Synopsis: Achieving net zero carbon in commercial office spaces necessitates a delicate balance between refurbishment and new construction, with embodied carbon being a crucial factor, reports AECOM. While refurbishments often start with a lower upfront carbon footprint, the entire life cycle must be considered. Factors like sub-structure, structure/frame, MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing), and finishes are pivotal in making environmentally friendly choices. Meeting sustainability goals while ensuring cost viability remains a challenge, demanding continuous innovation, material choices, and industry-wide collaboration.Article:Designing low-carbon commercial office space with a focus on achieving net zero emissions is a complex puzzle. The endeavor involves meticulous planning, material choices, and a delicate balance between refurbishing existing structures and constructing new ones.One of the most significant considerations in this quest for sustainability is embodied carbon, which encompasses the emissions generated throughout a building's life cycle, from construction to operation. The construction industry is experiencing a shift towards a "refurb-first" approach across the UK. This approach prioritizes retrofitting and repurposing existing structures over new construction, aligning with the broader goal of reducing the environmental impact of new materials.However, opting for refurbishment doesn't automatically guarantee the lowest carbon outcome. To make informed decisions, it's essential to evaluate the building's carbon profile, considering both upfront and whole-life carbon measurements. While refurbishments tend to have a lower upfront carbon footprint, new construction projects can narrow this gap when examining the entire life cycle.The key to making these decisions lies in accurate modeling and data. Robust assessment and informed choices are vital in determining whether a new build or refurbishment project is the right path to follow.Designing low-carbon commercial office spaces entails a multitude of considerations. The market's perception of Grade A office spaces is evolving, with sustainability now a significant factor. This shift sometimes conflicts with the desire for large, open-plan spaces. To reconcile these competing demands, traditional specifications must be reevaluated.For existing buildings, a critical review of product and specification levels is necessary to find clear design solutions. Some projects are embracing smaller column grids and more flexible environmental conditions as a way to meet sustainability goals without sacrificing functionality.When making the decision of what to re-use and what to build anew, various design factors must be considered. These include:Sub-structure: The potential of reusing existing foundations and piles should be explored before constructing new sub-structures. Innovative solutions like hollow piles, which reduce material volume and carbon emissions, are being adopted.Structure/Frame: Reducing concrete use is the most effective way to lower a project's carbon impact. The amount of steel specified for the frame also affects carbon intensity, with reused steel offering substantial environmental benefits.Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT): While CLT is an environmentally friendly material, its glued nature can complicate disassembly, re-use, or repurposing.MEP (Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing): Services contribute significantly to a building's whole-life carbon output. Optimizing the efficiency of systems and challenging norms can lead to substantial decarbonization.Finishes: Developers are exploring ways to minimize additional finishes by dematerializing projects, using the basic structure as the finish where possible.Balancing cost and decarbonization is the central challenge in making net zero offices commercially viable. Disruptive technologies, adaptable low-carbon materials, and industry-wide collaboration are the keys to progress. There are more questions than answers at this stage, but by constantly questioning norms and embracing innovation, the industry can find solutions.ConclusionAachieving net zero carbon in commercial office spaces is a multifaceted journey. The decision to refurbish or build anew depends on a comprehensive assessment of carbon emissions throughout the building's life cycle. Material choices, innovation, and industry collaboration are critical in making net zero offices both sustainable and economically viable.