Reflections; Beyond Certification for Sustainable Architecture

Published on 22nd April 2024 by Wendy Perring

Navigating the Future of Building Standards

In the evolving landscape of sustainable architecture, certifications like PassivHaus serve as benchmarks of eco-excellence. They are symbols of commitment to energy efficiency and comfort. However, as we at PAD studio have learned through our practice and advocacy, these certifications are just the beginning.

At the recent Architect@Work conference held at the Truman Brewery, I had the privilege of being part of a panel discussion led by Amy Frearson, a leading architecture journalist. A poignant question arose during our dialogue: Are certification badges like PassivHaus great, but not enough? This question resonated with many and underscored the urgency for government action to ensure that proposed changes to Part L do not fall short of what is truly needed for sustainable development.

Last week LETI (the Low Energy Transformation Initiative) and the Future Buildings Standard Consultation have highlighted the need for collective action in shaping a sustainable future. As a contributor to the recent consultation discussions, our view at PAD studio is that while certifications are valuable, they are not the ultimate solution, and a holistic and robust approach is needed. The UK government’s proposed changes to Part L of the Building Regulations are a positive step, but they lack the ambition needed to meet our climate commitments. There should be no opt-out for developers; sustainability must be the default, not an option.

At PAD studio, we understand the complexities of sustainable design and the critical role of building standards. Our ability and commitment to sustainable architecture position us well to navigate these changing regulations, but we must not be complacent, and we must constantly push our knowledge and evolve our practices – how we specify and put buildings together is as important as our design decisions, which is why this is a whole team effort. We are not just about creating buildings; we are about crafting legacies of resilience and responsibility. We guide our clients through the intricacies of compliance, helping them understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of building standards. This approach has recently been acknowledged in the Green Building award from the New Forest National Park for The Clay Retreat.

As architects, we have a duty to advocate for standards that reflect the urgency of our environmental challenges. The government’s role in this cannot be overstated. While individual certifications provide a framework, it is the government that must lay down the law, ensuring that these standards are not just recommended but required. The proposed changes to Part L need to be more ambitious, setting a clear and enforceable path to the Future Homes Standard and beyond.

Architects are not just participants in the dialogue on sustainable building standards; we are catalysts for meaningful change. Our collaboration with our clients and like-minded consultants is a partnership in creating a legacy – buildings that stand as monuments to our commitment to the planet. A small example of this happened in the studio last week - we were both delighted and humbled when one of our clients queried where their 14kW solar panels were being made and if there was a European alternative. Whilst 90% of the silicon used in all PVs is Chinese, the manufacturing process and conditions are often not scrutinised, and the embodied carbon in transport could be reduced by buying European! That client asked the right question – and we felt humbled that we should have asked it first.

Let’s build a future where sustainability is not just a feature but the foundation. As a studio, we want to be trailblazers, providing insights and guidance to those embarking on this journey with us. Together, we can transform spaces and sustain futures for generations to come.

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