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March 2010 – Steel tops low carbon class

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Head teachers sitting in the award winning new modern schools of the sort that steel construction provides can award themselves gold stars for their contribution to sustainability. The first of the BCSA/Corus Target Zero reports that has just been released highlights the significant contribution that steel-framed schools are already making to lowering the UK’s carbon footprint (see News).

It is appropriate that secondary schools are the first category of building to benefit from the Target Zero analysis as the project itself represents an effort to educate the market about steel’s strong carbon message. Target Zero, whose results will be widely disseminated in the industry proves that using structural steelwork for a school building frame generates a lower carbon impact than an in-situ concrete frame. The study also provides further evidence that relatively light steel frames provide much the same thermal mass performance as heavyweight concrete building frames. Concrete’s apologists – pay attention at the back – still make claims about its superior thermal mass, but from the bottom of the class.

This is just the first output from the Target Zero initiative, and designers will soon have all the guidance they need to meet emissions targets towards the goal of zero carbon for a wide range of building types.

The three-year Target Zero project was launched by the BCSA and Corus to provide designers with practical help in creating buildings that support the Government’s zero carbon target for buildings to be achieved by 2019. It is estimated that as much as £165M can be shaved off the annual heating bill for schools by using steel in the ways suggested in the Target Zero report. Further emissions reducing benefits are expected to be delivered when the other reports in the project are completed, looking at warehouses, offices, supermarkets and mixed-use developments.

There is a lot of talk about sustainability from all sides of the industry, but Target Zero is the first time a detailed comparison has been undertaken of different energy efficiency measures, low and zero carbon technologies and Allowable Solutions, to pinpoint the most cost effective means of reducing emissions. The steel construction sector deserves credit for this effort.

A lot of hard work has gone into producing this guidance, mostly by independent sustainability specialists at AECOM, and the results of their research are possibly not exactly what even those who regard themselves as well up on sustainability issues would have expected. For those coming from a standing start seeking guidance in what is a complex area the Target Zero studies will be invaluable. Make sure you keep abreast of them at where you will be able to read the full reports for free as they become available over the coming months.

Nick Barrett
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