For this ConstructionCast, Annabel Clark of Faithful & Gould, Jonathan Finnerty of Green Unit and Alex Hirom, solicitor at Addleshaw Goddard examined sustainability with Annie. All three have an interest in sustainability from very different perspectives. We started with a look at Green Unit, with Jonathan Finnerty. The firm create modular spaces manufactured offsite and delivered for installation in a range of settings. Their aim is to be net zero by 2025, if not sooner. While ‘greenwash’ is an issue in construction, the team at Green Unit are keen to ensure that they are genuinely sustainable and truly carbon free.
Standards are a huge concern for everyone in the built environment now, particularly as it seems people are starting to take sustainability seriously, rather than paying it lip service or ‘tick boxes’. Certifications may be a ‘means to an ends’. There are a plethora of assessments and standards available to choose from, so where to start?
Passivhaus and other standards pose some challenges for organisations such as Green Unit. Not all the standards focus on things such as embodied carbon. There is a question over whether a good route to take is to ‘cherry pick’ the best from the standards.
Key standards include:
- BREEAM: Run by the BRE, and possibly the most popular in the UK. There are a wide range of aspects of a project covered by BREEAM from transportation to management.
- LEED: Similar to BREEAM, but more international / US focussed.
- Home Quality Mark: This is also run by BRE applicable to residential properties.
- SKA: Run by RICS for non-domestic fit-outs.
- Passivhaus: Focussed more on design]
- WELL and FITWELL: The focus is more on health, air quality, comfort, lighting etc. This has become particularly important in recent months.
- Design for Performance: Another one run by BRE is looking at building performance, rather than construction and fit-out rather than operation.
There are some more detailed notes on some of the above in this article.
Legislation and regulation is changing, with the recent announcement from HMG, aiming to reduce carbon emissions significantly by 2035. This is an ambitious target, particularly for the construction industry. One of the things that needs to help drive sustainability in construction is the desires of end-users and developers. Some developers are implementing innovative techniques to encourage carbon reduction on their own estate.
Sadly we cannot pick and choose the aspects of sustainability we target to reduce emissions. Embodied carbon is a huge issue for construction. Concrete and steel contribute around 8% to global CO2 emissions, so their use is something which needs careful consideration. Carbon capture is one area to consider, but this requires robust direction from governments. So it would seem that the challenge is not something construction can deliver alone. ‘Sensible’ regulation is something that may help to drive better sustainability and meet the ‘build back better’ challenge the industry faces post-covid. Contractual tools – such as the Chancery Lane Project provide ready-made mechanisms for implementing sustainability goals.
Payback & The Circular Economy
Payback is another issue. How do we identify accurately the value of sustainability? Can we demonstrate to clients the value of sustainable construction?
Green Unit, for example, set targets for the payback of their buildings. If their targets are not met, the team expect accountability. But as with everything, good management and operation of the buildings will ensure they meet their targets. However, one thing to consider is that a sustainable building can command a premium in terms of rent, etc. Green Unit point out that their clients use their buildings as a differentiator when setting rent / hire costs.
Annabel looks at the circular economy. Reusing and recycling material is another challenge we face. There is so much inconsistency both locally and regionally in the UK, let alone around the world. This is reflected in construction too. It’s critical that we implement consistent segregated waste systems, and before starting demolition, audit the buildings so that we identify how we can re-use. There should be no need to re-create new materials each time we build a new structure.
The importance of getting things right from the outset, as with anything, is key. Start looking early at the environmental impacts and opportunities on any project well before it’s started. The sustainability aspects of any project need early consideration from project inception. MMC can help, standards can help, but as observed above, omit no element to ensure best results.
Thanks to all our speakers for their contribution. Join us for the next ConstructionCast in a few weeks: www.limeslade.com/constructioncast