Our statement on the Global Climate Strike

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Eckersley O’Callaghan was proud to be a first day signatory to “UK Structural Engineers Declare a Climate & Biodiversity Emergency”. We are excited that so many of our peers share our concerns and joined us in pledging to do our part in combatting climate change and bringing about a more equitable built environment.

It is a necessary step for professionals like us to take responsibility for our actions – we know that buildings contribute around one third of annual carbon emissions globally, and while progress has been made to reduce emissions, greater progress is needed to meet the pledges made in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

We welcome progress from governments in pursuing more ambitious climate goals – in particular, the UK government’s legally binding pledge to become net-zero carbon by 2050. But we also fear that long-term targets allow for complacency in the short term, and we recognise that more urgent behavioural changes are needed to meet the very real challenge of climate change and to combat the evident impact it is already having on the planet and societies.

So, we at EOC have been investing more energy and thought into what we can do as a practice to address the climate emergency. It is tempting to think that a practice of only 100+ employees has limited opportunity to bring about change, but as experts in our field with a reputation for innovation, we know that eyes are upon us to show leadership. In fact, we have already been putting into practice sustainable low-carbon design and have a good portfolio of exemplar projects:

  •  Vitsoe HQ and Freemen’s Pool are among the many timber projects we have completed, sequestering many tons of carbon using engineered timber in efficient, beautiful structures
  •  Centre Point, 70 Wilson St, and Smithson Plaza are among the many existing buildings we have refurbished and given new life, saving thousands of tons of waste while preserving an architectural heritage
  •  In facade design, we have developed sophisticated tools to assess and improve thermal performance, in particular our 3D heat transfer tool, developed in-house by our Digital Design Group
  •  Through our R&D investment, we are exploring new technologies for lightweight glass facades and supporting the development of dynamic glass products that maximise useful daylight while preventing solar gain.

While we have a lot to be proud of, we know that there is a lot more to do, and we are committed to putting sustainability at the forefront of our work and out thinking. As a design-led and forward-thinking engineering practice, we have been exploring ways we can increase our impact and have identified several strands to our work where we can make a difference:

  1. Embodied carbon: We have developed and put into use an embodied carbon calculator to assess structural frame options. We have found our clients to be very open to selecting lower carbon options when presented with them, and we will be putting this into practice more widely and gathering benchmark data to establish targets and push ourselves further.
  2. Circular economy: The construction industry is estimated to be responsible for around 30% of landfill waste in the UK. Much more can be done to reduce unnecessary waste and increase recycling of materials. We are supporting clients in developing off-site building systems to reduce construction waste. We are also supporting research into separation and reuse of glass and facade products, developing innovative solutions to extend the life of high quality materials.
  3. Energy and daylight modelling: Our building physics experts are developing enhanced tools to assess overall energy transfer across a facade. We believe in a ‘fabric first’ approach to low-energy building design, using passive features and high-performing facades to reduce energy demand. We are looking to take more responsibility for delivering holistic facade solutions that don’t just look at U-value and g-value, but deliver optimal comfort conditions for the building occupant and low energy bills for the building owner.
  4. Collaboration and best practice: While we are very specialised in our disciplines, we know that sustainable design takes a committed design team with a common goal, and we are using our network of collaborating architects and MEP engineers to share knowledge and solutions that address sustainability in the broadest sense.
  5. Our behaviour: We are putting in place metrics and targets to reduce our own carbon footprint. That includes reducing the waste we generate in our office, investing in improved video conference technology to reduce our travel needs, even down to reviewing our lunchtime food choices and choosing less carbon-intensive options.
  6. Advocacy: We will use our voice and influence in the industry to challenge our collaborators and clients to seek sustainable solutions, consider building reuse, and accelerate a shift to a low-carbon economy.

These activities are just a start, and we will develop and add more detail to each point in the coming months. We look forward to sharing our progress with you. We believe the industry has reached a turning point, with professional designers and the wider public showing increased awareness of our responsibilities and demanding action to address the looming climate crisis. On the day that millions of people around the world – including many of our employees – will join a Global Climate Strike, we reaffirm our commitment to the principles of the ‘Engineers Declare’ movement, and we pledge to keep up our momentum in advancing the construction industry towards a low-carbon future.