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Building the foundations to tackle climate change


Clara Bagenal George

If you received a pound every time the phrase “climate change” has been uttered in the news over the last six months, you’d probably have enough money to plant a very large forest. You may have also have seen the Government’s recent announcement committing to reduce greenhouse emissions to almost zero by 2050 – which may also require the planting of a very large forest...

Figures from the Climate Change Committee and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show that in 2017 the average annual household emissions in the UK was in the region of 9,000 kilogrammes of CO2 – the target to reach net zero emissions in 2050 would be for the same average to be reduced to just over 1,000 kilogrammes.

Clara Bagenal George (MEng Architecture and Environmental Design, 2013) has been working in sustainable engineering since graduation and believes that wholesale change for the betterment of the climate is possible – but requires real determination, from not just politicians but also consumers.

“We need a seismic shift in the way we led our lives, from how we shop to where we go on holiday. Policy needs to radically change, to ensure that minimum requirements for things like new building, cars and infrastructure meets out climate change targets.

“Some people think if they try modest change then that's going to make a difference and it's not true. We all need to dramatically change in the way we live our lives.”

A fundemantal change in society is looming

Clara works for Elementa Consulting, which is part of a global network of design engineering professionals, collaborating under a shared commitment to implementing ‘deep green’ engineering strategies in their work. She believes that the way society operates is likely to change drastically in the near future.

“Systems will change to enable a more circular lifestyle – where we keep resources in use for as long as possible. We're going to move an economy where we don't own things; you'll lease a car when you need it, you might not even own your clothes. Our ways of living will change dramatically in a low carbon economy.”

The terms used in much of the discussion around climate change and carbon emissions focus on “net zero carbon” and “net zero energy” – allow Clara to explain so you can impress your friends over dinner:

“In my view net zero carbon means a building that meets our climate change targets, so if you take the footprint of a building you have to ensure the energy is supplied entirely by renewable energy, on or off-site.

 “This includes the energy that was used during the construction stages of the building, trucks, cranes, diggers, where the steel came from. There’s a lot to consider.

“For that to work a net zero carbon building has to have a high fabric efficiency (low heat loss), energy efficient systems and be fossil fuel free. And a net zero energy building would take this one step further by generating all of its energy needs onsite through renewable generation.”

Sustainability and profit going hand in hand 

In 2017 she put this into practice, devising the London Energy Transformation initiative (LETI), a revolutionary collective of over 300 professionals from across the capital’s public and private sectors, which is looking drive the transition of its built environment to net zero carbon. It has already had a major influence on the draft London Plan, which includes a number of recommendations suggested by the LETI group.

Another obvious question in this discussion is whether, in the drive to build more affordable housing in the UK, developers will lose sight of the need for energy efficient homes over the lure of profit?

“If the developer is focussed only on profit, then policy and building regulation would ensure a certain level of efficiency. You have to employ a consultant to ensure your building meets the regulations or policy required. From my experience more developers are increasingly thinking about corporate social responsibility and are interested in aspects of sustainability too.

“It’s also important to realise that low carbon developments do not cost that much more to build. A report by the Committee on Climate change states that using proven technologies and construction methods for an additional cost of 1-4%, new homes could have 90% lower carbon emissions and be £85-£100 a year cheaper to run.”

This is Clara’s bread and butter; she leads mechanical, environmental analysis and sustainability consulting projects at Elementa. This involves analysing existing services and environmental factors that affect a building, to identify the best areas to target where more sustainable technology would reduce carbon emissions.

She also collaborates in research projects and travels regularly to speak at national and international conferences, promoting sustainability in the construction industry. The aim being to ensure building design is as optimal as possible when creating the systems which provide you or I with heating, lighting and energy.

The youthful voices calling for change

Clara’s passion for the environment stemmed from an early age, she credits her school in Hertfordshire with instigating a belief that anyone can create change.

“My school was really ahead of its time in terms of low-carbon thinking and environmental ethics. We were taught that we could influence - if you see something happening which is wrong, you have the capacity to make change.

“I led the 'be green' group, to see how we could make the school more environmentally friendly. It definitely developed a passion for the environment and creating change within me.”

And there’s no doubt that the youth of today has become more impassioned than perhaps any previous generation as the stark realities begin to dawn, with the likes of Greta Thunberg contributing more to the public awareness of climate change issues than most adults in a position of influence. What next though?

“I think the world will be in a different place in forty years’ time, and although we can’t all fix everything, I encourage everyone to focus on their own area of expertise, and throw their support behind those with passion like Greta!”

Posted on Friday 23rd August 2019

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