14th October 2020

One Year on: Studying, Exploring, Educating by Gareth Atkinson

Historically, after functionality, the key emphasis for appraising structural forms has been buildability, construction programme and, of course, cost.  This focus is shifting however as developers signing up to their own climate declarations know that they can no longer skirt around the edge of the sustainable assessment of their proposed developments. This shift means that assessing both the operational and embodied carbon of buildings is now swiftly moving up the priority list, becoming the most important assessment criteria. Given this increased importance, as engineers, we are in the spotlight more than ever before and it’s a responsibility my colleagues and I are willing, ready and have already taken on.

As structural engineers, it is our responsibility to determine the embodied carbon (CO2e) of the structures we design.  To do this effectively, we have a duty to thoroughly explore the differing structural framing solutions for a given building and assess the overall sustainability of all of them.  Although over the past decade we have been getting better at calculating the carbon in the structures, now is the time for us to lead the way. A significant part of our role is to educate. We need to educate our clients and collaborators, sharing with them our knowledge so as a collaborative design team we all feel informed when the key decisions are taken about how the overall sustainability of buildings can be improved. 

Since launching our climate charter, as a collective of creative, sustainable thinking engineers, we have been working hard to establish better ways to explain the process of determining CO2e in the structures we design.  The communication of our calculations and appraisals is equally as important as carrying them out in the first place.  To teach our clients of the importance of embodied carbon and how they have the power to make sustainable choices is critical in helping us secure a more sustainable future.  Our clients can’t do this without having clearly presented appraisals. 

We’re working hard to come up with innovative, better ways of communicating all the different options that are available to our clients. We’re making progress but we are under no illusion. We know there is still a long way to go to build a true understanding across the built environment industry of the benefits of a new approach and to raise awareness of the different materials that are available as solutions. It’s by building this understanding we can help secure a more sustainable future.

One Year on: Studying, Exploring, Educating by Gareth Atkinson