The construction industry plays a major part in the climate crisis, accounting for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats
Straw and other natural materials like clay are the most appropriate materials to build with in terms of embodied carbon. Every straw bale sequesters (‘locks in’) carbon dioxide which is absorbed by the crops as they grow. Straw bale walls then store this carbon in their fabric for the lifetime of the building. For houses that last upwards of 100 years, this makes a significant contribution in helping to revert the emission of greenhouse gases.
The insulating quality of straw bales also massively reduces the operational energy of the buildings we design, not to mention the cost of heating them! A typical plastered straw wall has a U-value of 0.11 – more than twice as insulating as Building Regulations require.
Straw Works (now Wellspring Architecture) are proud to be a signatory of the Architects Declare movement, which unites architects to make change in the industry in order to mitigate the effects of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.
The organisation raises awareness around environmental issues in the Architecture industry. Their website has some good resources, with presentations from embodied carbon workshops and conference videos which are free to access.
ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network) is a network of individuals within architecture and related built environment professions taking action to address the twin crises of climate and ecological breakdown. They aim to create change within the industry through:
- Political campaigning and lobbying
- Direct action and public engagement
- Research and knowledge sharing
They regularly host events and run campaigns, with plenty of resources available on their website. Informative webinars, such as their Natural Materials masterclasses and the Circular series, are available on their Youtube channel. You can also read Architects Declare and ACAN’s submissions for the inquiry into Sustainability of the Built Environment here. The inquiry looks at the best routes to net zero for our future building needs from low carbon materials through to policies to minimise the whole life carbon impact of new buildings.
The LETI Design Guides are great resources with practical toolkits on how we can design buildings that deliver embodied carbon reductions and respond to the climate emergency:
‘Straw cuts energy bills by 90% – While the UK is consumed by arguments about the cost of energy, fuel poverty and market failure, some have managed to sidestep these issues altogether’. University of Bath article on the LILAC co-housing project in Leeds.