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Thursday @ Footprint+
The final day of the event
The final day of Footprint+, and my second day at the event. A lot of ground has been covered in the last three days, but carbon is the one thing that sits across all of this. It’s clear the industry has moved on a lot in the last couple of years, but there’s still a lack of knowledge around offsetting and from my perspective the next shift we will see is towards circularity.
Another thing I heard more than once, is that we are very focused on sustainability at projects or small scales, which means we miss out on wider and more significant opportunities at a district or regional level.
I mentioned carbon offsetting above, and this was the first session of the day that I attended. A couple of things resonated with me and built upon a previous newsletter. Firstly, different countries deal with offsets very differently, however the carbon we emit is the same everywhere. Secondly, there are key differences in the types of offset you can purchase - removal or reduction. Removal is longer term and therefore introduces risk of the offset (think tree planting) surviving and lasting the intended duration - for this reason, only around 60% of the potential of a planted tree might be offered as an offset, with the rest acting as a pooled buffer in case a woodland is lost to fire, insects etc. Reduction (or avoidance) stops emissions being produced and is quite immediate, which is helpful. And finally, there are secondary benefits to some offset projects, which need to be considered - a good example is tree planting, where a habitat created and materials from the trees provide further benefit in the future.
I also heard about district heat networks. There appears to be large ambitions around Old Oak Common to connect up new data centres with a district heating network. The biggest challenge it seems, is the classic ‘who goes first’ conundrum, closely followed by the risks that those involved would see around redundancy and needing backups (both for the users of the heat if it isn’t provided, and the producers of the heat if the network cannot take it). But there do seem to be some benefits if this can be made to work and heat is considered a ‘utility’. A heat network gives you something back (on top of the primary function that generated it), plus it can help reduce what might otherwise be a further electrical load on an already stressed electricity grid.
Although I didn’t manage to catch the full session, there was a really interesting talk on stone as as load-bearing material. This is definitely something to consider further if you have the right site and development product, as it appears to generate good carbon savings over steel and concrete.
Finally, before the brass band kicked into gear, I heard about circularity in supply chains. This session touched on a lot of different strands that I’ve looked at in my circular economy work, with mentions of take-back schemes, Buildings as Materials Banks (BAMB), material passports and the challenges of doing this sort of stuff at scale. Most of these are in their infancy, and as I said in the introduction, I think attention around circularity is growing and I expect these topics to be areas of focus in coming months and years.
It’s more steel reuse! I’m running an event with UKGBC called Circular Steel where myself and around 60-80 others will discuss all aspects of steel reuse. It’s on Thursday 30th June, more details here.