Talking sustainability in construction with Dr Jon Stinson

by Dr Jon Stinson | February 14, 2024 | 5 min read

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The vocabulary may have changed from low energy to low carbon to net zero, but the challenge of combating climate change remains a constant.

These are the words of Dr Jon Stinson who joined the BIM Academy team as its sustainability specialist in October 2023. A former researcher and lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University, Jon’s knowledge and expertise is sought after worldwide, resulting from over two decades of environmental change through his science and evidence based research for central and local government agencies, and construction industry commercial giants – all seeking new sustainability strategies.

Here, Jon provides a look into his background and the path that led him to BIM Academy, plus steps he believes we need to take to make construction more sustainable.

What was your route into the construction industry?

My family have always been in construction and as self confessed problem solvers, the art of construction has always fascinated me. I have also always had a passion and skill for mathematics and science, so it was recommended to me to consider the architecture route.

I was not convinced at first, I like creating things, but my thought process is more science based and formulaic. As such, I soon realised that my skill set was perfectly aligned to that of an architectural technologist. After careful research into which university offered great opportunities in this area, I chose Edinburgh Napier University (which still has one of the best architectural technology and building performance courses in the UK).

After completing my undergraduate course and having won several awards through the university and the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), I was offered a PhD with Edinburgh Napier University, partly funded by Innovate UK.

The PhD gave me the opportunity to move into the realm of construction technology in the renewable energy space, with a particular focus on carbon reduction through smart buildings and occupant behaviour change.

After this, Professor Sean Smith invited me to join his Institute for Sustainable Construction – one of the industry focused R&D and consultancy wings within Edinburgh Napier University. Working with Professor John Currie, in his Scottish Energy Centre we were instrumental in helping Scotland drive energy efficiency agendas and low carbon strategies for the built environment.

Tell us more about your work at the Institute of Sustainable Construction

The retrofit challenge had become a very real issue for Scotland at the time and how we addressed the need to reuse rather than rebuild. The Scottish Government provided funding for research that pioneered in situ building performance evaluation (BPE) as well as post occupancy evaluation (POE) and this research was instrumental in changing the construction industry in Scotland through the development of measures to reduce CO2 emissions and reducing whole life carbon. We also partnered with BRE and Historic Environment Scotland, when I wrote several technical papers, refurbishment case studies, and conference papers on the hygrothermal performance in buildings and techniques for sustainable retrofit in historic buildings.

Over a decade of applied science and industry led research had provided the perfect foundation to help educate and prepare the next generation of architectural technologist.  This led me to change my role within the University, which had a greater focus on knowledge transfer and teaching on the University’s architectural technology programme, whilst helping to maintain the programme’s CIAT Centre of Excellence status.

Life after the university

Life after the university saw me partner with the incredible Dr Ruth Saint, and set up our own consultancy, Building Research Solutions (BRS). For three years we supported clients such as the South Korean government, BAFTA, and the Built Environment Smarter Transformation (BE-ST) with carbon measuring strategies and how to introduce new sustainable ways of working to reduce whole life cycle embodied and operational carbon.

In 2023, we were approached by BIM Academy to partner with them in the delivery of sustainable construction consultancy and after a successful partnership, we merged with BIM Academy and its sister company, Ryder Architecture.

What is the role of sustainability in construction?

Sustainability in construction means different things to different people depending on their project and their needs. Ultimately, we need to reduce the industry’s negative impact, whilst enhancing its positive impact on both the built and natural environments. Sustainable construction methods allow us to do this, these include using low carbon, renewable and recyclable materials, reducing the embodied energy in building materials, reducing the energy consumption of a building, or reducing on-site waste. There are many such ways we can have a positive impact.

Right now, I’m working with several NHS trusts, Universities and Local Authorities to improve building performance across their estates, whether that be at community, construction or component level – or in some cases all three.

To demonstrate how sustainability can be embedded at every stage of a project, we have created our Sustainability Services Wheel, which promotes and supports the use of modern methods of construction and industrialised timber design. Computational assessment of the operational energy, embodied carbon, microclimate, and user comfort are at the heart of our services. Starting with design concept development, then performance analysis for design optimisation, and onsite building performance measurements, these form the fundamental principles of how we are supporting clients in both the private and public sectors.

To find out more about BIM Academy’s sustainability consultancy, contact Jon at [email protected].

About the author

Dr Jon Stinson

Associate Sustainability Consultant, Ryder Architecture

Jon has worked, researched, and taught in the field of sustainable architectural technology since 2005, joining Ryder in 2023. He has led industry focused applied research projects for the Scottish Energy Centre, authored industry and academic papers, and speaks publicly on sustainability strategies and retrofit techniques. Jon spends his free time writing and publishing science fiction short stories.