Speakers: Jonathan Hines, Architype, Neil Jefferson, Zero Carbon Hub, Marco Marijewycz, EON, Allan Thompson, Gentoo Construction, Chaired by Alasdair Young, Buro Happold
The Building Centre
18 January 2012



Part of an ongoing series on energy, carbon footprints, and sustainable building, “Zero Carbon, a Goal Too Far” tackles the question of the attainability of zero carbon emissions in the UK.   This year, the government has once again redefined the meaning of “zero carbon,” making attainment even more questionable.  Builders complain about the added construction costs in order to meet building regulations.

The speakers were: John Hines from Architype, who specializes in passivhaus techniques and sustainable development; Neil Jefferson from Zero Carbon Hub, a non-profit organization that focuses on delivering low and zero carbon homes to the masses; Marco Marijewycz from EON, the UK’s largest integrated power and gas company; Allan Thompson of Gentoo Construction, a construction company focused on green building techniques; moderated by Alasdair Young from Buro Happold, an international consulting engineer company.

Each person was given the floor to discuss the issue from their perspective.  A wide range of expertise and opinion were presented.  Afterwards, the floor was opened up for questions from audience members.


This lecture was very well thought through and had a nice variety of participants.  I appreciated that multiple professional fields were represented in the panel: the builder, the government, the developer, the engineer.  Each gave his opinion from his point of view, and, as can be expected, they did not see eye to eye on much of anything.  Although each could be justified in thinking the way he did, I really did not agree with all of the oppinoins, either.

A major point of contention is that the UK government keeps redefining the term “zero carbon,” alluding to the fact that by changing the definition, the UK can achieve (or is closer to achieving) zero carbon emissions.

Another point of conflict is that the building regulations set out by the government add enormous costs to building “green” houses.  In order to achieve the highest level of green and sustainable building standard in the UK, a Code 6, on the average single family dwelling, it would cost the builder and extra £40,000/dwelling.

Of all the panel members, I thought John Hines from Architype had the most compelling argument.  He said that there is no answer to the question because the wrong question is being asked (can the UK attain zero carbon emissions?).  The question should be, what can the UK do to decrease her energy consumption?  Only after people are aware of the energy crisis and are compelled to use less energy will these low and zero carbon technologies make a difference in the amount of C02 released into the atmosphere.  Only then the question be asked if zero carbon emissions is possible.

I completely agree with John.  Unless people actually use less energy, there is no way these renewable energy sources like solar and wind power will begin to put a dent in our carbon footprint.   It makes me think of the diet soda problem:  statistics show that people who drink diet soda actually weigh more than people who drink regular soda because the diet soda drinkers justify the consumption of more calories throughout the day with the false assumption that they have “saved” calories in their diet drink.  So it is, I feel, with the power generated from solar and wind.  A person may feel justified, even validated, to use more electricity because the energy he is using is green, renewable, and sustainable.  All energy consumption, regardless of its source, should be monitored by the user with a conscious effort and knowledge of using the least possible amount.

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