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By Active Building Centre’s new CEO, Dan Cook

I’m delighted to join Active Building Centre as its interim CEO. I wanted to take this opportunity to set out my plans for ABC and my hopes and vision for our industry more widely. We are at a critical moment with rapid transformation arising from climate change, a digital revolution, the impact of the pandemic and rising energy costs across businesses and society.

I’m looking forward to leading ABC to help share solutions that make buildings more active, climate positive and efficient when it comes to their generation, management and storage of energy.

Funding transition

First and foremost, I’m here to steer ABC through the conclusion of the Transforming Construction Challenge and into the next phase of its development. The Challenge may be coming to an end, but ABC’s work is not. There remains much to be done to transform the construction sector. So I’ll be working to secure the future for ABC, exploring various options, including further government funding, as well as engaging industry and seeking new private sector partnerships and funding to help drive a transition to active use of more renewable, and lower carbon energy in our buildings.

I’ve been impressed at how, despite the impact of the pandemic, ABC has managed to continue to build great demonstrator projects in Berkeley and work with partners in Wales and England to continue to improve impact of buildings. As we move on from the pledges made at COP26, to driving real action in 2022 and beyond, by building this knowledge in the regions outside our major cities we are also helping drive levelling up through creation of new industries.

When UKRI launched the Challenge in 2018, we were in a very different world: pre-pandemic and pre-energy crisis. A huge amount has changed since then, both in our industry and here at ABC. The nation understands better than ever before both the environmental risks and the vulnerabilities in our energy supplies, and therefore how important it is to be smart, joined-up and efficient in how we manage it. The world has changed, but the need for active, systems-based thinking about energy has only grown.

Industry barriers

Despite perceptions to the contrary, in recent years the construction industry has not, in my opinion, been held back by a reluctance to change. This might be a common view among many, but it’s not what I’ve seen. Across the public and private sectors, I know and have met countless people in construction and related sectors who want to change to reach net zero, but they simply don’t know how.

Everybody knows the role which construction and buildings can theoretically play. What constrains them is expertise and knowhow and that’s where ABC comes in. We’re uniquely positioned to work with industry and government, doing the R&D work that is too costly and time-intensive for either to undertake on their own.

At our site in Berkeley, we act as a test bed, with our model homes and a community heat network demonstrating which technologies work and which don’t, doing the difficult work of trial and error for construction companies. We can bring together the best technologies and experts from all over the world to see what works in a live, real world environment.

Building partnerships

My vision for the future of ABC centres on this point. Plenty of firms know what their technology can do, whether it’s the latest heat pump or the newest development in photovoltaics. But few, if any, know how they can be combined – and certainly not how they can be combined in the most efficient way possible. Working directly with these manufacturers, as well as all across the built environment – architects, surveyors, planners, developers and owners and occupiers of property, will enable us to find the optimum combinations of these technologies, fulfilling a role which, for all their innovations, individual manufacturers simply cannot. I look forward to promoting this systems-based approach linking energy and buildings.

It is, of course, great to know how to make an individual home or school more energy active, but what we need now is change on a grand scale. That’s why I’m also going to be focused on forming partnerships with major housebuilders, public housing managers and government agencies to name a few. ABC is already working with firms like Hill Marshall LLP, and with devolved and local governments in Wales, but there’s still a long way to go.

Once we can demonstrate to the development industry that we’ve done the thinking in reaching the optimum combination of technologies, we’ll have removed one of the major barriers to wholesale change. I’ve spent decades building relationships in the design and construction sector at both RICS and the Landscape Institute, and I can’t wait to help them bring this systems thinking approach in this role.

Whether it’s technology manufacturers, housebuilders or government, collaboration is key. This is true not just of traditional industries, but also of the new third-party groups focused on the future of our planet, and the need for transformation in our sector, like the Ikea Foundation, Laudes Foundation and the Bezos Earth Fund which we’re starting to see emerge to help drive change.

Convening these types of partners at ABC’s hub of impartial and nonpartisan technological expertise will help accelerate the transformation of the buildings sector in partnership with energy sector toward a net zero and hopefully climate positive future.

Making change happen

With energy prices driving the cost-of-living crisis and a renewed focus on the drive to net zero, we are at a major turning point as an industry. It will be vital that our buildings are not only carbon-neutral, but also use energy as intelligently and efficiently as possible and can even contribute green electricity to the grid. We all know that the industry still has a long way to go, but I can’t wait to help drive that transformation in a just manner that benefits our society with lower costs and even new income.