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Health and Happiness: a better business case for sustainable construction

Charlotte Cassedanne 16 Mar 2015

Another year, another interesting three days at Ecobuild, the annual sustainable design, construction and energy exhibition at Excel. With an upcoming national election and an EU referendum round the corner, the future of sustainability in the UK was hotly debated: retrofitting (or not) houses, green infrastructure, and how buildings can improve health and wellbeing were all prominent themes. As many clients still struggle to understand the value of putting sustainable design at the heart of their building projects, health and wellbeing might have a better chance. As Richard Francis from The Monomoy Company said “Not everybody cares about carbon and energy, but who’s against health and wellbeing? Who doesn’t want to be seen to be pushing that agenda?” Chris Brown, CEO of Igloo Regeneration, stated “health and wellbeing is the new climate change” in terms of building design and development. The problem is, not enough data exists to prove that certain types of materials, design and construction can deliver significant health and wellbeing ROI for developers to include it as one of their drivers…yet.

Sustainable buildings mean happy people

BDonline claims that the data does exist. “Studies have found that hospital patients with view of nature heal more quickly, (…) that doubling the supply of outdoor air to an office reduces short-term sick leave by 35%.” But findings like these might still not be enough to convince clients who are restricted by budget. “Clients often don’t see the whole project cost,” explains BAM’s Director of Sustainability Nitesh Magdani. “The design and construction of a building will amount to about 10% of the project’s overall lifecycle costs. That’s a big upfront cost. The remaining 90% is associated with staff costs, and only 1% with running the building over 30, 40 even 50 years. Making sure a building is energy-efficient is important, but so is creating a healthy environment for people to work, live, heal and learn in."


Net present value analysis of the operational cost and productivity and health benefits of LEED certified buildings. (Graphic from: WGBC Study, The Business Case for Green Buildings)


“People see sustainability as something separate but actually sustainable design is about creating a healthy environment, while being resource efficient and saving money. It goes back to the three pillars of sustainability: people, profit, planet.” But clients are still having problems quantifying the benefits of a sustainably designed and constructed building on their building users and bottom line. “The construction industry is still making the business case for sustainability. This new emphasis on health and wellbeing might make it easier for people to understand its value, although they are often intangible benefits.”

In an effort to measure building performance, Innovate UK has just come to the end of their Building Performance Evaluation programme, a four year study of 101 projects, domestic and non-domestic, at handover and in use. The studies measured the performance gap between intended energy-use and actual energy performance, often resulting in a 60% discrepancy. BAM Mechanical Associate, Stuart Carroll showcased findings from one of our building studies, and highlighted the impact that over complexity of design can have and the need to bring contractors on board as early as possible. The findings are still being analysed but understanding where the problems are can help design more energy-efficient buildings, and create more healthy environments. 

BAM's Stuart Carroll talking at Ecobuild, comparing M&E design to in use

BIM is also helping things. “We’re using BIM to record design and construction decisions, and include product specifications so that the model can be used by facilities managers after completion.” explains Nitesh Magdani. “BIM is allowing us to better manage building information, and in the near future, this will help us make better predictions about energy-performance in use and how healthy a building will be for occupiers.”

BAM's 110 Queen Street used BIM throughout

Collating all the knowledge we have about what makes a building healthy and its occupants happy will take time, but will make clients value the design and construction stage of a project much more.


If you would like to talk to us about sustainable design, contact us



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