As the UK’s built environment evolves, could a new building code that can standardise the design and development of Active Buildings accelerate their impact on carbon reduction targets?

The built environment of the UK is expected to change, as the Government aspires to bring greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. How will this be achieved? Our Active Building Code aims to give an answer, providing guidance on shaping the next generation of buildings.

To be active, or not to be

Going active

Several building codes have been developed worldwide to stimulate a positive environmental impact, indicating that there is not a single road to decarbonisation. This does not, however, provide the construction industry with a clear pathway to a net zero future. In addition, even if we assume that industry is willing to power ahead, a kick-start from the Government will be needed to have any hope of meeting the 2050 target.

This kick-start is the £36 million investment of the Government into research on how the new generation of buildings should be designed, constructed and operated. These buildings are termed Active Buildings to reflect their active contribution to the energy infrastructure, and ultimately to the decarbonisation vision. Buildings are thus not treated as passive consumers of energy, but as active entities that have the potential to produce, store and share energy.

Going active

Defining active

If we are to support the Active Building approach, it is clear that designers need some form of guidance on what an Active Building is and how its performance should be assessed during the design process. The easiest way to do this is via some form of building code. Given that many of the technologies are unknown, the energy infrastructure is rapidly changing and there is also the need to allow creativity in design, any proposed Active Building Code needs itself to be active – i.e. to evolve over time.

We are now exploring how to create such a code, with ABCode1 being our initial proposition. At its core, there is a ‘do no harm’ philosophy which is translated into four environmental metrics: embodied carbon, energy consumption, renewable energy production and energy flexibility. Labels A–F are used to rate the performance of buildings with respect to each of these four metrics, with an overall label then indicating how active the building is.

Staying active

Deciding to go active will have implications for the design of buildings, such as requiring large areas of south facing roofs to maximise their renewable energy potential. The more energy-intensive buildings are (such as hospitals), the more apparent such implications will be. This justifies the adoption of a scale to rate Active Buildings – rather than a conventional pass/fail philosophy. Going active may also require moving from a building scale to the aggregation of several Active Buildings in a community and/or city level to ensure cost sharing.

Thanks to its active philosophy, the Active Building Code can evolve over time and thus reflect the time-varying circumstances of both the built environment and the energy infrastructure. For instance, it currently emphasises the need for on-site renewable energy production which may, however, not be a priority once a low carbon infrastructure is available. Future iterations of the code may hence need to adjust its principles and metrics to ensure we stay on track for decarbonisation.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. If you would like to share your thoughts with us, please contact Elli Nikolaidou (

Elli Nikolaidou is a Research Associate at the University of Bath and is supporting the Active Building Centre Research Programmes development of Active Building design standards.