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March 2012 – Target Zero raises the bar

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What do a Merseyside school, a warehouse in Stoke, a Stockton-on-Tees supermarket, an office block in Paddington and a hotel in Salford have in common? They are all steel framed of course, but their significance runs much deeper than that. They were the buildings used in the joint Tata Steel and BCSA Target Zero project which has just been completed, as a result of which structural engineers and architects have at their disposal, completely free of charge, what is surely the most comprehensive range of design guidance for low carbon buildings available anywhere.

Target Zero was an ambitious project from the outset, but one that was always going to justify its £1 million budget. The steel sector has a long track record of timely and substantial investment in providing the guidance that designers need, but Target Zero represents the single biggest project of its type in any construction sector.

It was launched against a background of credit crunch and recession in 2009, when the steel sector recognised that there was a lack of reliable data for designers to use to inform their decisions when trying to meet the challenge of hitting the government’s ambitious emissions reduction target of zero carbon for buildings by 2019.

We have had a change of government since then but there has been no change in policy or the need for the steel sector’s response to the challenge – Target Zero.  Sustainability specialists from AECOM and cost consultants Sweett Group were drafted in to provide an independent perspective.

The team set out to research and cost the various options for improving operational energy consumption and reducing embodied energy in buildings, providing information to support designs that would achieve the three highest BREAM ratings and meet anticipated changes to Part L of the Building Regulations.

The schools study was first out of the blocks, and found cost savings of the equivalent of £22 per pupil, £165M a year nationally. A new method for calculating the embodied energy for steel sections that takes account of the multi-cycling capabilities of steel was developed early on by Tata Steel.

Many of the measures that can be adopted to reduce energy consumption and achieve improved BREEAM ratings were found to cost very little, but did require some thinking at the design stage – good design in other words. Target Zero helps make that good design possible and easy.  As well as a mass of useful information for basing design decisions on, some surprising findings emerged about sustainability and buildings; you need to read the reports to get the full flavour of how useful and interesting the Target Zero studies are, and fortunately they are now all available as downloads and in hard copy versions (see News).

Highly sustainable steel framed buildings were being routinely produced for many years before the need for Target Zero arose, not least because steel has a wider range of sustainability benefits than other materials. The completion of the Target Zero project ensures that designers aiming for the highest sustainability performance have the most up to date guidance to help them keep raising the sustainability bar.

Nick Barrett

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