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Efficiency in commercial architecture

President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement earlier this year doesn’t seem to have put a dent in a basic architectural desire to embrace sustainability. 

The World Green Building Council subsequently announced that to achieve the Paris targets, all buildings need to be ‘net zero carbon’ by 2050 and all new buildings by 2030. At present, there are only 2,500 buildings worldwide that meet this target, and about thirty thousand “passive houses”, buildings which follow the principle of minimal environmental impact, but which don’t have to be zero carbon. You can see the big gap between aspiration and achievement.

For residential buildings, the German-led Passivhaus voluntary standard sets the bar pretty high, with the essential goal of achieving exceptionally low energy bills, a widely-shared incentive to invest, although I’m sure some people will be attracted to the Passivhaus concept by a love of efficiency for its own sake.


In this country, a growing number of architecture courses are making sustainability a core offering in Part 1, from Nottingham and Sheffield to UWE and Portsmouth. Nevertheless, architecture awards tend to go to buildings where sustainability is not a significant driver in shaping building form.

The AJ Architecture Awards include a trophy for the best sustainable project of the year in the UK. The numerous buildings in North West Cambridge designed with sustainability high on the agenda, for example, will miss out this year, but they’re on track to be completed by the end of this year and could make the 2018 shortlist.  

Then there is Open-City’s GreenSkyThinking, which recognises companies such as Google for sourcing what they call “healthy materials”. The Green Register is offering an ever greater range of courses, and claims to train up over 900 green practitioners across the country each year.


Sustainability covers a number of factors – from the “food miles” (house miles?) of the materials in the building, down to the technology embedded into it once it’s up. Tesla, to take one example, is close to marketing a solar roof that’s indistinguishable from any other tiled roof, and on the NACFB’s own doorstep, Blackfriars Station, an underappreciated acre of architecture four hundred yards away, boasts more than 6,000m² of PV panels. Even then, despite a roof that appears to be built entirely of solar panels, half of the station’s energy still needs to be bought from the national grid. 

So I think there is a lot of room here for lenders and brokers to start focusing on this area. It is only going to be a growth industry.

*Graham Toy is cheif executive of the NACFB


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