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East Midlands Chamber News

RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge explained: The role of architecture in path to net zero

The UK built environment is responsible for 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions, almost half of which comes from energy used in buildings. In response to the climate emergency, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has launched the 2030 Climate Challenge. Sustainable development adviser Jess Hrivnak, who recently spoke at a Chamber Sustainability Forum, explains what it involves. 


What is the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge?
Launched in 2019, the 2030 Climate Challenge focuses on three key areas common to all buildings – namely energy use, embodied carbon and water use. It sets out performance targets against these key metrics for new and retrofit buildings to be achieved by 2025 and 2030, meaning the targets are to be achieved in completed buildings under the strain of occupation.

Why are performance targets significant?
The construction industry has traditionally shied away from analysing and evaluating building performance for fear of litigation or perceived reputational risk.

However, if we are to tackle the climate crisis, societal inequalities, burgeoning waste burden and biodiversity crisis, as an industry we must improve our knowledge of how effective and efficient the buildings we design are performing in reality.

The Climate Challenge is therefore an invitation to the RIBA membership, and the wider construction industry, to shift towards outcome-based performance targets and radically transform the built environment.

What are the targets?
Taking the recommendations from the Green Construction Board, the targets – which have been developed by RIBA in consultation with other professional UK construction bodies – are ambitious but realistic. The targets align with the future legislative horizon and are a vital first step to ensure the construction industry has delivered the significant reductions necessary by 2030 in order to have a realistic prospect of achieving the UK’s net zero 2050 goal.

The Challenge outlines maximum thresholds figures for water, energy and embodied carbon for commercial, domestic and educational building projects to achieve as soon as possible – but no later than by 2030. In summary, the target figures equate to the following percentages:

  1. Reduce operational energy demand by at least 60% from current business as usual baseline figures, before offsetting
  2. Reduce embodied carbon by at least 40% from current business as usual baseline figures, before offsetting
  3. Reduce potable water use by at least 40% from CIRIA benchmark and building regulation figures

Jess Hrivnak (Credit: Dave Gillet)

Who are the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge targets for?
While the 2030 Climate Challenge is specifically open for RIBA chartered architectural practices to sign up to, the targets themselves are open source and are being referenced across industry.

Since the Challenge’s launch in 2019, the targets have been used by clients in project team selection processes, embedded into business plans to demonstrate leadership and ambition, and referenced by manufacturers to showcase progressive construction products.

Signatories to the Challenge commit to two things: firstly to attempt to meet the targets on all their new and major refurbishment projects, and secondly, to submit data on these projects to RIBA.

It is only through collaborative data-sharing that as an industry, we can improve effectively and at the speed required to limit global temperature rises.

Does the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge replace existing sustainability goals?

It does not seek to replace or replicate a building environmental assessment, and there is no associated RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge certification procedure.

Instead, the Challenge focuses on the three main issues – energy, carbon and water – that are common to all building typologies.

It sets out an ambitious direction of travel but requires signatories to achieve the targets without negatively impacting health and wellbeing metrics by avoiding unintended consequences of any reduction strategies.

The Challenge should not be viewed in isolation to other established sustainability design methodologies but seen as a call to action to the industry for everyone to do their part.  

It is voluntary and based on trust – there is no penalty imposed on practices or projects that fall short of the Challenge.

The purpose of the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge is to encourage a collaborative shift in the profession towards better building outcomes for people and planet.