Sustainability stakes increase

When it comes to implementing policies aimed at improving the green credentials of buildings, and in particular reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions, the commercial property market isn’t changing as rapidly as some campaigners would wish.
Jonathan Porritt, Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, called it the ‘circle of blame’ – Architects and engineers can build sustainable low-energy buildings, but the property developers don’t want to pay for them; the property developers say it is their investors and funders who don’t want the extra cost of building green buildings; and the funders blame the occupiers who they say don’t ask for green buildings and are not prepared to pay any more to occupy them.

However, a recent survey stated that 87% of businesses would prefer an efficient to an iconic building. The fact is that companies are increasingly needing to justify their approach to a growing number of social, environmental and ethical concerns. In particular large corporates who are very aware of brand image and awareness are pushing corporate social responsibility (CSR) up the agenda.

BP, Nokia, Wal-Mart, Tesco and M&S are actively implementing CSR policies and initiatives that embrace sustainability and energy efficiency across all aspects of their property portfolio.

At the recent Prince of Wales May Day summit over 1,000 business leaders pledged to take action on climate change. While at Think07 leaders in the UK construction and property sectors, including Stanhope, made 10 pledges to tackle climate change, ranging from measures on design and construction of new buildings to reducing the carbon footprint of property already in use.

Over the last 18 months in particular, the industry has really begun to wake up to the idea that CSR has emerged as an important driver for investment and development in relation to property and portfolios. There is growing evidence that CSR boosts profits and has a real bottom line impact.

So how can Building Service Engineers help the property market respond? Ways by which to reduce the energy consumption of a building must be explored, while at the same time keeping it within certain comfort parameters.

According to a 2001 policy brief on air conditioning by DEFRA, the energy consumption and associated carbon emissions resulting from air conditioning use in the UK represented around 5% of the total carbon emissions from non-domestic buildings. However, there has been and still is a substantial projected growth in air conditioning use.

So air conditioning appears to have a significant role to play in the reduction of a buildings energy consumption. The occurrence of plant oversizing and the prevalence of systems operating outside occupancy hours has a substantial impact on energy use and must be addressed, as does the inherent efficiency of the system itself.

Research by The Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University undertaken in 2003 found that peak power consumptions for systems range from about 50-70 W/m² down to about 20 W/m² for chilled ceilings. While normalising for the internal heat gains reinforced the finding that chilled ceilings systems emerge as more efficient in providing cooling than other system types.

A more recent study, undertaken by Cluttons, Davies Langdon and Hoare Lea, using IES’s building performance software, found that significant CO2 reductions can be made using existing technologies such as lighting control or static cooling, while retaining air conditioning. But that the lowest carbon emissions could be achieved with chilled beams. It was shown that a reduction just short of 50% from a 2006 Part L compliant building could be achieved.

Active support for sustainability will lead to better, more profitable buildings, with higher occupancy rates from better covenant clients. Ignoring it will become increasingly unprofitable – rental rates for non energy efficient buildings may well fall, as could the capital value of portfolios. There is already evidence that the imminent arrival of Energy Performance Certificates is encouraging portfolio managers to develop up-labelling strategies.

Speculative commercial developments which include environmental initiatives to reduce CO2 and energy use such as Gazeley’s G-Park Sheffield development are starting to appear, and investment funds to purchase green developments, which are currently in short supply, are also starting to emerge. The commercial opportunities and market pressures are there and the industry has the chance to show it is modern and forward-thinking, with both the ability and the will to produce and manage a built environment that will not cost the earth.

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