'sufficiency' should be first, before efficiency & renewables

I would like to draw CLF members attention to this important article by a colleague Dr Yamina Saheb, IPCC lead author for Working Group III on Climate Change Mitigation.

As she explains, sufficiency is about avoiding demand for energy, materials, land, water, and other natural resources, while enabling well-being for all within planetary boundaries.

I suggest this will have major implications for built environment, especially commercial real estate in North America, Canada, and Australia where I am based. Our sights need to be raised beyond low-carbon materials to meeting genuine needs while building much less and making better use of what we have, thus saving 80 - 100% of consumption carbon.

We cannot afford to continue to build at the rate of adding another NY City to the planet every months for the next 40 years, as inferred by recent Communiques.

Welcome further comments and discussion on this topic.
@mlewis @will.nash


Great article, thank you for sharing. Agree that we need to change our behavior more than we need to change the materials we use or the ways that we build. This is challenging, especially here in the States where more is often viewed as not only better, but necessary. I’m curious how others in the construction industry (I’m a general contractor) navigate the challenge between building what a client wants and thinks they need versus steering them towards wanting less so that we can build less. All the while remaining a profitable company.

I much appreciate your important and pertinent question @ryanl
Sure, can be difficult for a Contractor to steer a client towards building less.
French architects Lavaton and Vassal have managed this successfully e.g. they were asked to redesign a large square but said it just needed some minor changes Modest maestros Lacaton and Vassal win 2021 Pritzker Prize
They saved their clients money, but I wonder if they sacrificed a large fee or had a different fee arrangement with client?
When carbon pricing becomes widespread (as it surely must), this will steer clients towards more modest solutions that consume less resources and carbon.
In a ‘build less’ regime, I see more opportunities for contractors in adapting, maintaining and renovating existing buildings stock, and in finding new profit centres in asset management. Because existing buildings are intended to be net zero by 2050, there will surely be huge opportunities for energy efficiency upgrades e.g. the ‘Renovation Wave’ policy of Euro Commission - with the opportunity for related building upgrades (e.g. safety, functionality) at the same time.
In that regard, although there are likely to be less new builds, there will still be substantial construction work in modifying the infill/fitout to suit changing user needs within the existing structural fabric (the latter represents about 80% of embodied carbon, as I understand).


David, thank you for sharing this piece. It’s particularly valuable to see some of the researchers doing work in this space. From the economics side this is very similar to Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics framework - it could be a valuable synergy to see these conversations/research efforts unite. Doughnut | Kate Raworth
From more of a sociological angle, sufficiency brings to mind the research looking at income level and correlation to happiness/wellbeing. I just saw that this research has a new data point - A 2010 paper found correlation up to $75k/yr, new research suggests that the correlation continues. But the methodology is different as well and so how we define and construct these ideas/programs can result in dramatically different results. What’s the “just-right” range, what’s an under-shoot, and how can there be accountability to limit over-shoots?
Here’s a piece that links to both the 2010 and 2021 studies if it’s of interest.
Study Finds Strong Relation Between Income and Happiness, Does Not Max Out at $75k

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Thanks David - the really hard question is how to enact such a policy, short of authoritarian regime it is somewhat difficult to formulate a “free market” implementation. Possibly a UBI with strong social services for essentials and natural monopolies, coupled with an appropriately priced carbon/resource tax.

I came across this book review for J.B. MacKinnon The Day the World Stops Shopping that you might be interested to read.

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Isn’t it that we have to combine designing for circularity with designing for low embodied carbon? The first values building as little as possible and using as few materials as possible. I’m hoping Arup’s Circular Design Toolkit could be helpful here - being released for free use early 2022. First principle is “Refuse New Construction”. Also don’t we need to change LCAs to measure functional units by program/ occupancy rather than area so building a smaller house is rewarded? I wrote a blog post on this for AIA COTE a while back about how EUI metrics don’t reward building less, and LCAs are the same. We also need to pay architects differently - not based on % cost / area built but on value added for the client.


Thank you @AMeier and for that article which makes sense to me. The UN Emission Gap Report 2020 highlighted that the wealthiest 1% (which does not only include super rich) need to reduce their consumption carbon by 97% by 2030 to attain 2.1t pa carbon per cap benchmark.

Thanks again @will.nash and I will try to get hold of book.
Per capita carbon allocations are being discussed as one way, whereby the big consumers can be identified and penalised.
Similarly, ‘carbon budgets’ are being discussed in EU for sectors and even building types, derived from Country allocations.

Very much agree @claremiflin!
Circularity when applied to built environment should value building less but does not seem to go far enough - often focuses on recycling and reuse, and low carbon materials. Whereas most carbon and resources can be saved by not building at all or building less.
Right now am examining ‘Circular City Actions Framework’ IICLEI) which, while making right noises (mentions Rethink, Regerate, Reduce), also seems to fall short.
I previously conducted research with Arup on adapting CE to built environment, focus was reuse of building components as a service via cloud platform.
Now I am seeking to go further i.e. Rethink, Reduce - talk to recent Vancouver CLF event.
Am still engaged with Arup and a green building organisation on research to rethink benchmarks & metrics for carbon footprints in built environment - and again agree that metrics must be changed from current kgCO2-e per m2, which is an intensity based metric, and to reward building less.
And sure, we do need to adjust fee criteria. I have been wondering how Lacaton & Vassal manage to profit from advising clients to built less?
Look forward much to discuss more. David Ness Home Page, University of South Australia

@david.ness if per m2 doesn’t fit the bill, what does? Per person? Wouldn’t that incentivize larger denser buildings?

I saw that Debmark is putting a kgCO2e per m2 policy into place (starting at 12 and ratcheting down to 5 over the next 7 years).

I also saw BRANZ out of New Zealand recommend a total carbon budget (in tons) for office, detached single family, dense residential, and apartments, but the budget is derived from average building sizes.

@ScottFarbman that’s the 64 million dollar question!
We have some other options in mind, hope to share later.
Although per m2 does not seem to restrain size enough, even if ratcheting down, as it is an intensity/efficiency measure. Please see @claremiflin post and blog.
Per capita would relate well to 2.1 t per cap CO2 consumption emissions by 2030 (UN Emissions Gap Report 2020).
Thanks, I wasn’t aware of BRANZ approach.
Rather than based upon building types, carbon budget per function may be more helpful. Because office (and other) functions are increasingly being conducted remotely.
Revenue per m2 has been used elsewhere.
We need to keep our focus on delivering services/functions with much less floor area and material consumption and carbon.
Please see link to another report by Yamina Saheb that further explains Sufficiency (metrics on p. 5).