Education and Training: Mainstreaming Zero Carbon

Education and Training: Mainstreaming Zero Carbon

How can education and training develop the capacities, capabilities and competences to rapidly decarbonise both new construction and the existing building stock?

Guest editors: Fionn Stevenson and Alison Kwok

This special issue examines the options for a rapid transition within universities and training colleges to equip students with new knowledge and skills. Solutions involve the coordination of a wide range of issues: educational and training pedagogies, curricular change, governance and policy leadership, changes to the roles of teachers and certification bodies.

What does the climate emergency mean for organisations and the workforce responsible for creating, operating and maintaining a sustainable and healthy built environment? They need to have the capacities, capabilities (knowledge, skills and attitude) and competencies to rapidly decarbonise built environments and reduce environmental degradation. However, this workforce currently lacks the appropriate low-carbon skills at national and global levels.

This raises new needs for the present educational and training pedagogies, curricula and practices for the many different construction disciplines and trades.

This Special Issue therefore targets the need to rapidly mainstream zero carbon approaches in initial education as a crucial first step. It deliberately focuses on the foundational training given to built environment students.  Three key questions arise regarding this initial step:

  • How can education and training be rapidly changed to ensure the creation of zero-carbon built environments?
  • How can this transition be implemented successfully?
  • What positive examples and models can be drawn upon or adapted?

Answers to these questions involve mainstreaming, policy and leadership, transitioning, teaching (pedagogical theory, practice and organisational structures), upskilling and certification and are addressed in this Special Issue. The intent is to precipitate further thought, discussion and actions at many different levels to ensure education and training are fit to meet the urgent challenges of the climate emergency.

Table of Contents

Mainstreaming zero carbon: lessons for built environment education and training [Editorial]
F. Stevenson & A. Kwok

The contested privileging of zero carbon: plausibility, persuasiveness and professionalism
S.D. Green & N. Sergeeva

A design workflow for integrating performance into architectural education
U. Passe

Cooperative learning in design studios: a pedagogy for net-positive performance
M. Srivastava

Mainstreaming environmental education for architects: the need for basic literacies
E.J. Grant

Material recovery certification for construction workers
M. Mayer

Developing a low-carbon architecture pedagogy in Bangladesh
R. Afroz

A reform agenda for UK construction education and practice
G. Killip

Transforming vocational education and training for nearly zero-energy building
L. Clarke, M. Sahin-Dikmen & C. Winch

Preparing ‘middle actors’ to deliver zero-carbon building transitions
K. Simpson, K.B. Janda & A. Owen

Feedback on the Special Issue

Accelerating change in architectural education
S. Pelsmakers & F. Stevenson

Climate change and architectural education
F. Samuel & L. Farrelly

A Wicked Higher Education Problem: Climate Emergency Requires Brave Leadership
E. Marco

Academia's Critical Role in Climate Change
E. Mazria & L. Rasmussen

Mainstreaming Carbon Zero in Architectural Education: Within a Decade?
R.J. Cole

Can We Educate Architects to Design the Future?
Kira Gould

Leadership is Critical in Mainstreaming Sustainability in Professional Education
Mark Olweny

Zero Carbon Buildings: A Brazilian Perspective
S. B. Villa & E. G. da Cunha

mainstreaming zero carbon video
Launch Events – Videos

To promote a wider international dialogue, two virtual events considered what constitutes a rapid change agenda and roadmap for built environment education. One event was hosted by a leading UK building industry think tank, The EDGE on 1 February 2021 (chaired by Bill Gething, University of the West of England) and the other was hosted on 8 February 2021 by the Carbon Leadership Forum, a leading edge organisation for change in the US, (chaired by Anthony Hickling, Carbon Leadership Forum).

View the videos of short speaker presentations and respondents here.

Short presentations were made by 4 (of the 10) special issue authors:
  • Fionn Stevenson  & Alison Kwok: “Introduction & key findings”
  • Gavin Killip: “A reform agenda for construction education and practice”
  • Kathryn Janda: “Preparing ‘middle actors’ to deliver zero-carbon building transitions”
  • Malini Srivastava: “Cooperative learning in design studios: a pedagogy for net-positive performance”
Four key respondents from industry briefly consider how education and training needs to change and their role(s) in a roadmap for change:
  • David Gloster, Director of Education, Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)
  • Lynne Jack, Heriot Watt University & Past President, Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE)
  • Marsha Maytum, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, Educator, 2019 American Institute of Architects (AIA) COTE Chair
  • Steph Carlisle, Carbon Leadership Forum, University of Pennsylvania


Mainstreaming zero carbon: lessons for builtenvironment education and training [Editorial]
F. Stevenson & A. Kwok

Education and training are identified as a key means of reducing carbon emissions from buildings to help address the climate emergency. Institutional, industry and organisational responses are shown to be failing in this regard. This editorial introduces the themes and individual papers in the special issue and then explores the current state of the art through pedagogy, theory, training, policy, practice and standards. These areas are interrogated through three fundamental questions. How can education and training be rapidly changed to ensure the creation of zero-carbon built environments? How can this transition be implemented successfully? What positive examples and models can be drawn upon or adapted? In proposing an agenda for change, a new approach to education is set out which combines learning outcomes with new standards and personal values within a continual questioning and holding to account of all stakeholders involved through evidenced outcomes. This draws on evidence from the special issue and Capability Theory which allies competency with personhood to create capability through agency. The process to make this change requires: (1) government intervention, to ensure that the lowest common denominator is zero-carbon best practice within a negotiated, holistic approach to developing the built environment sustainably; (2) new ethical, interdisciplinary and collective educational working practices underpinned by new pedagogical theory and accreditation processes; and (3) rapid auditing and upskilling in climate literacy to bring pressure to bear on governments and institutions to carry out reforms.

The contested privileging of zero carbon: plausibility, persuasiveness and professionalism
S.D. Green & N. Sergeeva

The global policy challenge of responding to climate change comprises a ‘super-wicked’ problem which consistently defies solution. Despite the UK government’s commitment to zero carbon by 2050, there is little clarity on how this ambitious target is going to be achieved. Even at the level of individual buildings there is a perennial risk of unintended consequences if top-down targets are pursued in isolation of other considerations. The quest for zero carbon is hence embedded within ongoing processes of narrative contestation, and inextricably intertwined with issues of professional identity. It is contended that design is an inherently social process which continues throughout a building’s lifecycle. It is within this context that designers seek to accommodate zero-carbon targets alongside a multiple of other priorities. Hence, any radical shift in the nature of educational provision may well prove to be counter-productive. Yet, much more could undoubtedly be done during education to incubate the quest for low carbon as an essential component of professional identity. There is a need for professionals continuously to hold others to account on the basis of the plausibility of their zero-carbon narratives. Of equal importance is the need to ensure that built-environment professionals continue to respond to the changing policy landscape.

Policy relevance: The global policy challenge of responding to human-induced climate change defies technological solution. While the aspiration of zero-carbon buildings has been applauded by the built-environment professions, it remains unclear how this ambitious target is going to be realised in practice. Designers are routinely required to accommodate zero-carbon targets alongside multiple other priorities. Hence, any focus on the single criterion of zero carbon in isolation of other considerations risks being untenable. Built-environment professionals will hence limit their ability to influence if they allow themselves to become single-issue activists. This remains true irrespective of the severity of the pending climate crisis. But there are positive steps that can be taken. University educators could do much more to encourage students to embrace the quest for zero carbon as an essential part of their professional identity, and to encourage them to project this identity by continuously challenging the status quo.

A design workflow for integrating performance into architectural education
U. Passe

Sustainable design for carbon-neutral buildings requires a thorough understanding of environmental building performance. The urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions radically creates additional demands for architectural education and practice. These demands challenge conventional educational building design and architecture programs. A new pedagogical approach to the architectural studio is presented that specifically responds to this challenge. A highly structured 10-stage workflow for architectural design equips students with knowledge, tools, and processes to integrate and predict dynamic performances of light, sun, heat, and air movement in their design decisions. This pedagogical approach has been used in ARCH 601, a required sustainable design studio in the second year of the professional Master of Architecture program at Iowa State University, US. A specific emphasis is placed on the iterative feedback between daylighting, natural ventilation, and the building’s enclosure. In an effort to understand the impact of this pedagogical approach on the career of former students, a survey was sent to the graduates of the past five years. A majority reported the positive learning outcomes and importance to their current career.

Practice relevance: The architectural profession is moving toward the creation of carbon-neutral buildings. A new approach to architectural education is shown to equip architecture students to meet this challenge. An architectural studio approach allows students to integrate and predict the dynamic performances of light, sun, heat, and air movement, based on using an innovative, highly structured workflow method. An alumni survey provides insights into the relevance and impact of this approach on their career. Learning these skills made architectural students better equipped to address sustainable design in their career. The workflow can be easily adopted by other architectural courses and practices. This can help to accelerate the education of architectural students towards carbon neutrality.

Cooperative learning in design studios: a pedagogy for net-positive performance
M. Srivastava

Students of architecture are often inadequately prepared to address the consequences of climate change. Among the factors contributing to this, traditional design studio pedagogies tend to privilege individual ownership of projects instead of promoting cooperation and collaboration. This traditional focus on individual projects has the effect of minimizing the cognitive diversity that can be brought to bear within the development of projects, and that new knowledge is created through interactive processes based on the sharing and integration of previously unshared knowledge. A new studio pedagogy is presented in which cognitive diversity is foregrounded by means of shifting away from individual ownership of work and towards groupings of works and students. Periodic discussions focus on works grouped by thematic commonalities and re-assigned ownership based on interest, self-identified strengths (skills they can contribute or teach), or deficits (skills they need to learn), rather than authorship. Evidence from implementation reveals this process supports the creation of new knowledge in a short period of time (a 6.5-week studio) and students learn skills related to quantification of performance measures and develop capabilities to transform existing buildings to be net-positive contributors to their communities.

Practice relevance: The presented pedagogical method, entitled ‘Shifting Allegiances,’ is easy to replicate and flexible for customization. It does not require larger curricular or program changes and is not bound to specific content. It can be implemented by an individual instructor in a single studio section. An emphasis on shared student authorship, cooperative structures, and collaboration led to a learning process based on productive comparisons of student work. Comparisons in students’ energy modeling results due to in-depth knowledge of, and participation in, their colleagues’ work became second nature to the students. This led to the acquisition of new capabilities enabling students to use a variety of strategies to achieve a 70% reduction in energy demand over the current baseline; this was augmented further with the use of photovoltaics. Other aspects (water, waste, resources), selected by the students, are also actively reduced to meet net-zero goals.

Mainstreaming environmental education for architects: the need for basis literacies
E.J. Grant

What are recent architectural graduates’ perceptions about the level of knowledge required of interns entering architectural practice and the suitability of architectural education? Research is presented that examines recent alumni’s engagement with environmental sustainability while in school. Two aspects of their educational experience are surveyed: their readiness for sustainable design work and their familiarity with the benefits of reusing existing buildings. Recent alumni of the Virginia Tech School of Architecture + Design were asked to explain the areas of practice for which they were best and least prepared, to identify additional educational topics they would have found useful, to name the key purposes and priorities of the discipline of architecture, and to articulate changes they wished to see in schools of architecture. The results point to a current pedagogy where the tacit and explicit knowledge that is critical to the adoption of sustainable approaches to design of new and retrofit structures is undervalued in architectural education. Suggestions from the literature and strategies to ameliorate this situation are presented.

Practice relevance: Two basic areas of literacy necessary for graduating architecture students are addressed. The first is readiness for environmentally sustainable work, which includes understanding building science concepts. Results of rating and open-ended survey questions indicate that many recent undergraduate alumni feel a sense of obligation to protect the natural environment through their design efforts, but do not claim facility with tangible means to achieve this goal in the design of buildings. The second is appreciation of the existing building fabric, which involves engaging a range of preservation and reuse strategies that preserve the embodied energy present in existing structures. Many alumni felt their education did not prepare them for renovation and reuse work that is often prevalent in their current practices. Architectural educators can take an active role to anticipate the changing needs of the profession and adjust their curricula to provide appropriate capabilities.

Material recovery certification for construction workers
M. Mayer

Low and zero-carbon building certification programmes typically focus on emissions caused by building operation and/or material extraction and manufacturing activities. However, ‘end-of-life’ issues involving the reuse, remanufacture or recycling potential of embodied energy-intensive components are often overlooked. As a result, training and certification in this field tends to be diagnostic and observational rather than proactive and anticipatory. To ensure that vocational workers have appropriate capabilities to recycle or reuse building components fully, a training and certification programme is necessary that focuses on end-of-life material recovery potential. A framework is presented for recovery of building products and the certification system for workers. The system rates recovery potential at both the material and assembly levels through a series of evaluation criteria. This assessment is translated into a product labelling scheme as well as a training and certification programme for vocation workers involved in the production, supply and installation chains of recovery-oriented products.

Practice relevance: Material recovery training in the built environment is currently limited and lacks a holistic view of the entire recovery chain. A certification system targeting material recovery could help propel a transition to circular consumption models in the built environment. Vocational training based on a full supply chain view of the end-of-life sector would be essential for a transition to a circular economy.

Developing a low-carbon architecture pedagogy in Bangladesh
R. Afroz

Architectural education and training can help ensure low-carbon emission for projects. Despite some broad initiatives to address this, there are still gaps in the curricula, theory and practices. The current pedagogical trends and approaches in Bangladesh are identified and examined for how climate mitigation is addressed in the architecture curriculum. This has revealed a lack of awareness, limited education and training, and inadequate pedagogical (i.e. teaching) approaches for low-carbon education in architecture curricula. A lack of alignment exists between curricula orientation and the national agenda for climate change and low-carbon development. In order to integrate a sustainable low-carbon education in the architecture pedagogy, a set of recommendations for pedagogical approaches, education and training framework is proposed to offer crucial guidance to academia and other relevant stakeholders.

Practice relevance: Bangladesh is acutely affected by climate vulnerability due to its geographical location in the Ganges Delta. Although mitigation and low-carbon development policies are part of the national agenda, this has not been incorporated into the additional capabilities required by architects to deliver this. Low-carbon design and sustainability issues in architectural curricula are still in the initial phases of development. A lack of awareness, inadequate education and training, and lack of alignment between curricula orientation and the national agenda are identified as important factors. A set of scalable solutions and recommendations for education and training for architectural students is suggested.

A reform agenda for UK construction education and practice
G. Killip

Achieving zero carbon requires major changes in buildings and construction practices, but both remain very hard to achieve. The UK construction sector operates in a low-skills equilibrium, whereby poor quality assurance and significant design–performance gaps accompany low educational attainment and low wages. Skills debates often focus too narrowly on the supply of skill, but consideration also needs to be given to skill demand and use in the workplace. An evaluation framework for zero-carbon construction is proposed in which types, orders, and domains of learning are explained and differentiated. Competence is presented as a bundle of learning attributes including theoretical knowledge, practical skill and integrity of character. Each type of learning operates in hierarchical orders and can apply in different domains: from the narrowest focus on individual tasks to broader domains of occupation and industry. This evaluation framework is used to analyse previous research with low-carbon pioneers, showing how higher orders of learning need to be applied on projects, in firms, networks and business models. If the construction industry is to achieve these levels of learning, and apply them regularly in mainstream practice, then fundamental changes are necessary to the structure of employment as well as educational reforms.

Policy relevance: The UK construction sector currently operates in a low-skills equilibrium which negatively impacts the capabilities to produce low-energy buildings. Research with low-carbon pioneers shows how higher orders of learning need to be applied to projects, in firms, networks and business models. Higher levels of occupational competence should be the goal, combining theoretical knowledge, practical skill and quality of character (acting responsibly and with integrity). The achievement of higher level competences in mainstream practice will require significant changes to the structure of employment involving labour market reforms and higher levels of accreditation and professionalisation of construction vocations. Meaningful educational and training reform requires industry reform at the same time to create the appropriate demand pull.

Transforming vocational education and training for nearly zero-energy building
L. Clarke, M. Sahin-Dikmen & C. Winch

Nearly zero-energy building (NZEB) requires the training of millions of construction workers and significant upgrading of vocational education and training (VET) systems across the European Union. This paper shows how an approach to VET based only on learning outcomes and targeting specific skills is too narrow and lacking in depth to allow for the systematic application of theoretical low-energy construction (LEC) knowledge to practice and develop NZEB expertise in the workplace. Theoretically broader, deeper, more technical and interdisciplinary expertise is needed to build to LEC standards and meet European Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD) targets. Instead, VET for LEC has been largely confined to short and task-specific continuing vocational education and training (CVET) courses, illustrated in the cases of both Slovenia and Ireland and ranging from a narrow, learning outcomes approach to a broader, standards-based approach linking theoretical considerations to specific applications. Mainstreaming the knowledge, skills and competences required for NZEB into initial vocational education and training (IVET) curricula is rare. Though less successful in Finland, it is achieved in Belgian construction IVET, which takes a standards-based approach, successfully embeds LEC elements, and seeks to overcome occupational boundaries and develop a holistic understanding of the construction process.

Policy and practice relevance: The emphasis on a standards-based, as opposed to a learning outcomes-based, approach to VET for LEC is of relevance to VET practitioners and policy-makers alike, especially given the preoccupation across Europe just with developing specific ‘skills’ through CVET. Broader construction occupational profiles and qualifications are essential for the cross-occupational knowledge and coordination required for successful NZEB, implying a transformation and upgrading of VET systems in many countries. The examples given from Irish CVET and Belgian IVET are valuable in showing what can be done to incorporate LEC elements. In highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of different VET systems in meeting NZEB requirements, the paper is relevant for industry and unions in illustrating the significance of social partnership, the need to overcome the fragmentation of the construction process and the high-quality VET essential to addressing climate change.

Preparing ‘middle actors’ to deliver zero-carbonbuilding transitions
K. Simpson, K.B. Janda & A. Owen

The urgent transition to a zero-carbon economy requires building professionals to be supportive of, and prepared for, delivering zero-carbon buildings. Building professionals are important ‘middle actors’ who can either enable or inhibit such societal transitions. This paper explores building professionals’ perspectives on delivering zero-carbon buildings, leading to a practical synthesis of knowledge and skill requirements and training pathways. It draws on the middle-out perspective (MOP) and secondary analysis of three UK case studies. The MOP suggests that middle actors in a system are not perfectly responsive to policy push or market pull. Instead, they exert their own agency and capacity downstream to customers and clients, sideways to other middle actors and, occasionally, upstream to policy-makers.The data comprise: interviews and a small survey with building professionals on energy efficiency and refurbishment; the observation of a specific commercial office building design and development and a workshop to identify zero-carbon knowledge and skill needs of middle actors. Building professionals addressed in this paper include vocational trades, engineers, designers, project managers and ‘clerks of works’ (site-based quality technicians). Although formal training pathways for these roles differ, each can develop expertise ‘sideways’ interacting between professions.

Practice relevance
Collaboration between academia, vocational training and industry could support sideways initiatives to better enable delivery of zero-carbon buildings. Policy-makers and regulators need to create routes to capture, listen to and use the perspectives of building professionals. At present, these actors have very little upstream influence. Middle-actor groups in construction undertake different activities, but share training routes, knowledge support systems and professional networks. These routes, systems and networks would allow actors to facilitate change from the ‘middle-out’ in a way complementary to top-down change driven by policy and bottom-up changes led by citizens. Training routes can include formal, on-the-job (informal) or e-learning. Prioritising on-the-job knowledge-sharing could promote upskilling. Roles such as a clerk of works could assist in overseeing construction processes. Vocational professionals are the priority group of middle actors to build capacity, knowledge and influence.

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