Smart Places Working Group – Building Greener and Smarter Places: A Digital and Place-Based Approach to Net Zero – 13th April 2022

13 April 2022

Event Summary

On 13 April 2022, 29 people joined us for an event titled “Building Greener and Smarter Places: A Digital and Place-Based Approach to Net Zero”. This was a hybrid event that took place in MS Teams and at the WMCA’s office at 16 Summer Lane in Birmingham. Jordan Gerrard, Circular Economy Project Officer for the WMCA, and Alison Kilby, an Associate at Arup, spoke. Dr Louis Gyoh from the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Architecture and the Built Environment was unable to speak due to illness. He has kindly shared his slides, which are included in this summary. You can view or download all speaker slides within this page. And you can view the recording at the bottom of the page.

Please contact Devon Geary ( with any questions about the event or if you would like to join the Smart Places Working Group newsletter mailing list.

Dr Louis Gyoh: Circular Economy and Digital Methods of Construction 

You can view Dr Louis Gyoh’s slides below for an overview of circular economy and digital methods of construction. 

Jordan Gerrard: The WMCA’s Circular Economy Routemap + Repurposing to Zero 

Circular Economy Routemap: 

Jordan Gerrard shared an overview of the WMCA’s Circular Economy Routemap with a foucs on how digital and data will enable the transition to circular economy. Jordan mentioned that the West Midlands already has a number of circular strengths and that the region is “in a good place to be a national and international” example of best practices in circular economy. The University of Wolverhampton’s work in this field is a prime example. 

One of the WMCA Environment Team’s current areas of focus is industrial symbiosis with a specific focus on AI-facilitated industrial symbiosis for waste. They are currently engaging in this field, and you are welcome to get in touch with Jordan ( if you would like to learn more or get involved. 

Another of the WMCA’s main priority areas is surplus food. Jordan mentioned that there is a regional strength around this in the third sector; a number of organisations are currently working to redistribute surplus food and to ensure that food is not wasted. The Circular Economy Routemap includes a focus on how the private, public, academic, and third sectors can work together to further advance the third sector’s work in surplus food redistribution. 

Repurposing to Zero: 

Jordan shared about Repurposing to Zero, a West Midlands Innovation Programme-funded initiative that focuses on adaptive reuse and building repurposing. Jordan differentiated repurposing from retrofit by stating that repurposed buildings are given a new use and purpose that differs from their original function. Retrofitted buildings, on the other hand, often maintain their original use and purpose. Jordan shared two examples of famous repurposed projects: The Tate Modern Museum and the Telegraph Hotel. Both examples point to the importance of place and community. 

The Repurposing to Zero initiative has recently put out a tender for the Phase 1 feasibility study. This feasibility study will examine the economic, social, and environmental benefits of a regional repurposing programme. Phase 1 will also include the development of a Repurposing Framework—likely to be a digital resource aimed at anyone from private, public, or third sector who would want to learn more about repurposing buildings to Net Zero. And the Phase will conclude with a series of informational motion graphics videos that explain the concept of “repurposing to zero” and how this approach could benefit the region. 

The feasibility study will include a series of demand workshops, followed by a series of focus groups. Anyone interested in either of these is welcome to get in touch with Jordan for more information. 

Questions and Answers: 

What’s the timeline for Repurposing to Zero? 

  • The team plans to have a consultant in post by early May. The workshops and focus groups will likely begin in June or July. 

There’s currently a shortage of skills, people, and talent ithe sustainability space. What is the WMCA doing to address this? 

  • The WMCA’s Behaviour Change work includes a strand about increasing awareness of these fields, both for young people and for established professionals. 
  • The WMCA’s Environment Team is currently working with the Skills Team to develop a Green Skills Strategy for the region. This will complement the Skills Team’s wider work across the region. 

The Black Country Consortium has an interest in engaging with the WMCA’s Environment Team re: manufacturing. 

  • Industrial Decarbonisation is part of the Trailblazing Devolution Deal, and the WMCA’s Environment Team is working on this.
  • Action: Charlie Hopkirk + Jordan Gerrard to liaise 

Are we exploiting existing regional knowledge and expertise for the industrial symbiosis work, including with International Synergies? 

  • Absolutely. The WMCA’s Environment Team is currently working with International Synergies (a WM-based company that specialises in environmental testing) to build on the region’s existing knowledge of / in industrial symbiosis. 

What’s the digital component of Repurposing to Zero going to be? 

  • The feasibility study will confirm this. The current thought is that it will be a digital resource for people from the private, public, and third sectors to use to determine how they would go about approaching a repurposing project. The demand workshops, focus groups, and consultancy work are all part of determining what this sort of tool / resource would look like and how the public will be able to engage with it. 

Alison Kilby: The Role of Smart Technology in Reducing the Operational Carbon of Arup’s Buildings: A Designer and Tenant’s View 

Alison Kilby began her presentation by sharing that Arup is currently preparing to move office from an office park outside Solihull into One Centenary Way, a building that is part of the Paradise Development in Birmingham City Centre. Arup have been involved in the Paradise project for 10 years. The project includes 7 hectares of land that are being redeveloped and refurbished. A lot of Arup’s early work on the site involved identifying and mitigating potential risks of the project. 

In recent years, Arup have discovered that most of their carbon emissions have come from travel to and from their building in Solihull. This space is not easily accessible by public transportation, which means that most staff members drive to work. As a business, Arup has committed to reducing each staff member’s carbon footprint. Alison shared examples of how this mindset permeates all business decisions, including flight patterns for staff of all levels. Consequently, Arup have decided to move their office space into Birmingham City Centre to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Arup has an interesting perspective on the Paradise Development because they’ve been involved as designers and tenants. As tenants, they’ve advocated for building One Centenary Way as a Smart-enabled space. Argent, the developers, have agreed to this, in part, Alison said, because they’ve realised this is a positive business decision; even if future tenants don’t use Smart technologies, knowing that they are in a Smart-enabled building could be a major draw. This has led to what Alison described as a “Smart package” that has been added to One Centenary Way.  

Alison went on to describe how Arup will use Smart technologies to drive low-carbon goals. To start, this will involve using sensors to monitor the building. This will look both at how staff members use the building and at general maintenance practices for filters, paint, and carpets. The thought, Alison shared, is that tracking how certain parts of the building are used will equip Arup to make smarter and lower-carbon decisions moving forward. The team are keen to “put all [their] maintenance against data rather than luck”. In summary, Alison said simply, “sensors mean data”, which, when used correctly, will equip Arup to respond to patterns and reduce wasted energy through data. 

Questions and Answers 

Is the model of out-of-town business parks no longer valid? 

  • This works if it is done correctly. But there needs to be a focus on transport links, as well as a broader understanding of sustainability. 

Are the technologies mentioned today readily available? 

  • Yes. Arup is nearly ready to look at sensors and people counters. They’re focusing on use-case perspectives first before selecting their technologies. 

Who will own the data collected in the building? 

  • Arup and Argent will co-own the data. 
  • This question sparked a robust discussion about data privacy and protection in the context of smart buildings. We will be following up on this discussion and will potentially run an event on this topic over the summer 2022. Watch this space for more details. 
  • Beck Collins suggested that the SPWG members could potentially develop a standard / code of conduct for data in smart-enabled buildings. 

What impact will 5G have on sensors, data, and smart buildings? 

  • 5G should make data and sensors easier to use and deploy. It’s also worth looking at smart buildings and smart building networks in terms of policy and practice. 

What will happen to the building Arup currently occupies in Solihull? 

  • Arup is working with the building owner to determine how they plan to use the space after Arup (a tenant) have moved out. 
  • Someone in the room suggested that the building couple be repurposed into a training centre for industrial symbiosis. 
  • Alison mentioned that the building was designed to be de-boltable (disassembled). 

Will Arup’s new office space at One Centenary Way offer staff members a choice in workspace / prioritise flexibility of comfort? 

  • Yes. One option will be to trial different temperatures in different parts of the building. This could mean that one section would be set to 20 degrees and another set to 21 degrees. Arup would then monitor data to see how colleagues engage with the spaces at different temperatures.  
  • The floorplan is such that a maximum of 50% of staff will be able to access the building at the same time. They will have activity-based workspaces rather than designated offices / desks 

How do we mainstream solar panels? How do we retrofit to allow for this? 

Attendee Roundtable 

Tony McNally: Managing Director of Climate Change Solutions. Tony is currently focused on advocating for solar power across the West Midlands, especially in Coventry. 

Hannah Smith: Sustainable Projects Delivery Lead at Arup. Hannah helps Arup’s internal teams embed sustainability into their work. 

Loukmane Ladjel: Sustainability sales representative at Siemens Algeria. Loukmanne commented that his major takeaway from this SPWG session was around how to build working spaces for employees, particularly post-Covid. 

Simon Kinvig: Associate Architect at Pegasus Group. Simon recently worked on a refurbishment project in Stratford upon Avon for a charity. Alongside Pegasus’s work with heritage and architecture, they have a special interest in photovoltaics. They’re currently looking at smart-ready buildings and exploring how their clients could interface with data. Key areas of interest after this SPWG event include maintenance, paint, and furniture. Simon is a former president of the Birmingham Architectural Association and is open to conversations about architecture, the built environment, and smart-enabled buildings. 

Jay Rajpra: Principal Architect at Pegasus Group. Jay is currently exploring non-smart principles (e.g. size and positions of windows) to drive sustainability. He mentioned a principles approach vs. a systems approach and expressed a desire to continue thinking about circularity of data. 

Dalraj Nijjar: Chief Commercial Officer for Concrete4Change. Concrete4Change are currently at proof-of-concept phase. They’re creating a technology and process whereby they can permanently sequester O2 in concrete. He has a deep interest in sustainable building materials. He’s also keen to discuss digital methods of construction, as well as production of materials. 

Khuram Mahmood: Young Combined Authority Member. Khuram joined this SPWG as an observer on behalf of the Young Combined Authority. We will be following up to see if / how the Young Combined Authority would like to get more involved with the SPWG. 

Malcolm Harbour: Associate Director of Connected Places Catapult. Former Member of European Parliament. Malcolm’s current focus is on revamping public sector procurement processes. He stated that smart customers can help influence policy and practice, and he cited Alison’s example of Arup as a tenant. 

David Brown: Honorary Professor at Aston University. David’s work involves thinking about the whole system impact of sustainability decisions. The example he gave was about wanting to compare the environmental impact of staff working from home vs. driving to a remote office location vs. commuting to a city-centre location via public transportation. 

Beck Collins: Senior Sustainability Advisor at Sustainability West Midlands (SWM). Beck has just joined SWM and is interested in research and stakeholder engagement around the topics discussed today. 

Wayne Horkan: Head of Technology and Engineering at Cyber Tzar. Wayne works in the Cyber sector and is keen to discuss more about data privacy and protection in the context of smart buildings and the built environment more broadly. Devon will be following up on this and exploring a collaborative event on this topic between the SPWG and Cyber Working Group. 

Beate Pesian: Director of Worksmith. Beate runs a recruitment company called Worksmiths. Her focus are is around green energy and sustainability. She finds and places the “people components” to make sustainability happen. She’s currently working with a group of students (alongside Tony McNally and Climate Change Solutions) using an open system to map solar-ready rooves in Tysley.