As 2023 comes to a close, let's reflect on our sustainability journey since committing to a sustainable future at the ERN Conference in May.
Intertwining paths led to creating a broad road by integrating carbon accounting tools into our workflows. These tools provide a tangible metric for sustainability discussions and design decisions.
We use the internationally recognized RIBA/IStructE guidance to assess carbon emissions during all life stages of a project or product, from 'cradle to grave.'
Consideration is given to volumes of raw materials, fabricated products, manufacturing, construction, transportation, and end-of-life recycling and disposal. The accounting process is more manageable than it first appears, and it will be a topic for sharing during the course of next year.
Deriving a figure for lifetime carbon emissions for a product or project only becomes useful when set to a context of established targets or used comparatively to influence design decisions.
The IStructE and RIBA have established goals for reducing the embodied carbon in buildings using their 'SCORS' rating (Structural Carbon Rating Scheme). The rating considers the equivalent carbon emissions during the entire building process, from the "cradle to construction." The assessment focuses on the structural components of the building envelope only. It then estimates the carbon footprint of architectural features, fixtures, finishes, etc.
According to a 2020 study of all building types designed by 276 consultancy practices in the UK, the average SCORS rating was assessed at 'E' (360kgCO/m²). As a result, yearly design improvement targets have been set to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Tenthouse Structures has completed our carbon accounting assessment of our two primary product offerings: our safari camp canvas walled Expedition Tent and our premium hard-walled insulated T2 unit.
We find that the Expedition tent achieves a rating of 'A' with emissions of 136 kgCO/m², and the T2 achieves a rating of 'B' at 172 kgCO/m². Given the optimized forms and efficient use of lightweight materials, both ratings sit above the '40% better than average' line.
We have integrated carbon counting workflows into our design toolset to accomplish this, and it now allows us to use sustainability metrics to guide and influence design decisions throughout a project. By providing a tangible sustainability metric, we can demonstrate the benefits of a particular design approach to clients.
An example may be the assessment of foundation systems for a recent luxury development project in Zambia. The national park status of the site, with associated emphasis on a highly sustainable construction approach, means that traditional concrete foundations throughout are not desired or permitted.
By undertaking a lifetime carbon count assessment, we compared a baseline concrete pad solution against traditional in-situ piles and a steel screw-pile solution. We illustrated that the lifetime carbon savings to the project through the use of screw piles amounted to 105 tons over the baseline concrete scheme and 28 tons over traditional in-situ piles.
The screw pile solution had presented itself as the most efficient and suitable solution before any carbon assessment but having a relative carbon comparison underlined the sustainability credentials of that decision.
We now include a 'whole building' carbon count and SCORS rating for each of our custom projects. The assessment forms part of our sustainability section within our RIBA Stage 3 reports.
Achieving the carbon reductions required to maintain the path to neutrality requires engagement and commitment from supply chain vendors, too.
Carbon accounting again assists here in providing learning and focusing on sustainability issues.
Recent examples of that engagement include requests to our fabric suppliers to receive their EPD (environmental product declarations), which provides complete environmental product data, including the cradle-to-gate emission figures required within our carbon audits.
The quality and comprehensive response has been very encouraging.
Another example is our engagement with our international aluminum extrusion suppliers. Here, the focus is on the recycled content of their profile, which varies considerably between suppliers – again, market pressures within the aluminum sector will inevitably apply to those with lower sustainability credentials.
Since our ERN commitment, we have set up a monthly forum incorporating Tenthouse's corporate and social responsibility sides. We use the forum to exchange learnings or aspects of research from inside or outside our immediate industry and to discuss opportunities for CSR initiatives that can work holistically together.
Innovation is also crucial to carbon reduction. In the spring, we will see our first project realized using our active Smart Floor' system. This lightweight, active, cooled floor incorporates PCM (phase change material) panels that provide the thermal mass of a concrete slab at a fraction of the weight and associated carbon emissions.
Optimization of the system occurs through extensive climetic simulations, and we have set up a testing chamber within Tenthouse to calibrate the theory to various environmental conditions.
We also use the same chamber to validate our quilted membrane designs, providing an insulative layer to tented walls and ceilings. The quilts extend the number of days that the tent is 'comfortable' to occupants, given the extremes of heat, while minimizing energy input during operation.
Our sustainability journey, so far, is an exciting process of discovery and learning at Tenthouse Structures. We are encouraged by the progress we are making towards our goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
However, we must continue to reduce our carbon emissions each year through research and development in new materials, processes, and products and improve efficiency throughout our supply chain.
Ultimately, the journey towards sustainability is one that we must all take together, and we look forward to a #madebettertogether 2024.