Dezeen Magazine

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RIBA launches sustainability guide to "deliver real and lasting reductions in carbon emissions"

The Royal Institute of British Architects has published the Sustainable Outcomes Guide to help its members and the wider architecture industry avert the climate disaster.

The publication concisely outlines the design principles and performance metrics that the architecture profession must follow in order to achieve a sustainable future.

It supports the RIBA's 2030 Climate Challenge, an initiative to encourage its members to achieve net-zero whole-life carbon for all new and retrofitted buildings by 2030.

"The RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide offers a clear road map to address the climate emergency," explained Gary Clark, chair of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group and the regional leader of science and technology at HOK.

"The differing complexities of sustainability have been distilled into a set of eight sustainable outcomes, aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with concise metrics that can be measured and verified in use."

Guide aligns with UN sustainability goals

The Sustainable Outcomes Guide follows RIBA's declaration of a climate emergency earlier this year in acknowledgement of the role that architects have in climate change. It was generated at the suggestion of the RIBA's Sustainable Futures Group, which is made up of 12 members representing the institute's wider membership.

The guide focuses on eight clear, measurable goals – called RIBA sustainable outcomes – that address a building's in-use performance and align with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

These range from net-zero operational carbon and embodied carbon, through to sustainable water cycles, transport systems and land use.

"Once the RIBA declared a climate emergency it was clear that the wider construction industry required a set of clear measurable targets that addressed the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the emergency," Clark told Dezeen.

To help its members implement change, each "sustainable outcome" in the guide comes with concise metrics and assessment tools that architects can use to accurately measure and verify the impact of their designs.

This is hoped to encourage a move from relying on predicted values, and help architects adopt an "outcomes-based design approach" that will close gaps between design intent and in-use performance.

"Only by a rigorous 'measurement and verification' method of assessment can we deliver real and lasting reductions in carbon emissions that not only address the climate emergency, but create beautiful places that are also sustainable," said Clark.

Stirling Prize winner is leading example

According to Clark, the guide has so far been well received by the profession, as well as design professions and the wider construction industry. However, there has been some dispute "related to the trajectory either being too long or too short".

"Some architects would like all buildings to be net zero now, while others doubt that we can achieve this by 2030," explained Clark.

Clark's opinion is that ambitious, environmentally conscious architecture can be easily achieved now, as demonstrated by this year's Stirling Prize winner – the low-energy Goldsmith Street development.

"We debated trajectories at length in the development phase and we feel that 10 years is realistic to allow the upskilling of the profession," he continued. "However this year's Stirling Prize winner demonstrates that we can achieve the 2030 targets now and so there is no excuse for architects not to create a costed net zero design proposal for their client."

The Goldsmith Street housing achieves the rigorous Passivhaus standard for energy efficiency. Its architects, Mikhail Riches, have since gone on to say that they only want to work on zero-carbon projects from now on, and are committed to improving the environmental performance of its projects.

Members urged to use guide "as a matter of urgency"

Clark adds that he is disappointed by the lack of members that have signed up for the RIBA 2030 Challenge.

"I'm disappointed that despite the strong rhetoric from the profession, so far out of 3,800 chartered practices and 750 Architects Declare firms, only 60 practices have signed up to the RIBA 2030 Challenge," he said.

"I urge all chartered practices to take collective action and sign up to the 2030 Climate Challenge as a matter of urgency."

He added that the aim of RIBA is to now "make the 2030 Climate Challenge mandatory for all chartered architects and practices".

It is also looking to align its awards criteria to support the 2030 Climate Challenge, and encourage the use of the guide in schools of architecture.

"I'm hopeful that all UK schools will voluntarily use it as core tool to define, track and measure the sustainable outcomes of student projects," said Clark.

"This is the UK's opportunity to demonstrate climate change leadership in the world and show everyone that it’s possible to have a vibrant decarbonised economy."

Guide latest in a flurry of sustainability manifestos

RIBA's publication of the guide comes as architects wake up to the industry's negative environmental impact.

The announcement follows Foster + Partners' recent introduction of a sustainability manifesto that will go beyond current environmental certification schemes, and also Snøhetta's aim to make all of its buildings carbon negative within 20 years.

However some architects believe the profession needs to aim beyond carbon neutrality, such as Michael Pawlyn of the climate-change movement Architects Declare who told Dezeen that it is time for architects to design regenerative buildings that give back more than they take.

In 2020, RIBA will expand on its sustainability guidance with two further guides: a revised clients' guide on sustainable procurement, and a collection of the best buildings in various sectors that meet the 2030 Challenge.

It will also establish an online reporting and database tool to log project data and allow practices to track and benchmark with each other.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.