WBA’s Sustainability Journey Part 1 – COP26

With the COP26 Conference currently underway, we are presenting a series of blog posts to highlight our recent Sustainability journey, putting Climate change and Sustainability at the forefront of our thinking. We want to share with you our journey so far, and help promote collaboration across the industry and encourage the cross transfer of knowledge, expertise and innovation. Its clear that we have little time to get this right for future generations.

If not now when?

At the start of 2021 we recognised our role and responsibility as architects and how we could help reduce further contributions to the causes of climate change.  The climate emergency is the biggest challenge facing our planet. Over 40% of the UK’s carbon footprint is attributed to the built environment, with approximately half of this linked directly to the operational and embodied energy within buildings.

In December 2020 we undertook a practice survey to take a snapshot of our awareness and understanding of climate change and sustainable design. We shared the feedback which also helped develop our draft sustainability strategy for the next 5 years to coincide with our 50th anniversary in 2026.  Lead by Richard Crowson and Daniel Lowe and including colleagues Gary Kempston, Martin Bradley, David Whalley and Cath Wheater our sustainability approach is supported by a cross sector working group. ‘Chatbox’ sessions are held to update the practice and help work together to achieve our short and long term targets.

RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge

In the Summer of 2021 we signed up to the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge which directly addresses operational energy use, embodied carbon, water consumption, land-use, biodiversity and health and wellbeing setting targets for the next 10 years.  We’ve attended a number of online seminars and workshops including the RIBA Smart Practice Conferences on Sustainability in 2020 and 21. Through our work in education we’ve established relationships to build upon particularly in the HE sector where research and innovation can support both academic and professional work.  The work of the Climate framework initiative, LETI, UKGBC and the Passivhaus Trust have been particularly informative and helpful. There’s a significant amount of useful information out there which can be overwhelming. We’re a medium sized practice and so we quickly realised this requires a long term strategy, focus and step by step approach.  Hence we locked onto the 2030 challenge and support offered by the RIBA. But also LETI who have produced excellent easy to understand documentation for the industry and importantly for the clients too. The development of free online carbon/energy modelling software has also helped – including carbon modelling tools which have enabled to us develop our own in house targets aligned with RIBA 2030 for the next five years tailored to each of our sectors.

Sustainability Mindset

This ethos resonates in our own head office premises in Leeds. Designed by the practice, the building was awarded the Green Apple Award in 2007 for its energy efficient and sustainable design approach. It includes geothermal heating and cooling systems, a rainwater recovery system, significantly reducing freshwater consumption, natural ventilation and makes extensive use of natural light.

The practice is experienced in environmental design and has successfully completed a number of projects in recent years that have achieved BREEAM certification, including ‘Excellent’ and ‘Outstanding’ ratings. Including a Passivhaus certified development for the University of Bradford whilst we are currently developing a net zero carbon design for a new primary school in Nottingham for the DfE.

Look out for Part 2 of our Sustainability journey soon, where we’ll be drilling down into the more technical side of delivery.