London’s example of sustainable construction in the week of COP26

| Riccardo Del Bello | Sustainability and Well-Being

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) or United Nations Climate Change Conference has just concluded a few days ago in Glasgow.

The meeting of representatives from 197 countries has been crucial to defining new improved measures to fight climate change over those of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This is referenced as the so-called ‘ratchet mechanism’ establishes a new accord every five years (which was delayed in 2020 due to the pandemic).

The main goals of the previous one in Paris (UNFCCC), signed a little later in 2016, were:

  • Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
  • Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
  • Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Many countries in these years though have not strictly followed this roadmap, so the world might be on the course to exceed the limits established in Paris. To change this every participant this time is required to provide a more binding framework with details on how the new targets will be achieved. These are called Nationally Determined Contribution plan or (NDC)

The UK along with the European Union pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as did the United States, the second biggest polluter in the world.


COP26 and the construction sector

The construction sector is one of the most relevant in the discussion regarding environmental protection and the reduction of CO2 emissions.

In China, the biggest polluter in the world, the second main source of emissions is the construction sector with 30% of the total. This is relevant for other countries even though it should be kept in mind that the situation of the Asian country is not really comparable to any other in the world. Especially considered the massive activity (and at times speculation) that has been going on for years now in the real estate sector, which was actually at the centre of the news a few months ago with the crisis of giant Evergrande.

Even more important, the biggest source of CO2 emissions in the country with 33% of the total is the energy sector, which is closely related to the property sector as well through the production of electricity and heat.

In the UK, for instance, buildings account for 23% of greenhouse gas emissions, and this amount comes from a number of different sources such as transport, materials, waste on site, construction activities, energy performance, and so on. Private houses constitute the largest share of these emissions, due to UK’s energy efficiency in housing which is the lowest in Europe. The commercial sector, despite having an

Cop26 reports that globally the sector accounts for 38% of the carbon emissions. The Carbon Zero program aims at reaching the industry’s carbon neutrality by 2050. All the sources are targeted.

Luckily there is plenty of new initiatives being implemented by different parties to develop sustainable materials, new building and production processes, as well as retrofitting for existing buildings.

A positive example in the present: Holbein Gardens

A forward-looking project that aims already at creating one of the most sustainable buildings in London is Holbein Gardens. Located in Belgravia district, it should become a future example of how to achieve net-zero carbon.

Holbein Gardens is a 1980s building that will be repurposed as an office scheme and is being developed by Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, part of the Grosvenor Group, in partnership with engineering company HDR. The company is appointed as Mechanical, Electrical, and Public Health (MEP), Vertical Transportation, and Energy consultant to provide plans for the green development of the building.

HDR’s Commercial Director Adrian Gray is quoted in the press release saying

“Sustainability and biodiversity are at the heart of this project and a range of innovative materials and technologies have been used to guarantee the greatest positive impact. Cross laminated timber (CLT) has been used as an alternative to other less sustainable materials, helping to reduce carbon emissions, alongside the use of reclaimed steel work. New low embodied carbon products are also being trialled in the building, such as Thermalite aircrete blockwork and reclaimed access flooring.”

Along with its existing four storeys a fifth one will be added and the roof terrace should bring its entire size to over 2,320 square metres.


The project will be all-electric and is set to achieve the rating in line with the UK Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Framework on completion by the end of 2022. This will be achieved by making it ‘Smart Building-enabled’, which means featuring technologies that enable efficient and economical use of resources without compromising the aesthetic and, most of all, the usability and comfort of a space. Implementations can vary from Internet of Things sensors to artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and building management systems.

Additionally, 98% of the materials used will be recycled from strip out waste that would normally go to landfills. Thanks to the collaboration of suppliers producing innovative sustainable materials from recycled wastes the project contribute to the creation of a circular economy. This is another crucial topic discussed during the ‘Construction: The Built Environment’ conference at COP26, and one that we also discussed previously in Interior Sustainability in 2021: 5 Start-ups’ circular materials. A big effort has been put also into saving as much as possible of the existing materials to further reduce its original carbon footprint.

communal area

On the energy side, important savings will be achieved through thermal insulation and heat recovery, greater efficiency obtained with low-energy lighting, and reduced electricity consumption thanks to the building management system that will improve natural ventilation. Holbein Gardens will also be able to generate renewable energy thanks to a blue roof gathering rainwater and a system that will harvest it.

Last but not least, the concept of biophilia has been incorporated into the project too. As we discussed in our Guide to Biophilic Design the proper application of these principles not only helps the environment, reducing the impact of our activities but benefits those who live or use the space. In Holbein Gardens’ case, implementation of biophilic design will help office workers improve their health, focus, and performance.


Reports about the current climate condition of our planet are worrying, and many people, especially among the younger generations nowadays suffer from proper anxiety because of it. Luckily, we have the means and technology to achieve the biggest challenge of our time. During this conference, all the parties involved had to define the roadmap that will lead to decarbonisation and write it in law. So, it looks like this time there might be a lot to feel optimistic about.

Riccardo Del Bello

Written by: Riccardo Del Bello

Riccardo is the marketing manager and partner of A Designer at Heart. He is in charge of the development and brand definition of the company for its marketing activities.


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