Ecobuild 2015 London Unlocking Innovation

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London – Ecobuild 2015 ends today at the ExCeL, in London. It has been three days of inspiring talks, seminars and workshops, all held by distinguished figures in the eco-sustainability field, and it has given international companies, investors, and visitors the chance to dialogue about eco-sustainable innovation.

The major issue discussed is eco-sustainable construction, hence the name Ecobuild, and how technological innovations in building systems, and revolutionary building models could bridge the gap between theory and practice. Equally, as the exponential technological growth is currently diverging from the current infrastructural and social models, Ecobuild discussed the social impact these innovations have, and the importance of promoting a ‘good use’ of technology.

Innovation and new materials: Could they revolutionise sustainable construction?
The headline targets of the government’s 2025 Industrial Strategy for Construction include:

– 33% reduction in the initial cost of construction
– 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
– 50% reduction of the trade gap between total exports and total imports of production products and materials.

This conference addressed the question of how these targets could be met, and the practical side of making building innovation real.

Mark Miodownik, Professor of Material and Society at UCL, explained how man-made materials are intrinsically different from materials we can find in nature, as they cannot be recycled so far (either for lack of technology or for the costs the recycling process would entail).

Therefore, the world we live in, being based on man-made materials, is unsustainable. One solution could be, as Michael Pawlyn, Director of Exploration Architecture, illustrated, the creation of materials and structures which mimic the biological.

As a matter of fact, in the biological world there is a perfect optimisation in terms of resource efficiency, and copying bio-structures – e.g. creating self-repairing or hierarchical structures – could be a very productive and eco-sustainable way to improve building systems.

Another important issue is construction waste: currently only a very small amount of it is recycled. Dan Epstein, Director of Sustainability, Useful Simple Projects, proposes to transform the construction cycle in order to make it part of a circular, eco-sustainable economy: construction waste has to be re-introduced into the construction cycle, making space for creative and innovative reuse. Last but not least, Sarah Cary, Sustainable Developments Executive, British Land, pointed out how, in order to reach the above-mentioned goals, the business model has to undergo significant changes too: more cooperation is needed among the actors of the building scene (contractors, utilities, investors, scientists, clients, insurances, etc.). Only creating a new dialogue platform in the construction business will innovation be unlocked and efficiently and creatively realised.

 

Are Smart Cities a positive sustainability benefit or an unwelcome invasion of privacy?
The innovations brought about by technological development, such as the discovery of new materials, do not only bear economic consequences, as they deeply influence all aspects of everyday life. As a matter of fact, the artificial ecosystem biomimicry scientists are creating is part of the wider artificial eco-system of the interconnected world we live in, which is changing the way people live and think.

The Smart City – a city that meets the needs of its citizens through the use of technology and the real-time interconnection and access to information, in order to find eco-sustainable solutions to environmental issues – is thus itself an actor in the Internet of Things, and becomes the new ground for an old debate: benefit or invasion?

 
While the benefits of high quality information in real time are quite understandable, it is not very clear what the implications of a constant data collection – by governments, corporations, hackers, etc. – are, and how they will respect (or breach) privacy regulations.

As Andrew Collinge, Assistant Director of Intelligence and Analysis, Greater London Authority, explained, one of the most important issues is the gap between traditional legislative, social and urban infrastructure and the speed of technology.

As a matter of fact, regulations and rules are still designed for an off-line world, and we need to rethink the balance between data sharing and privacy regulations from a digital economy perspective, as the engine of future smart cities.

Therefore, the interconnection of the social world and the technological infrastructure has to be taken into consideration, and technology has to be used in order to pursue the social good.

As a matter of fact, as Dr Rick Robinson, IT Director for Smart Data, and Technology, Amey, explained, a Smart City is not just a more efficient city, but a city where the wellbeing and health of its citizens are significantly improved through technological innovations and new economic and social models. It is a city where people want to be.

To conclude, being aware of the importance and interconnection of environmental and social capital, Ecobuild 2015 presented eco-sustainable innovations which will improve the conditions of our planet, and equally stated the importance the creation of new financial, economic and social models have with regard to the shaping of a better future.

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