Sustainable building made simple
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Published: 5 November 2021
This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod
This article first appeared in our COP26 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 05 November 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Today’s buildings deplete natural resources, pollute our air and water and are responsible for 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions.
There is a danger that, as sectors like transportation transition in the race to reaching net-zero emissions, almost 50% of all environmental problems will be caused by the construction and running of buildings.
Part of the challenge of greening our buildings is that the construction sector is fragmented, confusing and largely unregulated; this has fostered a ‘business as usual’ approach that often overlooks the environmental, social, financial and health impacts of building decisions.
‘I want to change this, and change it fast’, says Ankita Dwivedi, an architect and sustainability researcher. She has worked on incredible projects for clients ranging from Apple and Ferrari to Selfridges; if her 18 years in the sector have taught her one thing, it’s that ‘regulation alone won’t fix the problem’.
Finding a fix would be a gamechanger, because construction is big business. It makes up 10% of global GDP and employs 273 million people around the world.
In the UK alone, £110bn is spent on the 12 million construction projects that are undertaken each year. If every building project were seen as an opportunity to benefit people and planet, our emissions reduction targets might just be within reach. The challenge will be to transform an unwieldy sector at speed.
‘I founded Firstplanit as a disruptive digital technology startup because that is the only way to achieve rapid change from the bottom up and the top down’, Ankita explains.
Firstplanit unites three disparate groups that have until now operated in isolation: building owners and users who are concerned about the health of their buildings; design and construction professionals who need support meeting client demand for eco-friendly buildings and the manufacturers of eco materials who have struggled with visibility in a crowded market.
The experts who can help to navigate the green construction process are often expensive, hard to find and, increasingly, booked up well in advance, so Firstplanit democratises the process by digitising the consultants’ key functions. The goal is to provide easy access to bespoke advice, and help anyone looking to ‘green’ a building to celebrate small wins.
‘Building owners are encouraged to make quick, affordable and incremental changes and celebrate better decisions’, Ankita explains. ‘Construction professionals and designers are supported as they can access sustainability guidance early in the design process to engage their clients. Manufacturers of eco materials are recognised and demand for their healthy and sustainable products is accelerated.’
Support for sustainable reporting
Firstplanit’s multidisciplinary team contains a broad spectrum of experience, from construction, manufacturing, behaviour and impact expertise to cutting-edge machine learning and AI knowledge. It has spent the last three years picking apart the ‘processes, fibs, excuses and roadblocks’ that maintain the status quo in the building sector.
‘We have found short- and long-term ways to drive change for people who commission, design and use buildings’, Ankita says.
The team has identified many key gaps in existing tools and methods, with outputs validated by experts from world-renowned institutions including The Bartlett, UCL and World Resources Institute. Influential architects and engineers have signed up and have tested Firstplanit in beta mode ahead of the official launch.
The Firstplanit tool itself is a rigorously simple piece of kit that combines deep domain expertise with cutting-edge digital tech.
It boils down four major streams of expertise into an immediate scoring across environmental, social, health and monetary impacts. The goal is to enable quick, valuable decision-making, and showcase holistic green credentials in real time to meet the growing demands of sustainable reporting.
Green design for all
The latest IPCC report underlined the critical role all humans have to play in the unfolding of the climate crisis. Report co-chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte said ‘the role of human influence on the climate system is undisputed’, and the report demonstrates that human actions can still determine the future course of our climate.
Legislation is tightening and impact reporting is becoming essential to meet the demands of both consumers and businesses. As a result, around two-thirds of building owners and investors now want to go green.
‘Covid has shown that we have to live, work and breathe in healthy buildings’, Ankita says. ‘Customers and employees demand that businesses demonstrate social responsibility, and we are legally obliged to meet net zero by 2050. Climate risks make sensible, long-term financial decisions vital.’
For Ankita, the timing is right and the market is ready. Firstplanit is going to fill a critical gap in the market because it will make environmental, social, health and monetary impact improvements easy to measure and report even for the smallest sustainable choice. This will help organisations and individuals report improvements beyond just CO2 emissions.
‘Put simply, we will bring sustainable building design to the fingertips of millions of people’, Ankita explains. ‘Whether you are using, designing, creating or commissioning a building, Firstplanit will empower you to make decisions that benefit lives, save money and protect the environment.’