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Sustainability is cost effectiveness

Anthony Heaton 23 Sep 2015

This week I saw the phrase ‘cost effective sustainability’.

It doesn’t need an environmental professional to guess the author of this phrase had a pretty sceptical view of the value of sustainability, and who could blame them? I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard facts about the failings of solar PV or turbine technology. And I expect many construction projects promised much at the design stage, only to leave a finished building performing nothing like expected, and a legacy of headaches rather than benefits.

So why have sustainable technologies been so common over the last seven to eight years, when they were not always cost-effective – after all, isn’t ‘economic’ one of the pillars of sustainability?

Influences such as BREEAM, Feed-in-tariffs, energy prices and carbon taxes are just some of the reasons that clients have felt a need to adorn buildings with the latest must have eco accessories, or ‘eco bling’, but we now understand that although they were well intended, in many cases they were ill-fitting to the needs of the building and also to the user.

So it’s pleasing to see that in 2015, bold statement eco-bling has been re-evaluated.

Client understandings of value have increased and we now operate in an industry where adding a renewable energy technology is not a one-stop-shop to sustainability. As an industry, we now aim to treat the problem, not just the symptom. Although we understand renewable energy technologies still have their place in delivering green energy, other solutions can offer additional benefits. 

Although not the solution, renewable technologies still have their place 

For example, building in line with passive air tight principles reduces unwanted air leakage and lowers the overall energy requirements of a building, while more accurate predictions of lifecycle costs enables us to predict the true benefits of procuring materials or systems which take into account operational value. 

We now also think in terms of future proofing. Being able to evaluate a building’s thermal model (together with future weather predictions) within BIM helps to ensure we view buildings as both intelligent day-to-day as well as resistant to future changes. 

BAM is pushing the boundaries by championing the circular economy and the benefits of performance contracting. This challenges the concept of building ownership and maintenance, but would ultimately benefit all stakeholders. 

We are also leading the way by conducting post occupancy evaluations on completed projects, in line with the Government’s Soft Landings requirements. We are learning from past projects, improving our understanding about material specification, how spaces are really used and work, and building users’ perceptions; helping to drive better building performance.

So my response to the sceptically written phrase ‘cost effective sustainability’ would be that with some expertise and joined up thinking, sustainability can itself be cost effectiveness. 


Anthony Heaton is a Sustainability Advisor at BAM.

If you would like to talk to us about sustainability, contact us.



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