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Putting sustainability into practice

Nitesh Magdani 17 Sep 2013

Most people would prefer to live and work in sustainable buildings given the choice, yet not every new building is designed to minimise its impact on the environment. So what is getting in the way?

In my experience, customers often approach a building procurement process with a view to showcasing a sustainable ethos. But they also feel the market conditions very keenly. In the current economic climate, estates teams are under pressure to deliver capital projects at minimum cost, causing a tension with the desire for sustainability.

In reality, bids are often won on lowest cost, leaving contractors with little incentive to promote innovative design and construction solutions that may be more valuable in the long-term but cost more up front.

With better education about the value of good design – to the environment, to the building users and through lower future energy bills – this situation can be improved.

Even in a buoyant market it is rare to find a client willing to look at medium and long-term paybacks for an enhanced capital investment on a building. But it is possible, and it remains so during the current economic turmoil.

One glimmer of hope is that customer are being forced to rethink their place in a very squeezed market place – and some are seeing an opportunity to differentiate themselves against competitors on green grounds.

Most of BAM customer's now aspire to achieve a high BREEAM rating for their building to showcase these environmentally friendly credentials. Like other accreditation tools, BREEAM is a good measure of sustainability, but it is not the full picture. Ticking boxes can not take the place of a robust sustainability strategy; we have to look deeper.

This is why BAM is reviewing its own processes to redefine sustainability on current and future projects. And it is why I am delighted to be part of the UK Green Building Council's Green Building Guidance Task Group. The task group will focus on signposting the most useful tools the construction industry has in order to clarify best sustainability practice for all processes in the building development life cycle.

As the UK-GBC hopes to show its members, and in line with BAM's sustainability journey so far, there are many factors supporting the business case for sustainability in construction, regardless of economic climate and customer attitude.

I believe contractors are well placed to highlight short, medium and long-term building life cycle costs alongside initial capital costs at tender stage.

Reducing costs by using fewer resources is a clear incentive for sustainability, and the key is to ensure all stakeholders in the process recognise this.

Meeting ever tightening carbon and energy use legislation is another major driver. The cost of retrofitting sustainable solutions later on, or paying the penalties of failing to keep up with changing laws, should be factored into the original tender. Helping customers improve their image through differentiating themselves as a sustainable and responsible customer is another bid winner. Enlightened customers want to work with contractors that will go the extra mile and challenge their development brief.

Meanwhile, a growing number of investors are looking at environmental and social criteria as part of lending risk assessments, making green construction important for business growth.

Customers and staff like to see socially and environmentally responsible companies, so contractors can point to these benefits of sustainable buildings in bid proposals.

Building up sustainability expertise and reputation also opens doors to collaboration with like minded organisations in what is a fast growing market.

There are many tools contractors can use to help clients understand the long-term value of choosing sustainable buildings. But ultimately all sectors of the industry - from developers through to suppliers and manufacturers – have to work collaboratively to drive the message forward and change outcomes. When I worked for Marks & Spencer on their Concept Sustainable Store, the retailer made sure it took its suppliers on its journey when rolling out its Plan A sustainability targets. As the lead architect I therefore had to make sure we stayed a step ahead of our competitors on sustainable design. This industry-wide action is very powerful.

I very much hope our work at the GBG Task Group will help members of this diverse industry come together to work towards a common goal to make it easier to deliver sustainable buildings for future generations. These are the buildings everybody wants to see, and it is our job to make them happen.

Nitesh Magdani is the Director of Sutainability at BAM.



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