In a campaign organized by the European Architect’s Journal and backed by 14 Sterling Prize winners, a new push is being made to get businesses to renovate existing buildings rather than tear them down and rebuild—to fight climate change.
Construction is one of the main contributors to climate change, particularly the production of steel and concrete. We know that buildings continue to have a carbon footprint throughout their lives due to utilities used as well as reflected heat and emissions. A study from the United Kingdom’s Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors estimates that 35% of a commercial building’s lifetime carbon emissions take place during construction. That number is even higher for residential construction, at 51%
Therefore, the urging from the Architect’s Journal is that these buildings get reused and never have to go through that construction step again. (Renovation has much less of an impact on carbon footprint, as lower amounts of concrete, steel and masonry are used in this type of a project.)
In the UK, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee has made the recommendation to change the VAT tax rules to make it cheaper to refurbish a standing building rather than rebuild. The VAT tax is currently 20% higher for repair and maintenance than it is for new construction, which, Architect’s Journal managing editor Will Hurst says, encourages tearing down buildings.
“It’s crazy that the government actually incentivizes practices that create more carbon emissions. Also, if you avoid demolition, you make carbon savings right now, which we really need,” Hurst told the BBC. “In the past, the government argued that the EU would forbid zero VAT on renovation – but they can’t use that excuse now.”
The Treasury Minister, who opposes the new campaign, has said that such a measure would cost the country £6 billion per year.