Reducing climate change

With the world’s continuing focus on reducing climate change and dependence on diminishing natural resources, there is an increasing amount of responsibility on the construction industry to focus upon sustainable solutions. For any project, the objective should be on creating a better world in which to work and live whilst simultaneously protecting the environment for all.

In the initial design stages a developer must ask these three key questions when applying sustainable objectives:

  • Is it required for planning?
  • Is it required for BREEAM?
  • How expensive will it be?

Environmental Assessment tools (such as BREEAM and LEED) are in place to encourage design teams to apply sustainability initiatives to their proposed new-builds and renovations, however do these tools go far enough to achieve objectives? Can a building still be constructed, achieve a high sustainability rating and not actually meet the needs of local and global environmental targets?  The recent revision to BREEAM 2008 has acknowledged that a building should not just be designed with sustainability in mind but also constructed. Other updates include encouraging design teams to achieve sustainable targets through innovative design approaches.

Planning Policy Statement 22 (PPS22) encourages local authorities to apply pressure on developers to incorporate renewable technologies within their developments.  Depending on the nature of the scheme, this can include making use of natural resources such as wind, solar and locally sourced biomass.  However, the enforcement of applying renewable energy targets rests solely with the local planning department. Therefore, applying renewable energy strategies varies from region to region, which begs the question – why is the national planning policy not applied uniformly across the UK?

Sustainability is much easier to incorporate into a design if it is considered at project inception. The size and efficiency of ‘bolt on’ technologies such as wind turbines can be significantly improved if the building design concept is developed around them. By applying sustainable initiatives late in the design process the developer can incur additional costs and the project will not meet the needs of the environment.

UK legislation via, the Part L Building Regulations, was revised in 2006 and now focuses on carbon emissions to demonstrate compliance. These carbon emissions are only related to operational energy (gas and electricity), there is no requirement to consider the energy expended in the extraction, manufacture and transport of building products. This embodied energy represents a substantial proportion of the building’s energy use over its life cycle. Should this not be considered? 

Due to the over use of the word ‘sustainability’ and the lack of a consistent definition, developers are wary about engaging in sustainable options, removing it totally from their agenda. This suggests that there is a case for educating developers and design teams about the application of sustainability and its implications.

The revision to BREEAM demonstrates that sustainability needs to be high on the agenda throughout the design and construction process. BREEAM needs to remain as a dynamic tool so that it incorporates future progress in national policies, legislation and technology. However progression with national policies needs to be fed in at a local scale, so that environmental appraisals are applied to all construction proposals.

National planning policy needs to become mandatory, in order for renewable energy targets to be realised. Renewable technologies and other sustainability options can be incorporated early in the design to reduce costs and ultimately the scale of the sustainable technology required.

To instil confidence in renewable technology decisions, further work needs to be undertaken to develop a tool that will enable sustainability options to be tested early in the design process, giving meaningful payback and carbon dioxide reduction information. This will result in developers gaining confidence about sustainability practices, resulting in an increased uptake and further consideration for environmental issues. Not only will confidence result in further uptake but also financial support. We need to observe our European counterparts who utilise financial incentives to encourage homeowners and other investors to incorporate innovative sustainable options into their designs.

To conclude, the industry is progressing towards protecting the environment, at a local and regional scale. However this needs to continue and be maintained. Will this happen when the engineering industry is going through financial turmoil?