Alicia Torres Castro – Project Manager & Environment, Social and Governance lead at Dublin-based construction consultants Duke McCaffrey – on the need to bring sustainability out of the shadows.
When it comes to the preservation of our planet, the European Union has been prescriptive in its outline aspirations for the construction sector to play its part in securing cleaner, clearer skies.
It has set ambitious climate and energy targets – seeking a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 55 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels – and the European Green Deal is focused on delivering the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
However, while the vision may be crystal clear, the methodology is clouded in confusion.
An industry already over rich in regulations, certifications and acronyms now has additional red tape to cut through and comprehend as it gets its head around going green.
The EU taxonomy for sustainable activities is certainly not an easy read and the absence of standardised concepts and global best practice poses more questions than answers.
At Duke McCaffrey, we are continuously evolving our understanding of how to build a better future for Ireland and having gained a wealth of experience domestically and internationally, we count with a wide in-house expertise to provide advice on environmental aspects and management of sustainability risks.
This knowledge provides clients with a reassuring handrail as they negotiate the smog of sustainability, signposting them to preferential funding routes and ensuring their projects remain compliant.
More importantly, our professional insights will deliver value far beyond certification and adherence to EU directives and legislative frameworks.
Given the ever-growing body of evidence to suggest that climate change poses an existential threat to human civilisation, we have no interest in acts of greenwashing.
Instead, we are focused on delivering projects that are both fit for purpose and for the planet. The demands of doing so are significant – not least as concrete remains one of the most common building materials and yet, due to its manufacturing processes, accounts for almost eight per cent of worldwide CO2 production and because green options currently tend to come at a greater fiscal cost.
These challenges are not insurmountable. There are an array of innovative solutions hitting the market and when environmental considerations are embedded in an asset’s design and operation, it becomes more feasible to construct developments that have no detrimental impact on their surroundings.
Indeed, it is possible for some buildings to have a positive impact – as is being demonstrated by Ireland’s first large-scale district heating system.
Exploiting innovative heat recovery technology to extract and reuse excess heat from an Amazon Web Services’ data centre, the Tallaght Network already provides low-carbon heat to council offices, a library and university campus, and will service 133 residential apartments by 2025.
And while novel approaches, alternative materials and new technologies are generally expensive, it does not mean that they won’t deliver a return on investment. A very welcome by-product of energy efficient assets is lower energy costs, and the market appeal of sustainable sites should not be underestimated. Business and residential tenants are increasingly insistent on green credentials and those developers willing to meet their demands can be confident their assets will be occupied.
Organisations such as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland are helping to drive lasting change through the provision of grants, but it would be great to see more being done by the Government to cement the necessary shift in construction practices that are needed to see the European Green Deal realised. Incentivising large-scale projects to invest in solar, for example, would help permeate the gathering clouds and secure a brighter future for all.