Carbon-neutral buildings: innovating for the planet!

At its current rate, humanity will have used up the carbon budget initially planned for 2100 in just 15 years’ time. The challenge for humanity, and particularly countries in the northern hemisphere, is to halve carbon emissions by 2030, and to slash them by two thirds by 2050. The BHEP (hybrid positive-economy building) is a solution to tackle global warming.

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Civil engineering accounts for 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The PEHB aims to establish the era of eco-construction and bio-climatic design in order to extend the lifespan of buildings, but also to ensure that in the future they generate more revenues than costs and therefore become fully-fledged profit centres. Four questions to Fabrice Bonnifet, Head of Sustainable Development at Bouygues SA.

How did this innovative concept arise? 

The concept was invented 4 years ago by Bouygues as part of a cross-disciplinary innovation programme called “innovating like a start-up”, which involved some 50 employees for around 6 months.

The concept was certified by Bertrand Piccard’s Solar Impulse foundation, which collected 1,000 solutions to save the planet. So we are now part of the solution library for the planet, and proud to let our clients know of this recognition of our green performance!

How does this model disrupt the status quo?

At the moment, each building is designed for a specific use and remains independent from others. We have office buildings, residential ones and more. Very few buildings can be repurposed during their lifespan. 99% of buildings on our planet are net utility consumers, rather than generate their own power, heat and water. In the future, there will be a shift towards an interdependent model. Buildings will exchange not only data but also utility flows to operate more resiliently on a regional scale. Employees and companies will only want to pay for what they consume. We are moving towards a usage economy. The full carbon cost will be the building’s top performance metric.

The building will have to be fully prepared for integrated transport, urban agriculture, etc., even if these features are not included at the moment of completion. These are major advances.

What do you say to those who call it too expensive?

The positive-economy hybrid building is a little more expensive than a conventional building. However, because it generates revenue, the ratio between the investment cost and the revenue generated makes it more profitable.

Six drivers behind a construction industry revolution

Pooling of buildings

The idea may be simple, yet the execution highly complex. The aim is to design buildings that will enable us to have primary, secondary and third-party occupants, in order to optimise their land use ratio and usage coefficient as much as possible. In the future, all buildings will be designed to share their spaces: auditorium, company restaurant, rooftop, meeting rooms, videoconferencing rooms, etc. When you don’t need a space or a solution you can therefore sublet it to other types of occupant. If done intelligently and safely with enough access, it can bring in additional revenue and double or triple a real estate asset’s occupancy/cost ratio.

Enhancing utility flows

This is the driver for which Bouygues Energies & Services probably brings the most added value. Eventually, all buildings will become power generators, via solar or hydrogen solutions for example. What will they do with this power? They will naturally consume it themselves, sell it to their neighbours, recharge electric cars, and more. All this energy trading among buildings holds the potential for additional income. The more energy buildings generate, the more profitable they will be.

Enhancing materials

Materials account for 20% to 25% of a building’s overall cost. Upon refurbishment, the residual value of these materials is close to zero, or it may even cost money to remove them. In the future, circular economy regulations will result in some components being reused, either in France or abroad. Reusing these second-hand materials could even be made obligatory in the construction of new buildings.

High quality usage

Spatial organisation by task type to save up to 50% of space, hologram and remote meetings to limit travel – 1st carbon station in buildings – biophilic approach to improve the atmosphere, neighbourhood social networks so that people spend less, platform of services and applications to improve air quality, security, lighting, heating, cooling, and more.

Reversible and customisable buildings

To extend the lifespan of an office building, it should be possible to convert it into housing, for example, or to fit it out with co-working and co-living areas, as well as mixing small private areas with shared spaces.

“Ready to upgrade” buildings

This entails configuring buildings to adapt to a climate that is set to change in the coming years. For example, by 2030 Paris will have the climate of Seville, while by 2050 it will be like Algiers. It is therefore important that buildings can adapt to heat waves for their occupiers’ comfort.


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