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Building a sustainable future

November 2014

We, in the OECD countries, spend about 90% of our lives inside buildings so it should be pretty clear that healthy and comfortable indoor environments contribute significantly to overall health and happiness.

It also makes economic sense since in the US alone the annual cost of building related sickness is estimated at some $58bn.

Whereas “green” building, or sustainable construction, used to focus specifically on energy efficiency and conserving natural resources, now it takes a more holistic approach to provide healthier living and working environments as well as minimising environmental impact.

Yet, despite a growing body of research proving the contrary, the myth persists that “green building” is expensive. In fact, sustainable construction practices, rather than focusing on short term economic gains, emphasize long-term affordability, efficiency and economic sustainability offering investors lower operating costs, longer useful lifespans and improved marketabililty as well as higher occupant productivity.

The latest report to debunk the sustainability-is-expensive myth comes from the research team at the Sweett Group and BRE, the independent Building Research Establishment.

Delivering sustainable buildings: Savings and payback (brebookshop.com) examines both capital construction costs and operational costs applying cost data from real construction projects to three case study buildings – an office, a secondary school and a community healthcare centre.

The researchers concluded that minimum BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) ratings can be achieved at little or no extra cost while targeting higher BREEAM ratings – more challenging sustainability levels – typically incur extra costs of less than 2% which, moreover, can be recovered within 2–5 years thanks to operational savings.

“This study proves that, as long as good planning is involved at an early stage, a sustainable approach need not add significantly to building costs,” says BRE’s Yetunde Abdul, one of the report’s authors. “And, where there are additional capital costs, these can be repaid relatively quickly through the reduced costs of operating the building.”

Indeed, Abdul goes on to say, payback through reduced operational costs can actually make green buildings work out cheaper in the long run.

So with the financial disincentive being replaced by a likely financial incentive, could we soon see green buildings added to corporate must-have tick boxes alongside sustainable supply chains and enhanced transparency?

Abdul believes we will, citing the ever increasing numbers voluntarily approaching BRE for advice on updating their standards. Even where a new build is not happening, she points out, there are adjustments that can be made using the Breeam In-Use initiative for existing buildings such as maintenance improvements which can cut costs, ensuring desks are spaced in a way that offers computer users a distance view which can reduce headaches, or adjusting acoustic levels so work spaces are neither too loud or too quiet - both of which can be stressful.

When it comes to construction and full-scale refurbishment, however, one company raising the bar on sustainability in the built environment is Marks & Spencer which, currently increasing its retail space by 20% and refurbishing all its stores, has approached BRE to help the company fulfill its goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.

“Our customers don’t want just an ethical range in the corner of the store. They expect a simple brand promise from us that we will strive in everything we do...to offer the most sustainable option possible,” says Mike Barry, Director of Plan A.

Launched in 2007, Plan A is the company’s 100 commitment eco and ethical programme and has helped M&S send no waste to landfill and become carbon neutral. Now the company has joined forces with BRE in a unique retail partnership which involves BRE developing a Sustainable Construction Manual for the company with guidelines covering analysis of initial store designs and the selection of construction materials to auditing and working with key suppliers to deliver sustainable construction methods.

The key to no-cost or low-cost sustainable construction lies in forward planning, stresses BRE’s Yetunde Abdul. This is a holistic approach, involving both stakeholders and designers working collaboratively from the early planning stages through to occupation.

With this in mind, experts from Birmingham University have criticised the government’s recent proposal to drop the zero carbon homes standard for thousands of new homes on brownfield sites as ‘“short sighted”.

“Ignoring climate change and easing regulations to reduce construction costs in the short term is a false economy for planners when planning to build new homes on this scale,” says Professor Keith Osman, Director of Research. “The use of analytic tools demonstrates clearly that reductions in energy usage, which reduces both CO2 emissions and energy costs for the occupants, can always be achieved and should a compulsory requirement for all new build housing.”

Currently, the built environment is responsible for around 25-40% of total energy use, 30% of raw material use, 30-40% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 30 to 40% of solid waste generation.

Osman urges the government to look longer term and use a more integrated strategy in future planning, an approach currently being pioneered by a pan-European consortium led by the University.

The KIC-Transitions (KIC-T) project brings together data, modelling and visualisation tools to provide a comprehensive simulation framework that will assist strategic planning. This integrated platform enables “plug-in” to a wide range of information sets for analysis of key environmental impacts, including energy needs, noise pollution or carbon emissions.
“This highlights just how important our project will be in helping planners to better assess the impact such ambitious proposals will have when built without due enforcement of regulations that minimise environmental impact,” he says.

David Lawrence, European Director for Construction and Development at AIG/Lincoln which built the BREEAM Excellent rated Campus M Business Park in Munich agrees on the need for forward planning. “A high priority was given to bringing all parties involved in the sustainability brief together early – the earlier everyone understands the process, the more cost and time effective green construction is,” he says. “We are particularly pleased with our BREEAM rating and Campus M proves that achieving Excellent does not mean additional cost.”


CASE STUDIES

Campus M Business Park in Munich - a BREEAM Excellent at no extra cost

Campus M Business Park in Munich, built by the AIG/Lincoln Group, is a 18,500m2 office and technology park 4km from Munich city centre with four buildings and multi-storey parking.
Scoring particularly well in Management, Health and Wellbeing and Energy and Transport, it was awarded a BREEAM excellent.
The park re-used an existing site which involved the specialist disposal of contaminated material. 
The buildings are entirely naturally ventilated and offer high levels of natural daylight, with workstations at most 7 metres from a window. There are storage areas for recyclable waste in the basements and highly efficient gas condensing boilers heat the interior. 
Energy use is low and complies with German energy saving regulations.
The Park also has excellent public transport links as well extensive cyclist facilities and showers in order to reduced CO2 emissions linked to the Park.
Director of Sustainability at BRE Global Paul Gibbon, says:”Campus M delivers an important message to investors, developers and the industry as a whole that with good design, achieving a BREEAM Excellent rating does not cost extra.”


Marks & Spencer’s Cheshire Oaks store

Marks and Spencer, along with the Murphy Group, has joined CIRIA’s (the construction industry research and information association) BIG Challenge which seeks to reward biodiversity enhancements that go beyond normal business practice. 
M&S became the first UK retailer to receive The Wildlife Trusts’ Biodiversity Benchmark after creating a wildlife haven at its award winning Cheshire Oaks store by introducing green living walls, a pond and wetland area, trees, hedgerows and wildflowers at the store near Ellesmere Port. 
Now, the company wants to expand its biodiversity initiatives. “We believe that our buildings can be important hosts for biodiversity and promote flora and fauna in urban locations,’”says Property Plan A Project Manager Roseline Holt. “CIRIA’s BIG Challenge is a great vehicle to help share best practice in the industry and encourage collective action to help prevent the decline of biodiversity in order for us to achieve a sustainable future.”

 




Europe | Sustainable Construction

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