Hattie Hartmann of the Architects Journal says architects should be ashamed of their abysmal record on carbon emissions, 30th July 2009

This is an excellent article by a journalist who is getting fed-up with ‘greenwash’ about sustainability.

However, what is not picked out, and seems to be incredibly difficult for many people including architects to understand, is that you can get a low-carbon building that has frugal energy consumption, or you can get a low-carbon building that guzzles energy and burns masses of ‘zero carbon’ biomass. (Of course an incredibly frugal building that also uses a tiny amount of biomass in order to try to become zero carbon is not a bad thing at all but such buildings are extremely rare in the UK).

Those who trot out energy guzzling buildings and use biomass to make this less bad, are doing their clients, the wider community and the country a disservice. This is because biomass is fast becoming an expensive commodity and is likely to become scarce if we are forced to use our land to grow our own food. Professor Tim Lang of City University can explain in detail why we have barely enough land in the UK to grow our own food. This fact is masked by 60% of our food being grown on other people’s land and imported by supermarkets. Each green bean, for example, grown in Kenya uses 3 litres of water in a water-strapped land. This makes a few people rich at the cost of food and water shortages for the wider community. The food crunch is coming, particularly as industrialising India and China increase their food requirements and have the money to pay for it. As Bill Dunster warns, food riots in the UK may be closer than we think.

So back to Hattie Hartmann’s article: I don’t believe a school in Bristol that ventilates heat through a wind cowl on the roof is likely to be very energy efficient. 80-90% of it’s heat is supplied by biomass so I guess the architect and services engineer think that efficiency doesn’t matter?

Meantime, Bill Bordass has just come back from Frankfurt where he was impressed at the really superb genuinely low energy schools being built there. That’s low heat energy and low primary energy. Bill will be a keynote speaker at the AECB Passivhaus schools conference on December 11th at RIBA along with Axel Bretzke from Frankfurt.