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Achieving decarbonisation: Insights from our Liverpool discussion

Min Read

by AHR


We recently brought together industry professionals in Liverpool to discuss the challenges and opportunities in decarbonisation.

The discussion focussed on the latest developments, challenges and strategies for navigating evolving legislation, updating building performance standards and understanding the personal and organisational impacts of decarbonisation efforts.

Representatives from AtkinsRéalis, Hive, Liverpool City Council, Liverpool John Moores University, Morgan Sindall and Mott MacDonald joined us for the event, held in The Spine.

The conversation highlighted recurring themes from previous events, including the challenge of balancing decarbonisation aspirations with financial constraints, the importance of early exposure to sustainability knowledge and the necessity for standardised measures to guide decarbonisation efforts.

Interestingly, the discussion also explored the environmental impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on energy consumption and the future challenges this may pose whilst also recognising the opportunities AI brings.

Continue reading for more insights.

1. The importance of early and expert involvement

A prevalent theme from the discussions was the importance of early engagement from experts who are able to bring a wider perspective helping teams to make more informed decisions that better align with sustainability goals. One participant noted defining success factors early on will, in addition to leading to better project outcomes, avoid costly changes later on.

Building on this, the participants all agreed that it is equally important that clients are aware and well informed on the critical decisions being made earlier on in the project lifecycle too. This awareness is vital as it directly impacts long-term operations and whole-life-costing. Keeping clients knowledgeable about these aspects is crucial in the drive for successful sustainable approaches and outcomes.

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A thought-provoking conversation around decarbonisation

A mixture of fresh ideas and perspectives

An opportunity to learn and share

2. The practical steps and strategies for decarbonisation

Often, when discussing decarbonisation, organisations express concerns about costs and mixed messaging, complicating the approach to achieving sustainability. A significant point in the discussions was the importance of not losing sight of the practical steps and strategies for decarbonisation that have been effective for years.

One example from the discussion was the effective communication and coordination across the supply chain, which is crucial for maximising the recycling and reusing of materials. Simply instructing a demolition contractor to “recycle this material” is not sufficient. The contractor may not be aware of specific recycling processes or the end use of certain materials. For example, they might not know that ultra offset vinyl can be recycled back into new vinyl.

Similarly, using modular carpets made from recycled materials, like the ones in The Spine, allows for individual tiles to be cleaned or replaced, reducing maintenance costs and waste. Additionally, these carpets avoid non-recyclable backing, ensuring they can be fully recycled at the end of their life. It’s important to provide detailed information and guidance about the recycling options and the companies or processes involved to ensure effective recycling of materials.

3. Challenges in balancing aspirations with financial realities

Often unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment in not being able to achieve the set sustainability goals. The ongoing debate between immediate costs and long-term benefits continues to be a barrier for many organisations. This cost vs value discussion is critical, as emphasised by participants. While the long-term benefits of sustainable projects are clear, the immediate capital expenditure required for sustainable upgrades can be prohibitive.

Operational costs are generally easier to manage compared to the capital expenditure required for these upgrades. This highlights that while managing day-to-day operational costs is more straightforward, the significant initial investment needed for sustainable infrastructure can pose a substantial challenge.

4. The importance of unified standards and legislative approaches in decarbonisation

A unified standard can provide clear guidelines and help achieve consistency across different sectors. The forthcoming UK Net Zero Carbon Standard, discussed by participants, aims to cover every sector and establish both current and future targets for operational and lifecycle carbon. This standardisation can drive the adoption of best practices and facilitate a cohesive approach to decarbonisation.

There is also the potential for an accreditation based on the standard in the future which many felt would further enhance its adoption and implementation. Such accreditation could provide an additional layer of validation and encourage more organisations to align their practices with the standard.

Aligning with international standards like the EU taxonomy can help in accessing funding and ensuring compliance with global practices. The EU Taxonomy is a classification system designed to define and promote environmentally sustainable economic activities. It aims to combat greenwashing by establishing clear criteria for sustainability, guiding investments towards genuinely sustainable projects. Innovative legislative approaches, such as New York’s Local Law 97, can provide practical models for other regions to follow. This law imposes annual penalties on buildings that do not meet energy efficiency standards, driving compliance through financial incentives. This model can be adapted by other regions to enforce stringent energy standards and promote widespread decarbonisation.

Much of the funding used to finance projects doesn’t come from the UK, therefore it must comply with these international regulations. So although not UK law or regulation the impact is already being felt here.

5. Impact of AI on energy consumption

A significant point of discussion was the environmental impact of AI, particularly concerning its energy and water usage. Did you know that the everyday use of AI tools can have substantial cumulative environmental impacts? For instance, per search on ChatGPT uses half a litre of water for cooling on a server, illustrating the considerable resources consumed by such technologies.

The computational power required for AI underscores the need for more efficient and sustainable technological solutions. As AI becomes increasingly integrated into daily operations, the demand for data centres and the associated energy consumption will rise. Highlighting the urgency for developing sustainable infrastructure to support the growing demand for AI while ensuring that advancements in technology do not come at the expense of environmental health.

This topic of conversation ultimately ties back to earlier points about the importance of stopping and questioning the full implications of our actions, whether it be the materials we use or the tools we implement, like AI. By critically evaluating and addressing the environmental costs of these technologies, we can make more informed decisions that align with long-term sustainability goals.

This has been an excellent roundtable series, providing a wealth of insightful ideas, topics and solutions that have been invaluable to discuss and learn about.

We are excited to continue these conversations later this year. If you’re interested in participating, please get in touch.

Posted on:

Jun 24th 2024


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