Episode 12: Buildings & Cities with David Mead

In 2008, a major landmark was passed as for the first time in history the majority of humanity lived in urban areas. Rapid urbanisation is a major story of the twenty-first century so that by some estimates two thirds of humanity will live in urban areas by 2060, effectively representing a doubling of the global building stock.

Buildings and cities are thus crucial players in global warming and in this interview we talk to Drawdown Research Fellow David Mead to look at how best practices in the building industry can transform the built environment and reduce emissions. Although ostensibly Drawdown’s solutions based approach doesn’t give enormous weight to buildings, David points out that this is largely because many solutions that buildings encompass, such as rooftop solar, feature in other sectors. As such, buildings have the potential to represent an amalgamation of best practices and new technologies. Moreover, buildings are key emitters and David cites a recent UN report which found that they account for as much as 40% of anthropogenic emissions, should indirect emissions from production also be considered. We discuss how this is found in concrete but also in the production of insulation, reflected by high-levels of CFCs from China.

We also discuss rapid urbanisation, which as David points out, globally amounts to adding an area the size of New York every month for the next forty years. Given the difficulty of implementing change after construction, David emphasises the importance of implementing best practices in order to avoid “baking in” emissions within the built environment. We look at individually important solutions, such as heat-pumps that connect buildings to make use of waste heat, the role of insulation and the widespread deployment of LED lighting. We also touch on exciting innovations such as living buildings, which go beyond net-zero to actively treat their waste on site, effectively mimicking plants. With regards to regulation, David points out how it can be essential to providing adequate pricing for structural decisions in order to shift baselines and move away from business as usual and to help subsidise and drive innovation.

David also discusses the importance of messaging and stresses the importance of positive narratives in order to galvanise change. While broadly critical of the western baby-boomer generation that has failed to provide leadership on environmental issues, David finishes on a note of optimism affirming that younger more engaged generations could act as catalysts to implement the rapid and dramatic changes climate action demands.

David Mead is an architect, engineer and high-performance building specialist with over thirteen years of experience. He works to integrate engineering and architectural solutions into unified sustainable designs. This involves research, innovation, engineering, and verification of concepts. He has extensive experience in sustainable design, including greenhouse gas inventory tracking, passive building strategies, renewable energy system designs, and the creation of sustainability guidelines for large organizations. He is also a committed advocate for net-positive buildings and brings an innovative approach to greenhouse gas and energy analysis to advance building performance towards a carbon neutral future.

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