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Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines

Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines

Here is the Abstract and some excerpts of Dr Ali Alraouf’s examining the Discourse on Knowledge Cities as published by Academia. It is of being or planned to being Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines.

The world’s growing cities are a critical fact of the 21st Century and represent one of the greatest challenges to the future. By the year 2050 cities with populations over three million will be more than double: from 70 today to over 150. When knowledge is perhaps the most important factor in the future of city’s economy, there is a growing interest in the concept of the “knowledge city”. Hence, what are the qualities of future cities becomes a crucial question. Leif Edvinsson defines Knowledge City as “a city that purposefully designed to encourage the nurturing of knowledge”.

Knowledge city is not just a city. It is a growing space of exchange and optimism in which each and every one can devote himself to personal and collective projects and aspirations in a climate of dynamism, harmony, and creativity.  There are already several cities that identify themselves as knowledge cities or have strategic plans to become knowledge cities. The list includes the following cities, for example: Barcelona, Melbourne, Delft, and Palmerston North. On the contrary, Arabcities are building technological isolated projects to promote the same concept. An examination of projects like Egypt’ Smart Village and Dubai’s Internet City and Knowledge Village will be helpful in evaluating the knowledge status of contemporary Arab Cities.

I’ll argue in this paper that the concept of ‘Knowledge Cities ‘is rooted in the urban, cultural structure of traditional Arab cities. Therefore, an attempt to foster this concept in today’s Arab cities would not be possible by building isolated technological statement scattered around the city. Alternatively, the rise of the network society, global networks, linked cities, and existence of smart communities should construct the basis for shaping Arab Knowledge Cities.  In addition, the paper will introduce the concept of “Urban Creativity Engines”, and examples of various types will be presented. I’ll argue that this is a more comprehensive concept for constructing and evaluating knowledge cities. Although this concept and its terminology is new, the paper will prove that there are many historical examples, regionally and internationally, of “knowledge cities” and “Innovation/Creativity Engines

Castells (1996 & 1998) has argued that a new type of society is rising in our contemporary cities due to the consequences of the information revolution. From a sociological point of view, Sassen (2000) has argued that cities in the information age should be reperceived as nodes of an immense network of commercial and political transactions.

The Emerging Knowledge Cities: International Attempts

Smart Villages, Internet Cities or Creativity Engines
Smart Village project in Cairo – Egypt, is it really smart?

There are already several cities that identify themselves as knowledge cities, or have strategic plans to become knowledge cities. These cutting edge cities are aiming to win competitive and cooperative advantage by pioneering a new environment and knowledge ecology for their citizens. The list includes some of these cities according to the Knowledge Cities Observatory (KCO) classifications: Melbourne, Australia – its strategic plan for 2010 emphasize the path towards enhancing its position as a knowledge city.  Delft, the Netherlands – the city clustered its knowledge intensive projects included in the “delft knowledge city” initiative in 5 themes: soil & water, information technology, innovative transport systems, environmental technologies.  Barcelona, Spain – the activity of Barcelona Forum 2004, which manifests the cultural perspective which Barcelona adopted as a main theme for its knowledge sensitivedevelopment. Accordingly, the city was chosen to host the founding meeting of the distinctive Knowledge Cities Observatory (KCO).  Palmerston North, New Zealand – this relatively small city puts education in the heart of its “knowledge city” manifest.  Monterrey City, Mexico – the new governor set the goal of becoming a knowledge city among his top 5 priorities.

Knowledge Cities/Zones: Regional Attempts

In an attempt to actualize the high-performance knowledge city different initiatives took place in the Middle Eastern cities. Experiences and lessons learned from real-world knowledge zone initiatives.  On the contrary of the strategic planning of European and American cities, Arab cities are building technological isolated projects to promote the same concept of claiming its new identity as knowledge cities. An examination of projects like Egypt’ Smart Village and Dubai’s Internet City and newly lunched project Knowledge Village will be helpful in evaluating the knowledge status of contemporary Arab Cities. 

Read more in the Academia‘s

Ali A. Raouf, PhD, M. Arch., B. Sc is an Egyptian architect based in Bahrain and interested in research related to architectural and environmental design.

Ali A. Raouf, PhD, M. Arch., B. Sc is an Egyptian architect based in Bahrain and interested in research related to architectural and environmental design.


Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World

Or as originally titled as The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world (commentary) by Simon Pollock in this Article published by Willie Shubert in Mongabay. We all know that Smart cities, e-governance help urban resilience but would it be the case in these circumstances of a warmer world.

The picture above is for illustration purpose and is of Smart Cities World.

The perils of relying on high-tech networks in a warmer world

25 February 2021

  • Wild snowstorms paralyzed electricity infrastructure in Texas, a state in the country with the world’s largest economy.
  • Just imagine what climate change fueled extreme weather will do to our cities as infrastructure and ICT systems become increasingly interconnected.
  • Many see high-tech “smart cities” as a climate solution, but just how smart are they?
  • This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Smart cities are held up as beacons of hope in meeting the climate crisis. This is because they reduce greenhouse gas emissions by paring back energy use and urban waste. But is it possible the high-tech complexity of smart cities actually leaves urban dwellers more exposed to future climate disaster? Smart cities’ dependence on the information and communications technology (ICT) systems that help generate these emission reductions may actually be opening up new climate vulnerabilities when we consider what happens if these systems fail. There is a danger that we fall into the trap of assuming that a reliance on increasingly high-tech solutions is our “get out of jail free” card for everything.

We need to think more about whether our increasing reliance on interconnected information-based technology includes adequate fails safes to protect against systematic collapse if cities are hit by outside stresses – including climate-induced shocks. A number of experts working in the field of urban climate adaptation believe this issue is not receiving adequate attention.

Considering that about 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, and this figure is projected to rise to seven out of 10 people by 2050, we ignore this issue at our possible peril.

The definition of what actually makes a smart city is not clear cut. There is general agreement though that they share an ability to combine real time data and digital technology to improve people’s decisions on when to use energy and when to move around, while also contributing to more efficient long-term city planning.  Sensors and people’s ubiquitous use of smartphones, for instance, encourage urban residents to use public transit during off-peak hours to avoid large crowds and to access energy and water services at different times of the day to lessen demand surges.

Smart emission reduction

Smart cities reduce carbon footprints by utilizing interconnected ICT systems to create greater efficiencies. These can come in the form of more energy efficient buildings and street lighting, better waste management, smart energy meters that allow consumers to tap cheaper off-peak power, and electrified public transport links that best conform with people flows. Largely absent from positive depictions of smart cities’ ability to reduce emissions though are considerations of how robust the ICT systems are that make them smart.

In his book published last year, “Apocalypse How”, former UK politician Oliver Letwin issues an arresting warning about whether we are adequately assessing the way our growing reliance on technological connectivity opens our societies to vulnerabilities. Letwin provides a detailed portrayal of how the physical and human infrastructure of UK society would break down quickly if there was a systematic failure of the internet and associated services, including banking and satellite-based communication and navigation. He predicts this would lead quickly to a large number of deaths (in his synopsis due to the failure of indoor heating) and, ultimately, a breakdown of law and order.

The title of Letwin’s book is a misnomer (possibly with a suggested nod by the publisher to the current popularity of dystopian literature and TV) as the ICT breakdown he posits –associated with internet-busting solar flares – is rectified in a few days. While Letwin does not address climate change, his book does provide a useful thought experiment in highlighting the way our fragile modern society is increasingly dependent on the ICT systems that connect us and our machines. Isn’t it possible that the increasingly extreme effects of climate change – such as floods, hurricanes and extended droughts – could, ironically, threaten the integrity of the smart city ICT networks designed to help mitigate global heating?

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
An overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters. Image by j_lloa (Pixabay).

Enmeshed in the ICT era

Humanity’s increasing reliance on technology is by no means new. It began with the use of simple tools and fire, leading to gradually more sophisticated irrigation and animal husbandry. During the past few decades, the use technology has carved out a central part of our lives – accelerating rapidly with the invention of steam power (which, along with the myriad benefits of fossil fuel-powered modernity, began the current trajectory to the climate crisis we now face). The extent to which we now use technology-based communication and interconnectivity though is unprecedented. Today’s generation is deeply enmeshed in the ICT era, equally as it is within the Anthropocene era.

Richard Dawson, an urban climate expert based at the UK’s Newcastle University, warns of a “cascading failure” if single ICT components fail. Dawson says we need to upgrade our thinking about urban infrastructure connections beyond a traditional focus on electricity, road, rail and sewage systems. “The increasing reliance on data and ICT in urban planning is a double-edged sword,” he said. “It allows for incredible flexibility – to create new communication lines we don’t have to dig up a road.  We could live without being able to talk across continents if telecommunications fail, but we would struggle if this breakdown led to a mass system failure.”

A loss of ICT interconnectivity has implications far beyond the failure of systems employed to create urban efficiencies and, therefore, reduce emissions. The rapid speed at which ICT systems operate could actually work against us if they fail, as the negative effects would be sharp and sudden. Dawson points out the loss of electronic banking could quickly lead to social problems. This would be particularly worrisome if this occurs as the result of a climate disaster when a ready access to personal finance is so important.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay

Strange conspiracy theories

The US Government found that many of the social problems following Hurricane Katrina’s destructive descent on New Orleans in 2005 arose from “information gaps”. While accounts  of rioting and other lawlessness at the time were later described as exaggerated, numerous reports do indicate communication breakdowns did severely impact social cohesion. Professor Ayyoob Sharifi, from Japan’s Hiroshima University, warns the ICT systems that control smart cities are not just prone to disruption from uncontrolled disaster, but also from intentional human-created harm.

The curation of social media misinformation by individuals or organizations, including overseas governments, could overcome local officials’ attempts to prevent the outbreak of havoc when disaster strikes, said Sharifi, who studies urban climate measures. This could include the dissemination of purposefully incorrect information about where to take shelter during flooding. Purported attempts by the Russian Government to use social media to sway election results in the US and Europe shows that anonymous attempts to sway public perceptions can be effective.

The ability of strange conspiracy theories, especially if abetted by unscrupulous populist politicians such as former US President Donald Trump, to cut through the daily online traffic and garner widespread support shows that social media is not always the best medium to convey factual information. Social media, usually accessed by smart phones, is an important part of the two-way communication interface of smart cities, as it is with many forms of climate early warning systems.

How do we ensure then that the commendable work of climate proofing cities does not lead us down cul de sacs of urban planning where an overreliance on ICT connections actually increases the potential for climate disruption? One way is to take a holistic approach that incorporates different approaches to urban dynamics.

Relying on High-Tech Networks in a Warmer World
A informal neighborhood in Caracas. In view of climate-induced disasters, it’s important that all urban dwellers be included in the decisions that shape their cities, smart or not. Image by Wilfredor via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Future megacities

Future Earth’s Urban Knowledge-Action Network – a global group of researchers and other policy, business and civil society innovators – is striving to make cities more sustainable and equitable by highlighting the human element in democratizing data and including underrepresented voices in city planning.

Local Governments for Sustainability, known as ICLEI, is another global network – comprising local and regional governments in over 100 countries – that advocates cities that weather rapid urbanization and climate change by combining sustainable and equitable solutions.

Nazmul Huq, ICLEI’s head of resilient development, says people need to be placed at the centre of all urban management – especially in developing countries, many of which are now entering intense urbanization. Rapid interconnectivity in the new urban hot spots of growth in India, China and Nigeria is creating advantage and potential disadvantage at a rapid pace.

“The emergence of ICT, especially mobile phones, represents a revolution for poorer people in developing countries as it provides them with greater control over their lives,” Huq said. “But at the same time, an overreliance on interconnected ICT urban networks also raises the possibility of devastating systematic collapse – including through rapid climate-induced disasters such as heat waves. This could disconnect people, while knocking out internet connections and electricity generation.”

Huq said the most important factor in making cities livable – whether they are smart or not – is to include all urban citizens, including disadvantaged groups, in the decisions that shape their urban spaces. “We must ensure the voices of the poor and marginalized are heard to avoid injustice and unequal distribution of the benefits of city life,” he added.

The way megacities are emerging now in developing countries may well determine whether we are able to overcome the climate challenge – especially considering that 70 percent of greenhouse gases come from today’s cities. Under current trends, it seems likely the lives of those rich and poor will become increasingly urbanized and interconnected by smart city ICT systems.

The sheer enormity of the climate challenge means we need to consider all options, including seeking out technological solutions. We should, however, balance our desire to be smart and interconnected with urban planning that at least considers the fragility of our city systems and what happens when they don’t work. We must not allow our thirst for technology to overcome our human need to consider nature.

Banner image caption: City of London skyline by Colin via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

Simon Pollock is an Australian-British writer and climate change communicator based in South Korea. Before leaving the Australian Government in 2016, he was a member of the startup team that launched Al Jazeera English Television from its Asia HQ in Kuala Lumpur. Simon’s interest in development and environmental issues stemmed from observation of how the two don’t always mix during six years in Beijing as a Kyodo News reporter.

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

GreenBiz came up with these six tips for deploying data-driven energy management to drive meaningful emission reductions through reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics. So here is a much down to earth way to a certain decarbonisation strategy.

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics

By David Solsky

February 25, 2021

This article is sponsored by Envizi.

After a low-carbon target has been setGHG accounting baselines have been calculated and financial-grade GHG reporting has been established, the next chapter of decarbonization comes to the fore. What emission reduction strategies will be needed to reach your company’s target, and how should your team prioritize its efforts to plot the fastest, most cost-effective pathway for your business? 

Nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions come from the built environment — with 28 percent resulting from buildings in operation. Whether your organization owns, operates or occupies a building, data-driven energy management is key to reducing its GHG footprint and Scope 1 and 2 emissions.  

In the past, organizations have struggled to scale building operational energy improvement efforts for a variety of reasons. The most-cited reasons include organizational structures that fracture ownership of energy performance across disparate stakeholders, a lack of goal alignment and collaboration between landlords and occupiers, and the preponderance of legacy systems that make interoperability and data consolidation challenging.  

According to United Nations projections, carbon emissions from buildings are expected to double by 2050 if action at scale doesn’t occur. With more companies pledging to decarbonize their business, and investors increasingly scrutinizing ESG data, scalable energy management will be a critical step in the transition to a low-carbon economy.  

Today, we share six tips for deploying data-driven energy management at scale to drive meaningful emission reductions from your business. 

Reducing building operating emissions at scale with data analytics
Portfolio energy management software. Source: Envizi.

Collect meter-level energy consumption data where possible  

Identifying GHG reduction opportunities should be a data-driven, systematic process. Start by examining building-level energy meter profiles and understanding how usage patterns relate to changing occupancy and weather conditions. Meters, which typically generate one datapoint every 15 to 30 minutes, as opposed to one datapoint every month or quarter on a utility bill, provide rich data to better inform your organization’s decarbonization strategy. 

Tip: Leverage meter data, which provides real-time transparency of when and where energy is being used, to identify unexpected usage patterns and unlock higher-resolution benchmarking and analysis opportunities.  

Benchmark the energy intensity of your building portfolio 

Building-level energy management is powerful, but it never pays to operate in a vacuum. Understanding how a building performs compared to others provides context and can help your organization identify where to focus first. The approach to benchmarking depends on the type of buildings in your portfolio. 

For example, typical portfolios of small to medium buildings (buildings of 4,000 to 20,000 square feet or so) often include many buildings dispersed across a geography (such as convenience stores, bank branches and fast-food stores), while large shopping centers, hospitals and universities manage larger, but fewer, centralized complex buildings. 

Portfolios with larger commercial buildings can leverage third-party frameworks, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Energy Star and NABERS, which compare energy intensity against an industry benchmark.

For portfolios of small to medium buildings that are dispersed, external benchmarks are harder to find. In this case, Envizi recommends internal benchmarking using meter data to make meaningful performance comparisons. Advanced normalization techniques can be applied to identify the poorest performers in the portfolio, which helps to inform a highly targeted strategy for improving efficiency and reducing emissions.  

Tip: Undertake energy benchmarking before making investment decisions — don’t make the mistake of focusing on areas where there are no material savings. Envizi’s software can combine meter data with other contextual data (floor area, weather, operating schedules, and production units) to enable performance comparisons on a normalized basis. 

Tune operational and behavioral efficiency 

Buildings can be complex, but not as complex as building operations: the interaction between a building, its operators and occupants, and flow-on effects to energy performance. 

Building services such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), which often account for almost 30 percent of annual emissions, are subject to continuous change and are often responsible for considerable “energy drift” over time due to poor operational practices. For this reason, technology that proactively informs and educates building operators is necessary to support time-poor operations teams to maintain optimum performance. 

Tip: Systems go out of tune when people manipulate equipment for comfort, which typically worsens over time. Sophisticated technology continuously automates and monitors the HVAC performance to flag human adjustment that renders systems wasteful and inefficient. 

Often, manual audits will not detect the inefficiencies, but Envizi’s software uses a combination of continuous equipment monitoring, building management systems data, equipment nameplate data, weather data and other metrics to provide transparency to HVAC system performance and uncover operational issues that are otherwise difficult to detect.  

Consider plant and equipment upgrades 

Investing in equipment to deliver emissions reductions is dependent on an organization’s scale, scope and asset type and may be relevant only to building owners. 

The appetite for plant and equipment upgrades may depend on how long the asset owner intends to hold the asset, the age of the building and the age of the equipment. Envizi recommends that building owners and operators engage their engineering consultants and specialist contractors to determine the feasibility of plant and equipment upgrades. 

Tip: Technology can assist in the pre- and post-analysis of reduction projects to measure effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). Envizi’s software uses the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol to ensure calculations will withstand audit and validation. 

Consider on-site and off-site renewables 

After implementing solutions for operational, behavioral and system efficiencies, many organizations seek renewable energy as a proactive solution to get ahead on the decarbonization journey. Decisions on whether to procure on-site or off-site renewables are complex, and Envizi recommends coordinating with your organization’s engineering consultant or specialist contractor to assess its options. 

Tip: Software platforms such as the one offered by Envizi can assist with monitoring the performance of solar assets, comparing the actual performance to promised performance and integrating the accounting of the renewable energy certificates to facilitate the most traceable reporting and auditing process.  

Engage stakeholders

Energy management is rarely the remit of one team, but rather involves multiple stakeholders across an organization. The success of any emissions-reduction effort will be affected by the organization’s ability to effectively engage a cross-collaborative stakeholder group.   

Typically, organizations with a strong culture of governance and executive ownership of the energy agenda can make the most impactful positive change. Often, inspirational leaders can make the difference with robust internal communication, empowerment through clear roles and responsibilities, and incentives for employees to take ownership of the energy reduction goals.  

Tip: Find a senior executive-level champion to shepherd the decarbonization journey while supporting the pursuit of their business goals, whether ROI, risk mitigation or otherwise. Leverage a single system of record to track emissions and energy management opportunities to better enable cross-functional collaboration between stakeholder groups.  

Conclusion

The transition to a low-carbon economy will require organizations to drastically increase the energy efficiency of buildings in operation. The following data-driven tactics can help your organization identify and achieve meaningful emission reductions: 

  • Collect meter data where possible to understand granular energy consumption.
  • Benchmark the energy performance of the buildings by size/cohort in your organization’s portfolio to identify poor performers. 
  • Use technology to monitor how HVAC systems are configured, to detect energy waste and optimization opportunities. 
  • Before implementing equipment retrofits, solar photovoltaics or energy projects, engage a specialist to understand your organization’s options, and use data to establish a baseline against which to measure improvements.
  • Nominate a senior executive to champion your organization’s emissions-reduction program. A single system of record for emissions and energy can help enable cross-functional collaboration. 

If you’d like to learn more about using data and technology to streamline and accelerate decarbonization, read “Pathway to Low-Carbon Guide.”

Retail real estate needs Paris-Proof decarbonisation strategy

Retail real estate needs Paris-Proof decarbonisation strategy

Retail real estate needs Paris-Proof decarbonisation strategy, says Buildings Performance Institute Europe as reported by property funds world. It is understandable when, with the increasing industrialisation, buildings’ energy consumption already accounts for one-third and still counting of global CO2 emissions.

Retail real estate needs Paris-Proof decarbonisation strategy, says Buildings Performance Institute Europe

24 February 2021

BPIE – Buildings Performance Institute Europe – has released a new report highlighting that despite industry efforts to decarbonise building portfolios, retail real estate asset managers and owners lack a sector-specific trajectory towards achieving climate-neutrality. 

The report marks the launch of Paris-Proof Retail Real Estate, an initiative that looks to develop a vision and strategy to support the European retail real estate sector reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.

The report highlights that the current rate of decarbonisation of retail buildings is not happening fast enough to meet climate goals. Extreme weather conditions, rapidly expanding floor area and growth in demand for energy consuming services exacerbate the issue. In 2019, the global buildings and construction sector accounted for 35 per cent of final energy use and 38 per cent of energy and process-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Delivering the vision of climate-neutrality requires thorough renovation and smart design of the whole building stock, including retail portfolios.  

According to the report, existing low carbon transition and 1.5°C climate roadmaps are not yet fully adapted to the needs of the sector, and climate change issues are not yet fully integrated into mainstream asset management and investment decision-making processes, traditionally focused on the cyclical trends of property markets. Yet it is precisely at sector level where climate-related risks become more apparent. Interviews with ten retail property investment and management companies, which informed the report’s analysis, reveal that failure to put in place a decarbonisation strategy now could lead to value erosion and stranded assets in the years to come.

“In Europe, while GHG emissions targets are well defined for 2030 and 2050, these are not yet transposed into meaningful guidance for individual industry sectors,” says Zsolt Toth, Senior Project Manager at BPIE.

“If we are serious about decarbonising the full building stock by 2050, the retail real estate sector and policymakers need to have a common understanding of who needs to do what, and by when. The strategy should be measurable, sector-specific, and disaggregated from high-level political targets.”

Clemens Brenninkmeijer, Head of Sustainable Business Operations at Redevco, an urban real estate investment management company, agrees. “The need for deliberate actions and tangible results to significantly decrease emissions in the built environment is becoming more urgent for retail real estate managers every day. This report, funded through the Redevco Foundation, provides insight into where the retail real estate sector in particular stands, and what should be the next step.”

While this may seem evident, developing a forward-looking decarbonisation strategy for businesses amidst a changing policy landscape is not a simple exercise, says Joost Koomen, Secretary General of ECSP, the European Council of Shopping Places, representing retail and mixed use destinations and their communities.
 
“Aligning the broader long-term 2030 and 2050 goals with short to medium term investment decisions will be important, particularly in a rapidly changing industry that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Koomen. “Market actors urgently need to understand how to plan for the longer term while also ensuring stability within the short to medium term.”

As BPIE’s analysis shows, most of the risks associated with climate change are expected to appear in the medium to long-term and thus are not captured by the relatively short-term models used in most current risk management practices. Data gaps, confusion of metrics and protocols, as well as the particular nature of carbon risks could give rise to a collective mis-assessment by real estate markets.

BPIE plans to launch a decarbonisation vision and strategy with the European retail real estate sector before the end of 2021. Owners and asset managers from the sector are welcome to participate in workshops and provide input in its development.

Exporting building-research excellence from the UK

Exporting building-research excellence from the UK

The Buildings Research Establishment (BRE) has been a trailblazer in its field for a century. Much of the language it uses to describe what it does today is very familiar to chartered accountants. It is in this article mainly about how exporting building-research excellence from the UK could positively affect sustainability throughout the world.

The picture above is for illustration purpose and is of Digital twins in the building industry.

Exporting building-research excellence from the UK

23 February 2021

Exporting building-research excellence from the UK
"Lorem

ICAEW member Andrew Herbert is the Interim Chief Financial Officer at BRE Group Limited. He talks very much in terms of measures, standards and accountability, and says sustainability, safety, security and quality will combine to create a roadmap for building design and construction of the future.

“The organisation was set up by the UK Government after WW1 to look at the built environment and how it could be improved,” says Herbert. “That’s an ongoing journey.”

Perhaps one of the most famous milestones for the Buildings Research Establishment (BRE) was the work undertaken at the Hertfordshire site as part of Operation Chastise, or the Dambusters’ Raid. What BRE brought to the equation was a demonstration of how modelling advances technical understanding of a building and its properties. BRE continues to use models, both physical and software-based, to solve complex construction challenges. Today, that means wind tunnel testing and testing the spread of fire to make sure that building design, and construction, are based on science, and that they harness technology.

“We burn things, we break them, or we blow them up,” says Herbert. “On the site, we do a lot of testing of products related to the built environment. We might do fire safety testing on equipment, we might test to see if the lining to a tunnel does what it’s supposed to do, and also with beams, railways sleepers, and so on.”

On the security front, there is a fair bit of blowing up. “We do a lot of security work testing to make sure that building security works in a whole range of areas, both for UK companies but also internationally,” he adds.

The burning, breaking and blowing up is about half the work undertaken at BRE. The other half is about the impact that buildings have on the environment. “That means setting standards to ensure that when people build, they do what they say they will do, but the standards also to address the impact of the construction sector on the environment,” he says.

BREEAM is a tool designed by BRE that auditors can use to assess the environmental impact of a building. It has become a trusted mark of sustainability for buildings and communities in 77 countries around the world. “We also do lots of consultancy work for governments, not just the UK Government,” says Herbert.

“Another of our products – LPCB – is a standard developed by the insurance industry that we now own and run. This is a standard that makes sure things like suppression systems for fire safety do what they are supposed to do,” says Herbert. “The LPCB standard is actually enshrined in regulations across the globe. For example, a high-rise block built in the Middle East would have to adhere to the LPCB standard.”

BRE teams operate around the world, explaining to regulators the benefit of the BRE standards and tools. “Anyone can convince a building company that their product will achieve a certain result. How do you actually know that is true – particularly with safety products because we hope they don’t have to be used. Nobody wants the fire hose to come out or the sprinkler system to come on because you hope there’s not going to be a fire. But how do you know whether what’s been installed will perform on the day? The only way to rely on it is to have a set of agreed, independent, standards that everybody follows.” Apart from testing products, BRE regularly audits the processes of the factories in which these products are manufactured to make sure they are consistent and create a repeatable product.

BRE itself applies accountancy thinking to its processes. “We operate a risk-based approach ourselves at BRE. Each of our units has risk registers. The internal audit team takes the risk register information when they are preparing their internal audit plans, identifies the high-risk areas and spends more time in that area than in the low-risk areas. My head of risk and internal audit is also a qualified accountant,” says Herbert.

So where will the challenges for BRE lie given that the world is at a crossroads in so many respects, and the built environment will be an outward manifestation of the decisions governments and supranational organisations take now?

“Much of the work BRE has been doing over the last few years is with industry, trying to come up with a better way of building, often referred to as modern methods of construction – or offsite manufacturing methods. We secured a grant for just over £17m to work out what modern methods of construction means and how to get the industry to move in that direction,” says Herbert. “The building industry is very traditional. We still use a small brick, and we lay them, and that isn’t necessarily the most efficient way of building or delivering consistency.”

And traditional methods struggle to deliver that other necessity for change – data. Modern methods have a digital plan, so you always know where all the services are located, the types of materials used, their age and provenance. This makes maintenance so much easier and helps with testing in terms of safety and energy performance.

“Our hopes and expectations are that we will have that digital footprint which will give us a record of a building, that we can actually build more in a shorter space of time. That would help this new wave of construction,” says Herbert.

“There are many major infrastructure projects happening around the world, not just in the UK. The investment other countries are making is phenomenal. And certainly, BRE wants to be part of that process – to make sure that we set the right standards, that we can give people confidence that what’s being built adheres to those standards, and assists with the move to net zero.”

He points out that the UK offers the world really strong technical skills and scientific knowledge. “It would be great to disseminate that information in a much broader way. And we do. But there’s always more we can do,” says Herbert. “We want to be seen as an organisation that works across the globe, improving standards as we go.”

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