Sustainability, environmental impact, carbon hierarchy – the words are being bandied about like the latest slew of business buzzwords. But are the property and constructions sectors really on the case when it comes to eco-friendly action or is it all a lot of, well, hot air?
Put those questions to Andy Speight, director of Birmingham-based cost and project management consultancy, Faithful+Gould, and the answer is only reassuring up to a point.
Yes, the general public has become more aware of the green agenda over the last five years or so and businesses have taken on greater responsibility for their environmental impact.
In industries such as construction, where the environment has been pushed to the fore, greater measures are now being adopted to identify the negative impact a new-build or refurbished project has on the planet and ways in which this can be minimised.
According to Faithful+Gould, however, the industry needs to look carefully at the planning, design-and-build lifecycle of a project and accept that sustainable commitment is needed at every level to drive real change.
An increasing number of organisations like Edgbaston-based Calthorpe Estates are focusing on the need for change and want their premises to achieve good, very good or excellent rating according to the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (Breeam).
Breeam is the world’s most widely-used means of reviewing and improving the environmental performance of offices, and assessments are more frequently being carried out on both new and existing buildings – empty or occupied. The American system, Leed, is also starting to be used a lot more in the UK
The bottom line?
Mr Speight believes that there has been widespread acceptance across the industry for lower carbon working environments – and yet when it comes to identifying every sustainable aspect of a new-build project, action has been slow.
“The environmental agenda in the UK construction industry is driven in part, by the government’s increasingly tough environmental strategies, which include the Code for Sustainable Homes, Code for Sustainable Buildings, and building regulations and initiatives such as the Low Carbon Building Programme, which provides grants for the installation of micro-generation technologies in new and refurbished commercial buildings,” says Mr Speight.
“Local authorities are also setting their own sustainability targets with which new developments in their jurisdiction are required to comply.
“Nevertheless, the number of UK buildings that are designed or refurbished to a sustainable brief are still in the minority. If we are to move sustainable design and construction from the exception to mainstream, acceptance of the problem is needed, as is a commitment for change.”
Government figures suggest that 20-30 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions from buildings could be saved through the widespread application of energy efficiency measures.
“These efficiency measures need to be incorporated during the design phase of any new build or refurbishment project and considered at every stage of development.
“The need to review environmental compliance at each stage of a project means it is very difficult to set out a definitive guide to achieving what we describe as the sustainable construction project.
“Sustainable designs must consider a variety of elements including location, structure, systems, construction, use and the eventual demolition of the building.
“It is not only by incorporating sustainability into the design of the building that our environmental aspirations will be realised.
“The environmental impact of obtaining, manufacturing, transporting and recycling the materials needs also to be considered.
“At Faithful+Gould, we have a long track record in sustainability and have provided sustainability consultancy services to many organisations, one of which is the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap).
In the case of Wrap, Faithful+Gould has successfully developed an online recycled content toolkit that is now used in the public domain and allows a design team to estimate the recycled content of a building.
“We have also conducted studies to identify the level of recycled content for different organisations, and at Defra’s flagship office in London we were instrumental in reducing construction waste by 70?per cent,” says Mr Speight. “The project was declared sustainable building of the year in 2005. We have also embarked on the ambitious to reduce carbon emissions in new build schools by 60?per cent.
“Businesses and specifically the construction industry, have a crucial role to play in continuing to deliver carbon reductions whilst operating in a more sustainable way.
“By adopting the carbon hierarchy approach, we can start to have a positive impact – and by combining simple low-cost measures such as energy-efficient lighting, environmental policies and so on with technologie, such as solar power and wind power and addressing carbon issues throughout the design and construction of projects, the industry can start to make a real impact.”
* CASE STUDY
If ever proof was needed that green can be good for business, just look at this state-of-the-art facility set in Warwickshire’s traditional industrial heartland. Eliot Park Innovation Centre is based on the outskirts of Nuneaton, an area traditionally known for its mining and motor manufacturing industry.
Its green credentials and benefits for the local economy are beyond doubt, according to Coun Chris Saint, economic development portfolio holder for Warwickshire County Council.
“As advances in technology overtake the traditional automotive sectors, we were on the lookout for ways to create a sustainable economy with what we describe as jobs of the future,” he says, picking up the story.
“At Eliot Park Innovation Centre, business and sustainability go hand in hand. Right from day one, businesses are able to boast about their business meeting the trinity of social, economic and environmental sustainability. Careful consultation with building and design partners meant the final development is an energy-efficient and environmentally-responsible facility. That focus has been rewarded with one of the highest industry accolades possible – an excellent rating from Breeam.”
He points to a review which found that businesses at Eliot Park Innovation Centre had contributed £5?million to the northern Warwickshire economy last year. The centre also employs 135 people.
“The centre is a great example of Warwickshire’s ongoing policy commitment to narrowing the gap and the sustainability agenda,” says Coun Saint.