Scientific evidence suggests that climate change is happening and that human activity is heavily contributing to it. This has been recognised for decades, and in 1992 the Rio Earth Summit adopted a global plan of action for sustainable development. Today, the need for a sustainable approach is widely accepted within the architecture and construction industries.
Ambitious targets have been adopted in the UK to reduce energy demands and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions. The initial focus was primarily on transport and the use of fossil fuels in power generation, although a more holistic approach is now gathering pace. This involves using sustainable materials and reusing materials where possible.
The Code for Sustainable Homes, introduced back in 2007, provided a method for assessing the sustainable design and construction of new homes. It encouraged architects and construction companies to develop their knowledge base and technical skills, and led to an increase in research and development (R&D) activities. It is now established practice to develop buildings so that the energy required for their operation declines with advances in technology and improved energy efficiencies in building design.
Sustainable buildings in which people can live without net damage to the environment or natural resources can help sustain future generations. A fundamental principle of sustainable architecture is that it should work with and not against nature. It should aim to utilise and maximise available sustainable energy resources and use these sparingly through enhancements to thermal efficiency and building performance. To achieve sustainable architecture, an integrated approach to design and design strategies is required.
Architects can choose from an increasing array of technologies and adapt them to work in harmony with local and regional requirements. Technologies that work in Scandinavian countries can be adapted for use in Africa, and vice versa. These technologies include passive buildings, use of solar energy, wind and heat pumps.
Better use of natural light, ventilation, thermal mass, insulation, rainwater collection, waste treatment and renewable energies can also reduce the need for additional resources. This also applies to heat and power for building services such as water and sewerage. There is also the potential to use harvested rainwater, or reedbed arrangements for ecological sanitation systems that do not require connection to a wider grid.
Much work is being done on calculating CO2 emissions from a building and identifying ways to reduce the total emissions over its lifetime. The focus is not just on operational CO2 emissions, but also those at the beginning and end of the building’s life. Offsetting the environmental impact over the lifespan of the building is a challenge, and one that architects are rising to and addressing.
When it comes to sustainable construction, environmental impacts must be considered. The total environmental impact of a building is the result of environmental loads occurring during the lifetime of the building. These include:
- The initial impact caused during the design and construction of the building including the project management activities, material use, construction processes and waste
- The annually repeating impact including the energy use for heating, lighting, ventilating, cooling and the repairs and refurbishments during the life of a building
- The impact during the final stage (the deconstruction) when the building is demolished.
Methodologies and tools exist to assess the environmental impact of design and construction. These include the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) in the UK. This assessment requires that fuel, transport to site, water and waste are monitored. Large construction sites in the UK use specialist waste handling contractors to provide detailed breakdowns of waste removed and quantities that have been separated for recycling.
R&D in Sustainable Design and Construction
Many different sustainable technologies and methods are available, but much work is needed to bring them together in practice and in principle. Typically this work involves research and development and with legislation and regulations being put in place together with grant assistance being made available, businesses are being encouraged to develop and innovate.
The R&D Tax Credits scheme is also available. It is a very generous government incentive designed to encourage companies to invest in innovation and R&D activities. If your company is adapting or developing products, technologies, processes or services to address the issues above – then you may be eligible to apply. The benefits include reduced corporation tax payments, or even cash back from HMRC or Revenue.
You could also potentially benefit from corporation tax savings if you have a patented invention or qualifying asset, under Patent Box legislation in the UK or the Knowledge Development Box legislation in Ireland.
The rules relating to these tax incentives are complex and require specialist advice – which we can provide to you. We have successfully helped a number of clients in the architecture and construction sectors to claim under the schemes.
To find out more, please get in touch to arrange a no-obligation discussion.