No More London Please

Another building that has been getting quite a bit of publicity recently for all the wrong reasons is 7 More London. This new office for PriceWaterhouseCooper is the first building in the capital to be awarded a BREEAM Outstanding rating. Yet when you look at it, this conventional, air-conditioned, steel and glass monstrosity probably should not have even passed Part L of the Building Regulations. Its saviour is that elixir of apparent carbon goodness, biodiesel.

Now is it just me, or is there something fundamentally wrong about an environmental rating system that allows you to construct a building that is just as energy guzzling as all the rest, but then feed its hunger with a scarce and valuable renewable fuel source?

Biodiesel is hardly sustainable, you simply need to look into its impacts on land use and food production to understand that, but it will have a valuable role to play in maintaining essential freight transport in the future. Unless, that is, we consume it all in running un-necessary air-conditioning for poorly designed, inefficient buildings. Actually this is true of all renewable energy sources, we simply cannot generate sufficient to waste it on gratuitous consumption. Oh and by the way I’d love to know how the biodiesel is to be delivered to the building.

The impending energy crisis is likely to be so severe that we will need every drop of fuel available from what-ever source we can find, simply in order to maintain our quality of life. We certainly cannot afford to pretend to be environmentally responsible by rushing to exploit a new resource before anyone else gets there. That’s how we got into so much trouble over fossil fuels.

9 thoughts on “No More London Please

  1. Hmmm. I’m not sure you’re being entirely fair here, on both the building and BREEAM.

    Firstly, I believe it’s not Biodiesel that’s being used, but Recycled Waste Vegetable Oil. There’s a huge difference between that and what is commonly known as ‘biodiesel’, in terms of environmental impact.

    BREEAM does not recognise or reward ‘first generation biofuels’ when assessing the issue Ene 5 Low or Zero Carbon Technologies, a mandatory credit for an xcellent or Outstanding rating. The BREEAM technical Guide cites, much like yourself “uncertaintainty over the impact on biodiversity, global food production and greenhouse gas savings.” Biodiesel and previously unused vegetable oil are specifically ruled out as ‘first-generation biofuels’.

    Recycled Waste Vegetable Oil is another matter altogether, a product that has already been used for its intended purpose and would otherwise present a waste disposal problem.

    • Ruskin
      We may be debating semantics here. In my book any fuel that can be used directly for road transport is too valuable to be used for heating and cooling buildings. Waste vegetable oil is primarily used for the manufacture of biodiesel road fuel. Whether or not this product is recycled it is not sustainable to use a scarce resource to offset un-necessary energy consumption in buildings.

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  4. I am an architect working in London, but I am from the US and worked in California up until a year ago. I was shocked when I came here and saw what the single-minded focus on carbon reduction has lead to. It would be unthinkable in California to suggest a wood-fired boiler in an urban area.

    While the US clearly has a long way to go as far as sustainability is concerned, California has had very robust energy policy since the 1970s that has allowed per capita energy use to stay level since that time while it has gone up 50% in the rest of the country. It has also, as a result, shown a 30% per person carbon emission reduction.

    Some info about California’s policies are covered in this article:

  5. In terms of earning a living it’s not as if there are nothing that needs doing! I spend a lot of (usually unpaid) time debunking the bling just to convince client or planner that there are other solutions that really do work. The bigger challenge is to then convince than that insulation, airtightness and attention to detail are as exciting as the debunked bling.

    If we know stuff doesn’t work we have an ethical duty to say so and can’t hide behind the client’s brief.

  6. You are not alone, you couldn’t parody this is is so wrong on so many levels. It is not just the detail that is wrong (e.g. energy balance of biofuel production) but the whole strategic thinking based around building boundaries.

    I can only think there is a fear among greens about criticising bold apparently environmental initiatives such as CSH and BREEAM or technologies such as micro-gen or biomass.

    All I speak to about this will admit in secret that they don’t believe in these solutions but frustratingly many don’t want to be seen as being negative about what feels like a move in the right direction and so wont speak out.

    Those who stick their necks out and do the numbers (e.g Monbiot on microgen) become hate figures.

    What I fear (perhaps too strong a word) is that when the bollocks is exposed and all see the Emperor in full naked glory, sustainable design as a whole will be dismissed. It will be too late to say ‘oh we didn’t really believe that silly stuff but had to go along with it because of regulations/more than my jobs worth/I needed the work/it was fun to try/we rely on CLG contracts to survive etc’

    When will a critical mass of respected professionals (I’m not one) stand together in public and say enough is enough we need to do the stuff that works?

    I didn’t vote for the current government but they do give an opportunity for change. Whilst I doubt they will embrace the politically unpopular genuine challenge that I’d like to see replace the current nonsense, I actually think that the current standards are so wrong that it would be better to scrap them than spend years trying to redefine and tweak.

    There that feels better, thanks

    • Nick

      There are some of us who are prepared to stand up and say what’s what. But as you said, it would be easy to become a hate figure and we still need to earn a living!

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