2 December 2020

Architecture academic leads Buildings Task Group to reduce University's carbon footprint

Professor Fionn Stevenson has been working to create an action plan to reduce the University of Sheffield's carbon footprint, with a particular focus on buildings.

The Arts Tower on a sunny day.

Last week the University of Sheffield launched its new Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan. The Strategy sets out ambitious commitments to address the climate emergency, aiming for a net-zero campus by 2030 and net-zero across all activities by 2038. The Action Plan sets out the key steps to be taken in the coming years to move towards these goals.

Professor Fionn Stevenson, who holds a Chair in Sustainable Design in the School, led a Buildings Task Group with other academics from across the University as well as professional services staff and students, to help drive the University towards carbon neutrality in the development, management and retrofitting of its estate. The University of Sheffield has an established record of reducing carbon emissions from buildings in use by over five fold from 2005-6 to 2018-19 and it now has a 100% renewable energy supply for electricity. However, like most Universities, Sheffield had not taken any strategic action on reducing the embodied carbon in new buildings and retrofit projects, which can be very significant – ranging from 10% to 42% of overall emissions for a building, depending on the materials and products used and the amount of carbon emissions emitted during use. 

Reducing carbon emissions in buildings is a complex problem that involves a wide range of factors including the use of the internal space provided, the type of building, the energy supplied for heating, cooling, ventilation and appliances, and the type of structure and cladding used. The group spent ten months working through the challenges and opportunities, delivering twenty-three action points on a range of subjects including: building standards, energy consumption, monitoring, maintenance and future proofing, and skills/capacity building.

The way work at the University has adapted to the lack of access to campus buildings during the pandemic has made it more normal to work from home, using blended learning techniques. It is inevitable that campus activity will increase again after the pandemic, but there are clear opportunities to develop a strategy that compares space utilisation with energy consumption in each campus building, to understand how energy efficient proposed space use is and make decisions which take account of this factor in relation to developing future learning strategies. Further work is needed to understand how people use campus buildings and why.

The group also made a key recommendation for the University to prioritise the retrofit of its existing buildings and develop a triage strategy to take this action forward in terms of tackling the most energy inefficient buildings first. The actions that the University are committed to resulting from the Building Task Group recommendations can be checked on the Action Plan (labelled under ‘Buildings’ as a filter).

Professor Fionn Stevenson has been instrumental in the development of the University's Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan through her leadership of the Buildings Task Group, and her valuable engagement with the Estates and Facility Management department for many years now. I am confident that these efforts will help achieve the University's net carbon neutrality target, an increased awareness about environmental impact of space utilisation and energy consumption, and the need to prioritise retrofitting of energy inefficient buildings."

Karim Hadjri

Head of School, Sheffield School of Architecture

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