a sustainability expert has warned.


Addressing delegates at the Ecobuild conference in London earlier this week, Dr David Strong, chief executive of Inbuilt Consulting, called for an urgent reality check from the industry and a switch to “whole system thinking”.


“I am a strong supporter of zero and low carbon buildings,” he said. “The drive towards zero carbon is very important – it has had a powerful effect in galvanising the UK housebuilding and property development community and in stimulating innovation.


“But there is much more to delivering exemplary built environments than zero carbon. The single-minded scramble to design and build Level 6 homes gives out the message that this is the highest ambition and most worthy outcome we should aim for. 


“However, if we end up with ‘zero carbon’ Code Level 6 homes that are uneconomic to maintain, are built on flood plains, overheat in summer, have poor acoustic performance, poor indoor air quality or other unintended consequences, then we have created a generation of homes that are unfit for people.


Dr Strong added: “We can’t call this sustainability. The so-called ‘best’ are in real danger of becoming the enemy of the good.”


Dr Strong said in order to address the challenge of climate change and deliver genuine sustainability, the industry needed to adopt a more holistic approach. “We need whole system thinking. This means collaborative, multi-disciplinary, integrated team working like we’ve rarely seen before.


“It also means working to find natural solutions to reduce our dependence on energy-intensive systems. There are so many opportunities offered by nature to ventilate, heat, cool and illuminate our buildings, and cost savings to be made by designing out unnecessary technical complexity.”


He concluded by questioning the reality of “zero carbon” as a useful label for buildings, and warned that it could offer consumers a false promise.