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University becomes test-bed for low carbon innovation in construction

New collaboration between academia, industry and the public sector aims to accelerate Scotland's transition to a low carbon economy by focusing on innovation in construction and the built environment.

Dave Gorman, Director for Social Responsibility & Sustainability; Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation; Professor Kenneth Gibb, Director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence; Councillor Susan Aitklin, Leader Glasgow City Council
Dave Gorman, Director for Social Responsibility & Sustainability; Ivan McKee MSP, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation; Professor Kenneth Gibb, Director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence; Councillor Susan Aitklin, Leader Glasgow City Council

The University of Edinburgh will begin a cross-sector collaboration to improve the way buildings are designed and constructed in the future to minimise their impact on the climate.

Working with some of Scotland’s most innovative technology companies and leading industry and public sector organisations representing the construction sector, this project aims to increase capacity for zero and low carbon innovation in construction and the built environment and will involve developing and testing tools on-campus that reduce buildings' emissions by improving their energy performance when occupied.

Responding to the climate emergency

The built environment is one of the biggest carbon emitters in Scotland, contributing to around 40% of the total UK footprint. While public sector buildings account for a relatively small proportion, the sector has an important role to play in leading the transition to a net-zero economy and encouraging the private sector to follow.

On Thursday 5 March 2020 Ivan McKee, Scotland's Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation, announced that the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow would receive £500,000 of Scottish Government funding for two separate projects designed to demonstrate the benefits of partnerships between businesses, academics and the public sector in accelerating Scotland’s transition to a low carbon economy.

We are facing a global climate emergency and one of the major challenges is not only how we build in the future, but reducing carbon emissions from existing housing stock. As these projects demonstrate, innovation plays a key part in this and will help us reach our ambitious, world-leading target to reach net-zero by 2045. We continue to engage with public bodies, businesses, communities and individuals at every opportunity to address the challenge we all face.

Ivan McKee MSPMinister for Trade, Investment and Innovation

The funding comes from the Scottish Funding Council's Climate Emergency Collaboration Challenge, established to fund new business and academic partnerships to tackle climate change and assist Scotland’s transition to a net-zero emissions economy.

The two projects were selected from a total of nineteen proposals, indicating the willingness of Scotland’s universities and colleges to work with industry, the public sector and the Scottish Government to address the global climate emergency.

Bayes Buildings interior
New technology will be tested in a selection of University buildings

Improving building design and construction at Edinburgh

Despite significant investments having been made to-date in energy efficiency measures, renewables and low carbon technologies, more needs to be done to close the ‘performance gap’ between ambition and reality in public sector construction and the building management.

The University of Edinburgh project aims to:

  • Establish effective and sustained partnership working between industry, academia and public sector decision-makers to accelerate emission reductions in the sector up to 2045;
  • Engage partners to identify and make recommendations on where the construction development process can be better managed to deliver improved energy efficiency outcomes; 
  • In collaboration with project partners Integrated Environmental Solutions & Schneider Electric, test digital tools (such as IES’s new Digital Twin technology) that increase our ability to improve the energy performance and emissions associated with existing buildings – this will be achieved by creating a ‘living laboratory’ for advancing data analysis, modelling and simulation using several case study sites on our campus;
  • Maximise opportunities for wider take up of solutions developed during the project through a programme of stakeholder communications and engagement.

In doing so, the project aims to help create a step-change in emissions reductions from public sector construction and built environment up to 2045, by improving how building projects are designed, managed and implemented through early-stage decisions and better on-going management of building performance.

As well as having a sector-wide impact on emissions reductions, the project ambition aligns closely with the University of Edinburgh’s long-standing commitment to address climate change through its research, teaching and operations as part of a whole institutional approach to becoming a net-zero institution by 2040

The severity of the threat posed by climate change and the urgency with which responses are needed cannot be overstated. As one of the biggest global emitters of carbon, emissions from construction and the built environment must be significantly reduced if we are to reach net zero emissions in Scotland by 2045. The public sector has an important role to play in leading this transition and this is the challenge that we and our partners will address through this ambitious project, by developing innovative solutions and fostering effective and sustained partnership working.

Dave GormanDirector for Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Project partners include Integrated Environmental Solutions, Schneider Electric, Scottish Futures Trust, Robertson Group, Zero Waste Scotland, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, EAUC, APUC (Advanced Procurement for Universities and Colleges), AUDE (Association of University Directors of Estates), Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation and the Sustainable Scotland Network.

We are very proud to be bringing our 25 years of experience and leading-edge sustainable analysis technology to this project. Tackling climate change has been on our agenda since IES was founded, so to be selected as an industry partner and given the opportunity to make a significant contribution to meeting Scotland’s zero-carbon targets is very exciting. Our goal in this project is to use our already developed Intelligent Communities Lifecycle (ICL) Digital Twin technology to provide a significantly enhanced level of analysis at all stages of the building lifecycle in order to both demonstrate the business benefits as part of the transition to a zero carbon future, and provide the University of Edinburgh with benchmarks and processes they can adopt that will guarantee improvements and consistency across their future projects.”

Don McLeanIES Founder & CEO
A group shot fo the project partners
The announcement was made in Glasgow at a tenement property in the city where a high-tech, green retrofit will be evaluated to understand how to reduce carbon emissions from existing housing stock.

Tenement building retrofit in Glasgow

The announcement was made in Glasgow at a tenement property in the city where a high-tech, green retro-fit will be evaluated to understand how to reduce carbon emissions from existing housing stock. Project leaders predict there is the potential for energy savings of between 75% and 90%.

Professor Kenneth Gibb, Director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence and the academic lead for the University of Glasgow project said: “We are delighted to make a potentially big contribution to addressing the climate emergency in Scotland through SFC funding for this important project.

“Older housing is a key source of the carbon challenge, especially our pre-1919 tenements. This demonstration project allows us to both learn about this particular form of retrofit and to assess how to scale up and provide replicable solutions across the range of Glasgow tenements.”

Find out more

For more information on the University of Edinburgh's project, please contact Project Co-ordinator Jenny Fausset (jenny.fausset@ed.ac.uk).