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If you would like to know more about our Sustainable design services contact Louisa Bowles

We are on a mission to demystify sustainable design and make it effortless; collectively we can combat the climate and biodiversity crisis. Our whole life design approach reduces carbon emissions over the lifecycle of a building and creates healthier, happier environments.

We have been pioneers in sustainable design since the practice was founded. Did you know we are working on the UK’s largest Passivhaus development and first certified hospital? And we created an award-winning open-source tool for architects, designers, and clients to achieve zero carbon emissions at every stage in a building lifecycle? There’s also a fair chance that we contributed to the industry-led sustainability guidelines that you currently refer to. We can make sure that your project makes a real contribution to resolving our climate and biodiversity crisis for future generations through a curated range of services and evidence-based design. We constantly strive to do better and are strong advocates of Post Occupancy Evaluation to close the feedback loop.

Sustainability vision and brief setting

Our sustainability briefs are creative and integrate fully with architectural ones, aligning with the project aspirations, the architectural response, programme and budget. Along with the more usual qualitative measures and third-party assessments like BREEAM and WELL, we can create bespoke and measurable KPIs and targets where required. These can be tracked through design, construction, and occupation, using robust monitoring techniques with innovative delivery strategies.

Newcastle University Urban Sciences Building

The Urban Sciences Building is a real ‘living’ laboratory – a place where academic research is used to generate and test real-life solutions that benefit people, businesses, and the city. The university’s aspirational post occupation goals, to deliver the highest standards of sustainability throughout the building’s operational lifetime, were such that they couldn’t be sufficiently recognised with a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating. 

So, together with engineers Buro Happold, we developed a bespoke sustainability framework for the building, designed specifically to drive sustainability beyond BREEAM with an auditable approach to developing targets for design, construction, and occupation, proposing vigorous reporting techniques and innovative delivery strategies to ensure targets were met. 

The building’s sustainable design features include: a smart tech demand and response energy system with on-site storage; thousands of sensors providing real-time, online environmental data for each space; a bio-dome on the building roof that uses waste heat, water and carbon dioxide produced by the labs below to grow food for the café, and experimental areas of DC electrical power supply for workspace. The team undertook a comprehensive, post-occupancy evaluation to improve the building’s performance and the University are now developing the BIM information into a ‘digital twin’ to progress further internal research.

Net zero carbon consultancy

We’re committed to making net zero carbon buildings the new normal, but it is a term that consistently needs de-mystifying. Our involvement in the setting of industry standards for net zero carbon allows us to break the aspiration down into achievable actions for the client and design team. We can advise on definitions, focus areas, likely costs and benchmarking early in the design, while providing a framework for tracking performance through design, delivery and beyond.

Nottingham Trent University Arts Building

The requirement for a net zero carbon building was enshrined in Nottingham Trent University’s original brief for their new arts department. We led regular dedicated carbon workshops during the first design stage, in which we agreed to target net zero whole life carbon,  the targets to be applied to the project and a strategy for achieving this. The workshops also facilitated easy sharing of design data between consultants and enabled us to set up a process to track operational, embodied, and whole life carbon through the various design stages. 

The net zero carbon pathway developed with the University was a key part of the planning material presented at public consultation and the commitment continued into the development of the tender information. Embodied carbon information was written into the specification and shared with the main contractor and their team, with an aspirational carbon target defined in the documentation. Client actions in relation to the net zero carbon performance of the completed building were also documented. The project is currently on site.

Embodied and whole life carbon analysis

Within the built environment, the key carbon emissions from the built environment are from energy in-use and embodied carbon from materials. When these are measured together and over the whole lifecycle of the building, that’s Whole Life Carbon (WLC) analysis. Our team believes measuring WLC is the best way to ensure the right decisions are made at design stage to reduce carbon emissions and be able to target net zero carbon performance. Our team have expertise in carbon management, measurement and reduction within design. Depending on the situation we use our own, in-house emissions reduction tool H\B:ERT V2 or OneClick LCA. We agree embodied and WLC limits, track these through the design process and itemise them in the contract, so that they are delivered.

1 Golden Lane

We have been leading a multi-disciplinary team in the design and delivery of a complex refurbishment project into commercial workspace. The project features a complicated set of conditions including listed façade and internal features, with a proposed new build roof extension and lateral extension. 

Alongside the architectural role, we have been leading the embodied and whole life carbon analysis workstream. This has included early-stage scheme benchmarking and material advice, stage by stage analysis, data for planning and visualisations of the carbon reductions and net zero carbon pathway that will contribute to marketing material for the development. 

A key part of the design investigation has been an emphasis on the circular economy and the re-use of as much found material on-site as possible, balanced with the constraints of warranties and budget. We have undertaken detailed façade comparisons together with the façade engineer and contractor to specify the materials, construction process and life cycle replacement guidance.

Low energy design

We believe that low energy design is exciting, ensures high quality workmanship and can be delivered without compromising creativity. It’s a balance between inventiveness and technical performance, for which we use parametric modelling, passive design principles and analysis to embed the right design principles from day one. This makes compliance and delivery streamlined. We can also support on a wide range of energy modelling services including Part L compliance, operational energy modelling (CIBSE TM54), NABERS Design for Performance and the creation of digital twins for decision making. Increasingly, these analyses are critical in ensuring we mitigate against over-heating and ensure future resilience.

The case study explores the façade shading options by using solar irradiation mapping as a tool. The key challenge was to find the suitable shading option that provides solar protection during summer period to avoid overheating, whilst maintaining good amounts of daylight access.

Health and wellbeing

Health and wellbeing can be more difficult to measure but there is a science to it related to physical comfort, a shared community and emotional responses. A wide range of design approaches exist for both internal and external spaces and we can tailor to your project. Our skills include microclimate analysis, daylight analysis, internal comfort and material specification for good air quality. Biophilic design is also a frequently used approach that is broader than just planting, involving the integration of a connection with nature into the whole architectural design response.

Here and Now

The ‘Now’ building, completed as the first phase of the ‘Here and Now’ project, is a refurbishment of two existing office buildings in Reading, which provides a range of spaces in response to the increasing demand for sustainable work environments. The existing building used glass and metal extensively, leaving no clear identity or purpose. Facades looked  corporate and defensive and had no relationship with the surroundings, that are rich in plants and trees.

The refurbished spaces reintroduce nature through extensive internal planting and connections between internal and external spaces.  Amenity spaces are provided at these points to create a shared community.

Hawkins Brown - Here and Now - workspace - collaborative working

Passivhaus designer

Passivhaus is the fastest growing energy performance standard in the world. It takes a ‘fabric first’ approach to energy performance and human comfort, which can cut heating bills in homes by as much as 90 per cent compared to conventional design. We employ certified Passivhaus designers and ensure all staff have training in the fundamental principles. As well as designing Passivhaus certified homes we are increasingly seeing the methodology and certification being used on other typologies to ensure predictable energy in-use, comfort, and high-quality workmanship.

We are the Passivhaus Designer for the third phase of the Agar Grove estate regeneration project, working for Camden and also the contractor Hill Partnerships. We have been working alongside Max Fordham who as Passivhaus Consultant is responsible for the PHPP planning tool, thermal bridge modelling and liaison with the Passivhaus certifier, regarding documentation and evidencing.

We have detailed the external envelope without contractor design portion, initially focused on window brackets as the largest unknown thermal bridge, and developed details that ensured balustrades and window reveals could be supported by either brickwork and their support angles, or in some instances, thermally broken structure. Air tightness at a block level has been simplified by creating air tight party walls – redundant once complete – but key to enable more efficient testing. At a detail level the geometry and number of multiple tapes used on individual junctions has been significantly simplified from previous phases.

Circular Economy

We now smash and grab some 100 billion tonnes of raw materials from the planet every single year. Roughly half of those raw materials are used in the built environment globally. While long life, loose fit principles and design for disassembly techniques are extremely useful for enabling the Circular Economy to be embedded into the future of our built environment, the benefits are only going to be realised in decades to come. What we need to do is re-use and recycle what we already have right now. We are conceiving and delivering a number of recycled buildings, together with material passport data, in collaboration with our forward-thinking clients.

Canada Water Modular Campus

Two new buildings are provided on the Canada Water Masterplan for TEDI-London’s University campus, and research life sciences purposes, developed by British Land.

We worked closely alongside the chosen specialist modular subcontractor Premier Modular to design and deliver a high-quality building that exceeded both the client’s and user’s expectations.

The chosen brownfield site was divided into four deliverable parcels set around a grid set using Premier Modular’s standardised 12m x 3m volumetric modules to optimise efficiency in manufacture.

The off-site manufactured, volumetric modular structure allowed rapid on-site assembly, lower vehicle movements, zero waste-to-landfill with decreased noise, dust and disruption to neighbours.  In just nine months, the building was ready for its first student cohort in September 2021.

The modules were arranged to create a large flexible double height space for exhibition, events, workspace, and dining area. Four teaching and workshop spaces are provided to allow hands-on project-based learning using large-scale equipment, prototyping and 3D printing. There are viewing galleries, a roof-top terrace, conference-style meeting and teaching rooms and a common room.

The second phase utilised pre-loved modules, wall and window components, resulting in an estimated 16% reduction in life cycle embodied carbon overall. The buildings will be used for ten years are built for intermediary use before disassembly to continue their life elsewhere.

Read more about our research into materials re-use here

Design guide production

We have produced and collaborated on several sustainable and net zero carbon design guides. These are often derived from the best practice knowledge gained from industry groups and our practice experience but are then made bespoke to the operational and management needs of a specific organisation.

Assura Net Zero Design Guide 

A leading primary healthcare developer, Assura is on a mission to lead on securing a sustainable future – caring for the health of people and our planet. We coordinated a multi-disciplinary team including Civic Engineers and Atelier 10 in the production of a comprehensive Net Zero Carbon design guide. 

Assura needed the guide to help the Executive Board effort to push for organisational improvements in the development and operation of their built projects at a strategic level, as well as to provide information to the development team for implementation on live projects. 

The information provided included a summary of the qualities that a net zero carbon building should have and an action list for each member of a multi-disciplinary team at each RIBA Stage. A template environmental metrics tracker was developed for use on all projects as part of the initial briefing process, and to record the agreed position for any contractors or building managers coming on board later. More detailed information on low carbon design, relevant to all stages of the design and members of the team, was provided, which linked to each work stage guide and included guidance on post completion actions, building monitoring and setting up the BIM model for asset management. We will be involved with updating the guide as Assura use it on more projects, gain feedback and the evolution of Net Zero Carbon continues in the built environment.



Certifications can be an important part of a sustainable design brief, to prove commitment and performance. We can support on a wide range of assessment methods including BREEAM, LEED, WELL, FitWELL, Passivhaus and NABERS.

Tiger Way

This mixed use development delivers a beautiful new primary school and nursery alongside 89 high quality homes.

From the outset, both the client and design team wanted to create a school that both pupils and the community could be proud of; the BREEAM approach inspired the team to go above and beyond the initial aspiration. Far from being a hindrance, the mixed brief supported more efficient and innovative design solutions and enabled the building to meet Outstanding at design stage, rather than its initial target of Excellent.  The project team’s core principles were to retain the quality of the design outcome within the constrained viability of the scheme and ensure it carried through to construction. The focus on health and wellbeing and the BREEAM methodology has been key.

In 2018, Tiger Way won a BREEAM award for the best public project at design stage.

H\B:ERT Emissions reduction tool

H\B:ERT is an easy-to-use open-source Revit-based tool that enables design teams to quickly analyse and clearly visualise the embodied carbon emissions of different building components and construction material options at any time during the design process.

We worked in partnership with the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (IEDE), through their Engineering Doctorate program, to create the award-winning Hawkins\Brown: Emission Reduction Tool. The tool was developed as part of research titled ‘Refurbish or Replace – the life cycle performance of existing buildings and their replacements’ by Dr Yair Schwartz, Research Associate at The Bartlett, UCL. H\B:ERT works by measuring the volume of all materials tagged in the Revit model. It then applies embodied carbon data to that material, broken down into life cycle stages (product, construction, use stage and end of life) in line with BS EN 15978:2011.

H\B:ERT V1 (V1.1.6) aligns with the RICS and RIBA guidance and currently uses the Circular Ecology ICE database, but can use alternative data where available.

H\B:ERT is compatible with Revit 2018 – Revit 2024. Download the new updated toolkit with installer below.

HBERT Plug-in and Case Studies Download Form

Basic information:



Our open-source H\B:ERT V1 tool spawned an in-house version V2, that we use for our embodied and whole life carbon consultancy. It won both the AJ100 Best Use of Technology and the RIBA Research Award, in 2020 and now, the evolution continues.

H\B:ERT v2 has evolved into VERT, a commercial Whole Life Carbon tool designed to support projects from inception to completion. VERT stands for Visionary Emissions Reduction Tool, derived from the Latin word “vertere,” which means “to change.” Our goal is to give non-experts access to Whole Life Carbon data, empowering them to make informed, long-term decisions about their design work or portfolios.

VERT also visualises the emission reduction benefits of retrofit, from light modifications to deep interventions, compared to demolition and new build. This feature helps users assess the impact even before design work begins.

You can find out more here