RIAI launches Sustainable Design Pathways

The RIAI has published a guide for architects to integrate sustainability in their projects and practices. The RIAI Guide: Sustainable Design Pathways is intended to educate and inform architects and other construction professionals, including surveyors, planners, and engineers, on the key areas that must be addressed in built environment design and development to combat the climate crisis.

The document also details actions that will help achieve emissions reduction targets outlined in the recent Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill, published by the Irish Government.

The Sustainable Design Pathways guide was launched at the Building Collaboration for Climate Change Action Conference 2021, hosted online by the RIAI and other construction sector bodies.

Ciaran O’Connor FRIAI, President of the RIAI, said: “Architects play a lead role in construction projects and are often called upon to balance complex competing criteria in the development and delivery of buildings and infrastructure. Sustainability must be prioritised within these criteria, for the benefit of current and future generations, and the RIAI is supporting architects in adopting sustainable design in practice for the benefit of everyone in society. The RIAI Sustainable Pathways Guide sets out recommendations on how we, as architects, can address the climate crisis and ensure that a focus on sustainability can exist alongside the highest standards of design in our built environment.”

Recommendations in the Sustainable Pathways Guide to achieve sustainability in the built environment include setting sustainable design metrics, delivering net zero operational carbon and replacing material products with low impact, low embodied carbon products in each project as well as appointing Sustainable Design Champions on the team.

The RIAI Sustainable Pathways Guide recommends the following 10 sustainable design pathways:

  1. Commit to a target of net zero emission buildings and development as outlined in the RIAI 2030 Climate Challenge to be published later in 2021.
  2. Assign a Sustainable Design Champion within the practice and on each design team to review sustainable design progress at key points on each project.
  3. Set at least 5 sustainable design metrics in all projects going forward.
  4. Aim to add another 5 metrics to each subsequent project.
  5. Deliver net zero operational carbon in all projects going forward.
  6. Commit to performance in use of verification in all projects going forward.
  7. Commit to Simple Review Post Occupancy Evaluation in all projects going forward.
  8. Plan to integrate External and Detailed Review Post Occupancy Evaluation in subsequent projects.
  9. Replace 5 material products with low impact, low embodied carbon products in each project going forward.
  10. Upskill further where required in the use of appropriate sustainability assessment techniques and tools during the design process.

In addition, simple design practices can be made including to:

  • Protect natural habitats, trees and biodiversity
  • Reuse and readapt existing buildings where possible
  • Adopt a fabric-first approach
  • Prioritise energy efficiency
  • Adopt net zero energy buildings target
  • Eliminate CO2 emissions
  • Create parkland on brownfield sites
  • Adopt a circular economy approach to reduce construction waste

Sarah O’Dwyer MRIAI, Chair of the RIAI Sustainability Task Force, said: “The RIAI Guide: Sustainable Design Pathways has been developed to assist architects, and all construction professionals, to adopt and integrate sustainable design principles in their projects and practice. It has been estimated that current global emission levels for buildings are almost 40% of energy related carbon with operational emissions at almost 30% and just over 10% from materials and construction. Our starting point in sustainability should be to reuse and readapt existing buildings where possible to avoid the release of carbon from demolition. For new buildings, we have put together ten Sustainable Design Pathways in this new document, as well as simple design practices which can have a far-reaching positive impact.”