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Saturday, 11 November 2017

All that glitters is not Green

You may have accidentally encountered recently one the many saccharine encomia gushingly worshipping at the feet of Norman Foster's new Bloomberg building in London. If so, you will have been covered in all the ordure of 'sustainability' and 'most environmentally friendly building in London'. It's mostly utter bull. 

Sure, the building has the very highest BREEAM rating, but BREEAM only measures environmental cost in use. I know both this and its partner civils assessment CEEQUAL well - in fact I'm a qualified CEEQUAL assessor, so know the devil in the detail. Neither scheme counts the construction cost, or rather, where this is acknowledged, it can be negated by petty measures such as reducing site waste or ensuring local waterways are protected during construction. You see, steel and concrete are the grossest environmental offenders in terms of manufacturing CO2 cost. They're also critical to new construction.

Bloomberg himself, a zealous Remoaner, also campaigns for the closure of coal-fired power stations. Now, I can't suggest that there's any numerical equivalent between the carbon cost of his new building and the 37m. tonne / pa CO2 output of the UK's  coal power stations, but his own contribution is not insignificant. His building used 15,500 tonnes of steel - twice the steel in the Eiffel Tower - 65,000 cu.m of concrete, 600 tonnes of bronze and 450 tonnes of aluminium. The carbon cost will be close to 250,000 tonnes of CO2. Yet in the Guardian, Rowan Moore almost achieves orgasm in his praise for the behemoth;
This is not just an office building, or rather two buildings joined by a glass link. It’s a full-spectrum chthonic-to-celestial, cultural-social-technological, natural-synthetic, virtual-real, analogue-digital phenomenon....Metaphors and allusions come easily enough – it is Starship Enterprise and baroque palazzo at once, somewhat Ian Fleming, the interior of the personal volcano of a benign Blofeld. There are those aquariums and, behind a big glass wall, a majestic view of St Paul’s, as if it were itself a great stone fish captured and put in a tank....creates a sort of field of art, in which different elements of a single artist’s work reappear in different parts of the building. It reinforces the field-like properties of the complex as a whole, the sense of a pervasive intelligence, a Kirk-Spock figure controlling the art, architecture, technology, sustainability, catering and wellbeing strategies.
Now this isn't a piece about AGW or the effects of CO2. It's a piece about hypocrisy; the hypocrisy of my industry which does everything it can to discount the environmental cost of its activities, and the hypocrisy of the Bloomberg apologists, who praise the great man's fight against CO2. The CO2 cost of new construction doesn't even necessarily count against the UK's total; usefully, CO2 is accounted at the place of manufacture of the materials and components. So Bloomberg's carbon could well be part of China's or Thailand's total. This allows the West both to splurge on high-carbon new buildings and blame the $10-a-day economies for polluting our environment. 

If this building 'saves' 250 tonnes a year of CO2 from its energy efficiency, it will still take 1,000 years to pay-back the construction cost before there's any net advantage. The building has an economic life of 75 years. 

There's little structurally wrong with the 1970s office blocks that are now being destroyed wholesale in order to give our big name architects new pictures for next decade's portfolios. And as long as global corporates are driven by vanity, our cityscape will get these self-indulgences, like Onan's seed falling fruitlessly to earth. 


Anonymous said...

I wonder if there's a single person in those offices doing anything productive or useful. My guess is that the whole edifice is just a demonstration of Parkinson's Law.

Don Cox

Dave_G said...

Show me ANY company that doesn't have a policy that simply plays lip service to the cause, promote their 'green credentials' or extract monies from you to pay for it.

Hotels that ask you to 'reuse your towel to help save the environment' are a particular gripe of mine and cause me to make an extra effort to toss used and unused towels in the bath for replacement PURELY because of their arrogant attitude that makes them think I'm not conscious of my surroundings or such issues.

Green campaigning has only ever benefited corporate profits - has done ZERO for the customer and is purely an excuse to increase prices.

I'd even go so far as to claim that most green efforts are misguided (to be charitable) or outright fraud (which is more common) and that the prevalence of suspicious fires at green recycling businesses is hiding the real truth of the industry.

Certainly, as Radders illustrates, the BS is still rank and serving its purpose. We need more open criticism of these policies to re-establish common sense and proper belief, and trust, in the subject.

Sackerson said...

The energy-saving claim should have to factor in the total energy costs of demolishing and rebuilding the new.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the bullshit warning Raedwald. The built environment is an area I know very little of except for use.

A teacher explaining the affect of CO2 on plants at my nephew's school was taken to task by one of the class when he said the gas was toxic to the planet. Said teacher erected an experiment with one plant exposed to CO2 at 500ppm and a second to 1000ppm. Took all of a week to prove it wasn't. Facts can cruel at that age.


Anonymous said...

Of course it isn't "toxic" to either the plant or the planet.

It just has a small effect on global temperatures, enough to make a difference to glaciers and ice sheets.

Around here, the temperature often hovers around freezing point in the Winter, so a change of one degree Celsius can make the difference between snow lying or melting.

Don Cox

Cascadian said...

The chase for BREAAM boasting rights was at least somewhat (perhaps totally) contributory to the Grenfell Tower disaster.

From the little factual information that has been released on the Bloomberg buildings I believe it is possible that this might very soon prove to be a "sick building". Certainly recycling cooling tower exhaust (unless there is a very good disinfecting system, which kinda negates the idea of not using mains water) could very easily result in Legionaires disease. The idea that human waste can be disposed of without good flushing WC's has already been disproved in many buildings. I predict many future rehab projects to align the buildings use to reality.

Apart from that the whole premise is flawed, as has been found with the diesel vehicle debacle, reducing CO2 (as a proxy of reducing energy use) has exposed the city to far more noxious compounds NOX and soot.

Budgie said...

And then there's all the CO2 emitted by people traipsing into central London from 10, 100, or more miles away to go and work in the nice shiny new building. But that doesn't count, does it?

Budgie said...

Raedwald, Does your picture represent the 1970s office block that was pulled down to make way for Bloomberg's brand new Foster building? We should be told.

Budgie said...

Luvvies are not so admired as they once were. It’s not just that they told us to vote against Leave; vote against Trump; take in migrants (when they in their big houses don’t); pay through the nose for "green" energy, whilst they jet off all over the world; it’s also that they helped to cover up sexual abuse in their own industry for years.

Celebrities and Green poseurs are often one and the same and they are patronising, finger-wagging, sanctimonious hypocrites. And probably think the Grauniad and the BBC are unbiased.

James Higham said...

Not totally sure where you’re going with this one, Radders.