Imperial College London

Transition to Zero Pollution launches series to inform research and policy

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An upward shot of sky scrappers against a blue sky

Imperial’s Transition to Zero Pollution initiative has launched an online series to bring together experts from across College and industry.

Transition to Zero Pollution is a transdisciplinary initiative that brings together academics, students and industry partners to realise a sustainable zero pollution future through a variety of events, programmes and forums.

The first event in the new online series saw Imperial’s Professor Jennifer Whyte and Professor Mary Ryan host Marco Abdallah, Head of Engineering at Drees & Sommers, as he outlined the ‘cradle-to-cradle’ model of building construction – an approach that could transform the sector from being one of the most carbon costly to one which is carbon positive.

Professor Whyte chaired the webinar, which was the first hosted by the College’s Transition to Zero Pollution initiative and invited Professor Ryan to introduce the initiative. Professor Ryan highlighted the need for a trans-disciplinary approach to tackle the challenge of pollution in all its forms and noted that in the past attempts to tackle grand challenges had often been siloed within departments, leading to unintended consequences further down the line.

Addressing the challenge of global pollution will require a radical shift in industrial systems, technologies, and business models, underpinned by the development of innovative policies and governance structures – all of which will require integrated research across many disciplines. Professor Mary Ryan Vice-Dean (Research), Faculty of Engineering

Successfully taking on the transition to zero pollution challenge will require fundamental physical science and engineering research, Professor Ryan said, accompanied by an understanding of economics, policy formation, behaviour and ethics. It will take the collaboration of many people from different specialisms and walks of life.

Professor Whyte then introduced Marco Abdallah as the first speaker in the new webinar series. Mr Abdallah has already been collaborating with College through the Science and Innovation Network, and was invited to the meeting to share his insights into how the construction industry can tackle its pollution problem.

Mr Abdallah explained that the construction industry is currently the biggest contributor to the world’s carbon footprint; within the UK alone, 30-40% of all carbon emissions can be traced back to construction. Furthermore, the sector is responsible for 40-50% of raw material use and 60% of the country’s waste.

Currently, a lot of construction’s sustainability efforts are focused on making buildings as efficient as possible or in using as little embodied carbon (that is, carbon that goes into the construction of the building rather than its day-to-day operations) as they can.

Mr Abdallah instead proposed that buildings should work towards not only having zero embodied carbon, but to actually be net positive and reduce carbon.


To achieve this the sector must shift towards renovation over demolition, design for longevity, and invest in low carbon materials. Most importantly, however, it should move to what is known as a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ model.

The cradle-to-cradle model encourages designers to use reusable materials which can be disassembled, as opposed to only recycled, and reused building after building. As Mr Abdallah put it, ‘there is no waste – there are just nutrients’.

This approach, sometimes known as the circular economy, is already being embraced in countries like Germany but has not yet become established in the UK. If it were it could help cities like London meet their sustainability targets by 2030.

Our vision is to realise a sustainable zero pollution future

Transition to Zero Pollution is one of the first initiatives of Imperial’s Academic Strategy. Embracing transdisciplinary approaches we want to avoid the siloed thinking that has caused issues in the past and take a holistic approach to tackling pollution in all its forms.

If you would like to keep up to date with future Transition to Zero Pollution events, you can visit the initiative’s website for all of the latest news.

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Hannah Armstrong

Hannah Armstrong
Human Resources Division

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Email: h.armstrong@imperial.ac.uk

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George Hope

George Hope
Communications and Public Affairs

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