What's driving sustainability?
Stroma Tech's Christian Southee talks about the value of sustainability, lack of government leadership and what clients want (Sponsored Content)
Report from – Damien Carr
Last year saw a major shift in government policy away from regulations and incentives that help drive sustainability and energy efficiency. Nevertheless, surveys and conferences suggest there is still an appetite, particularly among building owners, for ways to operate their buildings more efficiently in terms of energy and water use.
Building4Change wanted to gain an understanding of some of the live concerns from a company that delivers sustainability and energy-efficiency on a daily basis, as well as some insight into what its clients want. So, Building4Change caught up with Christian Southee, Principal Energy and Sustainability Consultant at Stroma Tech; a leading provider of accredited testing, assessment and consultancy services to support the development and management of sustainable, energy efficient buildings.
Has Stroma Tech seen a shift in attitudes from its clients with regards to BREEAM?
Yes, we’ve certainly seen increased awareness and familiarity with BREEAM. M&E tender packages now often include BREEAM-specific items such as automatic water isolation and leak detection systems. Architects are becoming noticeably familiar with the environmental impacts of materials and Green Guide ratings. Design team members are also showing greater flexibility towards design adaption for BREEAM, such as thermal comfort and daylight potential. There seems to be a greater desire to improve ratings where possible and we’re regularly asked to identify viable credits in order to uplift the BREEAM assessment.
Do your clients still view sustainability as a compliance issue and reputational benefit, or are they starting to view it more as a business benefit?
It depends on the type of client. Contractors remain generally agnostic to the ‘ideals’ and are simply focused on delivering the contracted spec at maximum profit in the shortest time period. Developers are similar, and will generally only deliver more sustainable buildings for business advantage. It is really the owner/occupier that has the most interest in the environmental and social issues, especially in the public sector.
Nevertheless, BREEAM certificates are often given pride of place within the completed building and encouragingly, we are seeing a greater number of consultant reports concerning passive design, LZC feasibility, thermal comfort and daylight potential at earlier stages. BREEAM has helped assert their importance and define an approach to assess their impact.
Buildings still account for around 45% of the UK’s CO2 emissions – should performance targets in current Part L Building Regulations be strengthened to combat this?
Absolutely, although our government clearly has other priorities. Scrapping the already diluted Zero Carbon standard was disappointing, not least as it was wholly achievable as demonstrated on a number of large scale sites. It should be our moral obligation to make buildings as energy and carbon efficient as possible. We sincerely hope that the current government’s fixation with deregulation, which has already gone too far, does not continue to hinder the progression of energy efficiency and sustainability standards.
In Part L, we’d advocate further progress towards the compatibility of design principles and technology to ensure that the effectiveness of adopted design strategies is maximised. This would require in-use feedback from operational buildings that have been developed under the recent guises of the Approved Document. There needs to be greater consideration of controls and occupant feedback to enable building occupiers to make the right energy decisions. The Target Fabric Energy Efficiency (TFEE) metric within Part L1a has been an excellent introduction to ensure inherent and robust performance.
What are the main barriers to investing in energy efficiency and sustainability at the moment?
The withdrawal of the Code for Sustainable Homes within the domestic market is a concern. This may remove incentive for product and design innovation that we require to achieve greater levels of sustainability and energy performance. Standards such as BREEAM and the Code offer developers and end users an official and well-developed framework to specify higher standards.
Removal of government incentives for low carbon and renewable energy technologies such as the Green Deal and Feed-in Tariff is another more specific barrier. With this too, is the need for greater investment in the national energy infrastructure to enable more low carbon, de-centralised energy sources to come online.
Design and build contracts also put too great an onus upon cost and too little upon quality and client specification. Meanwhile, ‘value engineering’ is increasingly incorporated within the design process and presents a risk that positive sustainability features with no obvious monetary value are removed. This risk is further heightened where there is no overarching assessment such as BREEAM to control these actions.
Are you seeing any particular trends in terms of the services that clients are asking for?
There is greater concern about overheating, particularly within multi-residential buildings that have heat distribution pipework within enclosed communal areas.
Clients are also asking for thermographic surveys and want advice about how to achieve lower air permeability (APR) targets. Lower APR targets are becoming the norm and we do highlight the need for adequate ventilation to mitigate condensation risk; indeed clients are coming to us for condensation analysis. As with good design in general, a holistic approach is required.
Clients are also requesting thermal bridging calculations, primarily for residential detailing and metal cladding systems in the commercial sector. We’ve also had more enquiries about our fabric-first consultancy, in line with good practice, TFEE requirements and the revised BREEAM ENE1 approach. In addition, we’ve seen a growth in concept stage passive design analysis and LZC feasibility assessments.
What three key things should a company do to improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of its buildings?
Firstly, sub-meter energy and water consumption. Monitor supplies to understand the actual in-use profiles to highlight any spikes and trends that correlate with known activities which can be duly adjusted.
Secondly, make sub-metered consumption and internal conditions more visible to help occupiers make the right decisions, such as turning down the thermostat. Show ‘ideal’ bands and simple instructions about how to adjust to hit desirable targets. With this is a need to invest in intelligent, though simple, and intuitive control.
Lastly, carry out energy audits, condition surveys and post-occupancy evaluations. There is a risk of ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’ when buildings have been occupied for long periods of time. Therefore, engage impartial experts to survey the building and determine appropriate measures that will improve energy performance and outright sustainability.
BREEAM Awards 2016
Stroma Tech is the headline sponsor for BREEAM Awards 2016, which takes place on the evening of 8 March. Learn more and book your place.