14th June 2022

The inaugural Footprint+ : Was it any good and is Mipim still relevant?


For those of you not in the know, the Footprint+ conference was a UK Property Event held in Brighton this week focussed entirely on a Zero Carbon Future. It was billed as a centre of excellence for state of the art techniques on carbon reduction …. it certainly lived up to it.

The quality, enthusiasm and knowledge passed on by the collaborators, exhibitors and panel members was inspiring.  A heart felt well done to everyone who attended, contributed and shared their stories, knowledge and passion for what is the biggest challenge that the real estate and construction industry (and the world btw) has ever faced.

So, in no particular order, below are my reflections on the key topics covered during the time I spent at the conference, followed by some thoughts on what’s next for the property industry events.

Firstly, materials:

There were various sessions focused on the differing materials we build from, primarily focussed on those that make up the structure.

Steel – wow, this industry has a proper route plan to net zero and I was positively surprised. Reduce emissions by 35% by 2030 and net zero by 2050.  ArcelorMittel presented on the process of decarbonising steel, from …

  • Electric Arc Furnaces meaning no more need for fossil fuels = great right?, but electric furnaces means no GGBS produced for the concrete industry to reduce the carbon greedy cement content in concrete… but they do run on green energy = this is great, but they need a LOT of energy and there just isn’t enough out there (at the moment) … it’s a bit of a roller-coaster this one…
  • … so it currently costs more to produce green steel, therefore we need a fairer playing field … which leads to “Responsible Steel” certification (governance being in put in place to drive change). Look out for this.
  • Xcarb low carbon steel currently available and utilising of the highest strength steel HISTAR460 to reduce weight and carbon in buildings greater than 4 storeys.
  • Recycling steel, facts alert: UK currently only 20% The rest of Europe is at 40% and the US at 70%. Apparently, there is currently not enough scrap, but this will change.

Concrete – Slow … maybe because unlike the steel industry, concrete plants are owned and run by a much larger and greater number of companies. However, innovation is afoot.

Concretene, concrete produced with a graphene additive, was discussed at length.  This is a fantastic new product, is now being trialled on real life projects (Civic Engineers project for U+I at Freight Island at the Mayfield Depot in Manchester being one of them). It can reduce carbon in concrete by removing the need/quantity of steel reinforcement and allows much larger pours.

Timber – SOS … much of the industry wants to build more out of timber but it needs help! The sustainable and regenerative credentials of wooden structures are well known. However, the UK insurance market and approach to fire engineering (post Grenfell) is massively hindering reaching net zero goals. I left the session on Insuring Timber Buildings feeling totally angry and frustrated.

Although there are some clear allies in the insurance broker world, notably Dominic Lion from Gallaghers who was really positive about change and was actively getting involved with timber projects to give them the best chance of being insured, the insurers themselves appear to be slow to the table. Dominic amplified the need of early engagement in projects to help get insurers comfortable though this doesn’t mean they’ll insure your timber building.

So, some forward thinking brokers appear to be now pushing for change and even familiarising themselves with the RIBA design stages. However, the insurance market (represented by Aviva at Footprint) pretty much summed up that the “hard” UK market was just too risk adverse. This is a worldwide company that insures timber buildings across Europe and the US where there construction industries are racing towards net zero far quicker than the UK by building in wood. Provocatively I queried whether timber was different in these parts of the world which made them more insurable, the answer … “in the US the fire services don’t just concentrate on saving lives but making sure the building fire was put out too”.  I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure the UK fire brigade doesn’t leave the building to continue to burn.

Stone – is an option! … I love that this material is being explored more. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole talk as I needed to hot foot it back to an event in London, but keep an eye out for where this can be used more.

Retrofit & Reuse and the circular economy

My pet subject … it’s been great to see the swing in the industry as eyes have gradually been opened to the vast importance of embodied and not just operational carbon.  Re-use may not always be the right solution for a whole variety of reasons.  Keeping poorly designed buildings in a place where they have become irrelevant is an obvious one. If a better longer term, carbon friendly approach can be proved then the argument for demolition needs listening to.  However, in an era where city centre new-build and façade retention schemes are undergoing a greater amount of scrutiny, the justification for knocking down buildings and all the energy and carbon invested in the original building needs to be thoroughly tested.

Reusing materials where they have been “mined” from existing buildings was another of the keep topics explored. Circular economy … we’ve got to get better. Initiatives are in their infancy and being pioneered by designers working with developers with strong ESG targets and have ownership of a larger portfolio of buildings that can help make this happen.  Next steps are how this circular economy can be pushed wider, shared and integrated to make it easy for all of the market to plug into. Answers on a back of a postcard please.

I enjoyed Stanhope’s approach to scoring the schemes on product (quality), cost, carbon and time. It was interesting to see how they have taken a retrofirst approach assessing the viability of recent schemes working Morris & Co & AHMM. The standard metric of cost / time / quality is over. The fourth dimension of Carbon should now firmly be instrumental in the deciding equations on any project.

Does Footprint+ have a future?

The real estate events industry has been steadily getting back on its feet since we’ve been easing out of the pandemic and coming back out to play. New events such as Footprint and the hugely successful UKREiif are jostling for position as we now enter a new era with a greater concerted vision on the global climate emergency. COP26 has helped spearhead this further in the UK.

Footprint+ got many things right, sure, there were a few teething issues that you would expect. The stage set-ups being one of them. The focus of the event however was extremely pertinent and it was very well attended by developers, designers, authorities, suppliers and key players in the real estate industry. Most importantly, it was fun! So what next, bigger and better next year. No doubt!

… and what about Mipim?

So what does this spell for likes of Mipim?  Is there a future for a carbon greedy event in the south of France? I cycled to Cannes again this year, and absolutely loved it. The shared endeavours of those who attend the Club Peloton event, who are very focussed on sustainability, is on a different scale.  It is considered by most as better for networking and sharing of ideas than the event itself. Often those arriving in Cannes on their bike quickly head back (via train) to the UK.

Comparing the two events is probably unfair, not apples with apples.  Playing devils advocate, could Footprint+ just be an echo chamber for the diehard net zero crowd? I hope not.

One thing to note is the weather in Brighton in June is equal (and with longer lighter evenings) to Cannes in March.  Coupled with the success of UKREiif and many other UK based events, certainly for designers I feel Mipim may have had its day. However, ask me again next January when I’m eager for some late winter Vitamin-D and a long bike ride. For now it’s a big thumbs up to Footprint+.

The inaugural Footprint+ : Was it any good and is Mipim still relevant?