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Barnes Construction: Playing its part in achieving net zero

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In 2019, the UK government became the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming, committing to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by 2050.

Selwyn College. Picture: Clare Banks
Selwyn College. Picture: Clare Banks

The construction sector is a crucial part of this commitment.

Although construction contributes £90billion to the UK economy, construction carbon is a significant contributor to global warming and greenhouse gases (GHG), with the built environment generating 40 per cent of annual global CO₂ emissions.

According to think tank Chatham House, “if the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world”.

Bob Steward and Mark Hart are joint managing directors and leading the team at Barnes Construction to achieve a target of net zero for the business by 2045.

It will be a challenge, yet, as Bob explains, the team is undaunted: “We know setting out to achieve this target is a bold step, but it is a pivotal element of futureproofing the business.”

Positive steps being taken by Barnes include publishing its carbon reduction plan, engaging with staff and rolling out carbon training.

It is also moving forward with various R&D projects, to help better understand the challenges ahead and enhance its offering to clients.

St John’s College Picture: Richard Fraser Photography
St John’s College Picture: Richard Fraser Photography

“However, if net zero is to be achieved within the construction industry generally, then collaboration is pivotal,” Bob continues.

“We all need to work together and no one organisation can work in isolation. Sustainability is too often compromised at the end of the process, trumped by cost pressures.

“We need to collaborate more effectively during design development, to make sure this doesn’t happen; nurturing an approach that encourages the clear and transparent sharing of information and best practices.

“This is where we can help through structured engagement and advice from our supply chains.

“We obviously need to focus on the carbon produced when going through the construction process, but we also need to assess the carbon footprint of the building when it is finished and operational.”

In 2019, setting a global example, the University of Cambridge-led initiative ‘Cambridge Zero’ laid down its contribution to global resilience, pledging to reduce its emissions to zero by 2048.

Although projects are very much driven by the client and their designers, Barnes Construction has been playing its part in ensuring the delivery of some of these innovative schemes; one of its earliest in the city, the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating – a first for the University of Cambridge.

The Kavli Institute for Cosmology Picture: Clare Banks
The Kavli Institute for Cosmology Picture: Clare Banks

As Mark explains: “The university and its colleges consist of old and valuable historical buildings, mostly grade 1 and 2-listed, which require protecting and sensitively developing.

“They give the city its character and are an important part of why Cambridge attracts students from all over the world.

“Yet, there is a social conscience which is driven by young people who are more environmentally aware, that demands and expects improvements to the colleges’ sustainability and decarbonisation credentials.

“Therefore, the biggest challenge in achieving net zero is not around new-build projects, as to some extent that can be controlled from the early design stages.

“It is about refurbishment and enhancing the performance and efficiency of these historic buildings through incremental and carefully-considered improvements, some of which are extremely challenging when working within planning constraints and Historic England restrictions.”

Over the years, Barnes has been proud to have been involved in multiple schemes around the city that contain sustainable elements.

Particular projects that are worthy of mention include: the Community Hub for St John’s College, where extension and refurbishment works have been carried out on grade I and grade II listed buildings, to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating, two decarbonisation projects at Homerton College and Selwyn College and, more recently, completing its first Passivhaus scheme – an almshouses development for Girton Town Charity.

Dovehouse Court, Girton Town Charity. Picture: Perry Hastings
Dovehouse Court, Girton Town Charity. Picture: Perry Hastings

It is also currently working with King’s College on the chapel roof replacement, and the refurbishment of student accommodation at Spalding Hostel, both of which are client-driven, and focused on implementing energy efficiency improvements as part of the scope of work.

“Our approach is non-adversarial and based on collaboration,” Mark continues. “We are at our most effective when we are given time to work collectively and proactively with the supply chain, to come up with solutions that enhance the design and the buildability of the scheme.

“This focus enables us to model, review and simulate through Building Information Modelling (BIM) and carbon databases, to establish viable alternatives and carbon savings. It enables design managers to knit together pre-construction, construction and soft-landing requirements, to ensure that we are delivering on the design intent.”

With regard to how historic buildings can be updated to incorporate elements that can help with decarbonisation, compared to new build, refurbishment is a greener alternative.

Introducing elements around the fabric of the building – walls, ceilings and windows – to enhance u-values, enabling renewable provision and storage of energy on site, installing and upgrading heating systems using air source and ground source efficient electrical heating systems, and reducing carbon-fuelled gas boilers, are relatively straightforward steps that can be taken, as long as it is considered at the design stage, and sensitive to the building’s heritage.

Mark concludes: “Ultimately, the team at Barnes is proud to be helping to ensure that various college buildings around Cambridge, whilst being built and refurbished, are incorporating those all-important sustainable elements that will help in reaching ‘Cambridge Zero’, a bold response to the climate crisis.”

Visit barnesconstruction.co.uk for more on Barnes Construction.

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