Scott Brookes, Director, Building Retrofitting and Refurbishment

March 14, 2024

In 2020, scientists determined the weight of all the world’s human-made mass – concrete, bricks, and metals – exceeds all living biomass. Meaning every plant, fungi, animal, and bacteria combined are lighter than all the offices, roads, and housing units built by humans. Considering 20% of Earth’s land surface is built up urban areas or cropland, it is evident humankind’s impact is wildly out of balance with the natural world.
All infrastructure contributes to total global embodied carbon emissions – released throughout the lifecycle of building materials, including extraction, manufacturing, transport, construction, and disposal. “Business as usual” would only continue to release more and more embodied carbon – putting the world well beyond the 1.5°C warming limit.
Your current asset portfolio may be the key to providing increasing populations with their practical needs for more housing, offices, and public spaces – without the steep carbon penalty and other issues like habitat destruction from urban sprawl and resource use.
1. Challenge the demand for more space
Creating more functional housing or offices is not synonymous with building more or new.

Consider the following:

  • :

    Changes to how people live and work

    Remote work and working from home are now normalised. As humans, we can rapidly adjust relationship to environments when required.
    Can we give infrastructure the ability to adjust to modern life too?
  • :

    Transportation infrastructure

    Cars take up a disproportionate amount of precious city and community space.
    Can we reinvent road-centric towns and cities to take this space back?
  • :

    Existing building stock

    The United Kingdom alone had over 600,000 empty buildings in September 2019. Before building new, can we ensure existing buildings are optimised and occupied?
2. Build less, benefit more
Today we can extend a building’s service life at a material or systems level. We can also design compatible upgrades or alterations for existing structures instead of defaulting to demolition or building new. But how?

With more analyses, it is possible to reimagine and transform existing assets instead of building new. Creative options for existing floorplans can significantly reduce spatial needs, as well as lower project costs and other programmes.

Scott Brookes
Director for Building Retrofitting and Refurbishment at Ramboll

At the Avicii Arena in Stockholm, for example, Ramboll is designing stadium upgrades to support a broader range of events. These upgrades invalidate the need for a second stadium to be built in the area. Refurbishing the original arena instead of building an additional one, the carbon released per arena visitor is significantly reduced.
Image credits: HOK/SGAF
3. Prepare your property portfolio now
Projections show over two-thirds of existing buildings will still be around in 2050. This figure rises near 9 of 10 in advanced economy markets. Before 2030, building projects will incur steeper taxation on embodied carbon and have a carbon cap (a limit on the number of emission allowances). So, what does this mean for your existing infrastructure assets?
Futureproof your property portfolio – and help the planet – by:
  • Staying informed of local, regional, and national regulatory and taxonomy landscapes
  • Reducing demolishing and building new as much as possible
  • Anticipating future demands of current assets, including alternative and mixed uses
When you must build new, urban densification offers the lowest carbon cost per capita. Building tall is better than building sprawl. A medium-rise building may seem like it produces significant carbon output compared to a single-family suburban home. However, when we consider the integrated master planning, civil works, and utilities required for each building type, the mid-rise building is more efficient and less carbon emission per occupant than the single-family home.
Respect, review, renew assets
A significant mindset shift is required to realise a retention-first construction industry, especially to reduce carbon emissions and raise living standards. Now, your property portfolio has untapped potential to create more dynamic built environments and support more community needs. Something we can all get behind.
If you’re ready to discover how to reduce risks and embodied carbon in your investment portfolio /assets, contact Scott Brookes, Director for Building Retrofitting and Refurbishment at Ramboll.
Article first published for World Green Building Council.

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  • Scott Brookes

    Director, Building Retrofitting and Refurbishment

    +44 7971 987249

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