As part of our Sponsor Spotlight series, we asked Christine Pout with BRE about her experience in the industry and what she sees for the future of the built environment. Here’s what she shared.
Q: In sponsoring the 2021 Getting to Zero Forum, BRE is further demonstrating a commitment to getting to zero. Why is getting to zero important to BRE and the buildings industry at large?
A: Moving towards zero targets is vital for all companies and BRE is keen to set a good example. We have been setting increasingly ambitious targets for reducing our energy and water consumption and waste generation since 2008 and are currently undertaking a sustainability-driven renovation of our offices on the main BRE campus, which will be certified to our BREEAM assessment standard.
Q: How did you get into the buildings industry and what challenges or success motivate you to continue your work?
A: I joined BRE 30 years ago to research building energy use to support climate change policy, and have been working in the same area ever since. Prior to joining BRE, I was a research chemist.
Throughout my tenure at BRE, I’ve seen significant technological and policy changes including massive increases in the amount of renewable energy generated and the energy efficiency of equipment. However, there is still much more that needs to be done. The thing that motivates me most is the legacy we are leaving for future generations. I am encouraged to see that addressing climate change is now a mainstream concern for governments, business and individuals and not just regarded as the preserve of environmental activists.
Q: An increasing number of cities, counties, and states around the U.S. are committing to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. How is BRE and BREEAM playing a role?
A: BRE has played a significant role in helping several governments and organizations identify the actions they need to take to achieve the levels of reduction that they are committed to. For example, BRE has been carrying out research to inform UK climate change policy from the outset and continues to offer a wide range of consultancy services to governments and international commercial organizations to support greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.
The BREEAM family of standards plays a vital role by providing a framework for driving down embodied and expected operational energy during asset design and construction and monitoring performance against reduction targets. Verified performance based on quality data is critical for ensuring buildings are contributing to those reductions and BREEAM certification provides that assurance.
Q: How has the focus on sustainability and net zero carbon evolved in recent years?
A: The Paris Agreement has focused attention on the urgent need to reach a point of global carbon neutrality within the next few decades and acted as the starting pistol for the “race to net zero.” Many organizations are setting ambitious targets without necessarily having a clear understanding of how to get there. Attention is now shifting towards developing roadmaps which identify and clearly define steps and actions needed to achieve the necessary level of reduction. For the real estate sector, it’s critical that assets focus on the “zero” part before the “net” aspect – building and system efficiency and on-site energy generation need to be considered first.
Q: What do you think is next for the buildings industry and what research is BRE currently focused on to advance the sustainability and carbon neutral discussion?
A: A key focus for us now is the development of verification services for net zero carbon that allow buildings to be assessed against robust net zero carbon targets.
Historically the focus has been on energy use in new buildings, but this is now shifting towards embodied carbon and renovation opportunities. Embodied carbon impacts can account for a substantial proportion of the carbon emissions from a building’s lifecycle but are often overlooked. Unlike operational energy use, where carbon impacts are likely to be reduced due to decarbonization of the grid and more efficient equipment, embodied carbon is emitted before a building is completed. Once this is accounted for, renovation of existing buildings becomes a more attractive option.
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