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Time to bin industry’s lavish habits

The increasingly important environmental performance of your building is decided right at the start of the design process. By Mike Barker

It’s in the early concept stage that crucial decisions regarding energy and water consumption, construction methods and materials, waste management, maintenance and, eventually, demolition are made.

Of course, there are opportunities to improve performance of your building right the way through design and construction to completion. But incorporating environmental enhancements later on is harder and more expensive. If you start badly you’re in trouble.

Delivering environmental quality isn’t rocket science. But it requires ownership and drive. Here are some reasons why we should be working at it harder.

Even if your conscience isn’t troubled by chucking perfectly good materials away, your wallet should be. The construction industry is the UK’s largest consumer of natural resources. More than 400 million tonnes of materials get delivered to site each year. Of these, 60 million tonnes go straight to tip due to over-ordering, damage resulting from poor storage or because of inappropriate ordering.

Add earthworks and demolition into the equation and it’s easy to understand how construction, which accounts for 8.3 per cent of UK GDP this year, manages to churn out over a third of the nation’s total waste.

Trial projects on which waste minimisation strategies have been put in place have delivered savings of up to 10 per cent on anticipated out-turn costs.

If morality and financial good sense aren’t motivation enough to clamp down on waste, next month every project worth over £300,000 will be required to put in place a site waste management plan.

The strength of a plan, setting out waste management and reduction strategies from a project’s inception, through its working life, to eventual demolition, is expected to become pivotal in the success or failure of future planning applications. Breach the terms you’ve agreed in a site waste management plan and you could be facing legal action.

Big companies are increasingly concerned by issues such as corporate social responsibility and sustainability and are starting to demand accommodation that performs well. Sooner than you imagine, commercial rents for environmentally honed buildings will be at a premium.

Need for sustainability

The definition of good environmental performance will in future cover strategies for waste management during use. And it will include maintenance – durability of plant, fixtures and fittings, and ease of access.

The equation between capital cost, cost in use and user benefit is changing, with a significant shift towards user benefit. This is fuelled by changing legislation, increasing energy costs, scarcer resources and our slowly increasing awareness of the need for sustainability.

But to achieve all this, contractors and suppliers need to be brought on board during design to advise on the most economical ways of building; and clients need proof that investing more up-front can deliver longer-term savings.

Innovation requires leadership – and improving environmental quality certainly requires innovation. Designers and contractors need to wake up to the potential for doing things differently and better. And clients need to allow them the freedom to push boundaries when projects are at an early stage.

Mike Barker is head of buildings at Mott MacDonald