Demolition can fight climate change too, says NFDC president

By Steve Ducker15 June 2022

The president of the United Kingdom’s National Federation of Demolition Contractors (NFDC) has defended the industry following calls from politicians to reduce the number of buildings being demolished.

William Crooks William Crooks, president of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors, backs the demolition sector to tackle climate change (Photo: Cawarden)

William Crooks said the demolition sector is “continuously evolving and advancing” and argued that the retrofitting promoted as part of achieving net zero carbon emissions is “not a universally suitable solution.”

Demolition took centre stage in Westminster last month when the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, chaired by Philip Dunne MP, argued that taking down buildings and replacing them with new ones worsens climate change.

The view has been shared by engineers and architects, and more recently by Glasgow, Scotland-based sustainable analysis technology specialist IES, whose research and development senior project manager Giulia Barbano said: “According to the UK Green Building Council, 80% of buildings that will exist by 2050 have already been built, so decarbonising the existing stock needs to be a major priority. Currently, in Europe, renovation rates stand at about 1%, largely because renovation is an uncertain investment – there are high upfront costs involved and the end energy and cost savings are usually only ballpark figures.

“However, with the advancement of technology supporting sustainability in the built sector, this can be changed. Instead of looking at an old building, perhaps built in a time when documentation wasn’t so regulated and making assumptions on its performance, technology can be used in retrofitting to enable accurate performance measurement and remove the need for assumptions.

“Digital Twins represent accurate models of buildings and use physics-based simulations, together with real data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to behave exactly like their real-world counterparts. Digital Twins can then be used to test different design options on a virtual version of a building, make better, data-driven decisions and accurately assess return on investment.

“Digital Twins that have been created for existing buildings reveal how they need to be retrofitted to bring them in line with net-zero targets by assessing which upgrades need to be implemented, such as new windows, better insulation, renewables integration and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system upgrades, and which of these options will have the greatest impact.

“This has the overall result of extending a building’s life, minimising the need for demolition and the production of new materials, and ensuring that the buildings are operating with optimised energy use. Construction has a huge impact on the environment and firms need to make technology central in their strategies to promote sustainability.”

However, William Crooks says the demolition industry had played a leading role in recycling and reuse, which it can continue in the years to come.

“The demolition sector is continuously evolving and advancing – even more so now as we collaborate with our clients and related industries to quantify the carbon impact of our collective operations and address the reduction or elimination of this impact,” he said.

“There will always be a requirement for some demolition works. In our experience and opinion, retrofitting is not a universally suitable solution for all buildings – there are many factors at play. We continue to campaign for the end-of-life building directive, where the whole life of the building is considered at the design and construction stages.

“The NFDC, and the demolition sector, has led the way in recycling and reuse, environmental monitoring, advocating for NFDC members to switch to low-emission fuels and commit to Journey to Zero targets.

“Through participation in sustainability task forces, industry working groups and collaborative efforts with linked parties, the demolition industry actively seeks to support [them] and take action against climate change in every way we can.”

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