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Steel-framed buildings can be net-zero now

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Following the United Nation’s COP26 climate change conference it seemed that the world united behind the decarbonisation struggle that some characterise as saving the planet. It’s that important.
The constructional steelwork sector has certainly thrown its weight behind supporting a decarbonised world and proof of its commitment can be found in the just published 2050 Decarbonisation Roadmap.

What is still unusual among the pledges to decarbonise is to hear exactly what steps will be taken to achieve net-zero carbon; but the BCSA has set out in the Roadmap the steps that the constructional steelwork sector will take – and are already being taken – to achieve net-zero by 2050, with much progress being achieved well before that date.

Significant investments are being made in new technologies all along the supply chain to make achievement of the targets possible, technologies that are either already proven or at least at the pilot stage.

Nothing new has to be developed to deliver net-zero carbon buildings right now. We see examples of sustainability excellence in every issue of NSC, and it is over a year now since the major steel-framed building was completed at 100 Liverpool Street, part of the Broadgate redevelopment, that represented a zero carbon first for major developer British Land (NSC Oct 2018). Sustainability credentials were enhanced by the fact that an original steel frame was reused as well as extended, with significant carbon reductions as a result.

Net-zero carbon steel-framed buildings can also be seen further north. What is possibly the first net-zero carbon BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ big commercial development in Leeds – Wellington Place – can be read about in this issue of NSC (p12). Steel’s ability to provide large column-free spans helped limit the number of piles and columns, which helps limit the embodied carbon of the building.

High sustainability values can be seen in steel-framed projects throughout the UK. Also in Leeds, we see another commercial project at Thorpe Park that aims to achieve BREEAM ‘Excellent’ (p14). Questions have been raised about the willingness of people to return to offices to work even after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. This development aims to tackle that issue by focusing its design on providing an ‘exemplar’ environment for the building’s users.

Part of the decarbonisation drive will focus on how we generate electricity and dispose of waste, and we can see steel supporting that cause in a north London sustainable waste management hub – Edmonton EcoPark – a state of the art heat and power project. Focus on design efficiency – one of the BCSA Roadmap’s ‘Six Levers’ – led to significant carbon savings by using trusses at 24m centres rather than the original 8m centres.

Elsewhere in this issue we also see steel doing what it routinely does, helping architects and engineers deliver on designs with high sustainability credentials, which otherwise might not be technically possible or economically feasible, as at what is billed as one of the world’s most significant cultural projects, the V&A East Museum project in London (p18). It is difficult to imagine this intricate geometric design with its articulated facade being achieved in anything other than steel. Fittingly, internal steel will be left exposed, giving the museum a high sustainability exhibit for visitors to appreciate.

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