Author Archives: Martin Hall

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Covid-19: sustainability now and in the future

Photo: wikimedia commons

With the construction sector given the government go-ahead to recommence this week, now is a good time to have a look at what effect Covid-19 has had so far on building and sustainability.

The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) has produced new guidance, BREEAM has made changes to its assessment requirements, surveys have been undertaken, and occupier expectations in professional environments are changing rapidly.

In terms of building work during the pandemic, at the start of May, based on a survey with an admittedly low sample, a quarter of businesses were fully operational, with 58% operating in a limited fashion. Moreover, 83% are still tendering for new projects. This suggests some optimism in the sector regarding work starting up once more, and that has been proven well-founded after Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation on May 10th.

However, with the vast majority of analysts predicting a major downturn, and with the UK economy posting a 2% contraction this week, its biggest quarterly fall since 2008, reality may not meet the expectation of the companies bidding for tender, especially as construction tends to function as one of the most predictive parts of the economy: when it’s up, we’re booming; when we’re not, it reduces dramatically.

To return to the IEMA, it’s worth a closer look at what’s going on there. It is the largest professional body for environmental practitioners in the world, and has put this on its website:

“Environment and Sustainability professionals face many challenges during the current health crisis ranging from the immediate term issues of performing daily roles and progressing the environment and sustainability goals within the organisation; to the long term future of the profession as business, society and the economy start to rebuild in the wake of the global impact of COVID-19”.

What is of most interest to us for the purposes of this article is ‘progressing the environment and sustainability goals within the organisation’. Why? Because it speaks clearly to the world in which we operate, and its long term future. Daily roles in administration can of course be done from home, and Sunday’s announcement from the prime minister means assessments and other work streams can begin again in earnest. However, as we start to come out of lockdown, changes to the way that business and society at large operate will create many challenges for the sector. The IEMA suggests these will come in the following areas, which I am listing, followed by some brief examples:

  • Impact assessment

– how monitoring and surveys should proceed

– how statutory timeframes can be met

– how applications might be considered by planning authorities

  • Environmental Management and Environmental Auditing

– sharing experiences and approaches to remote auditing

– what are the compliance obligations

– what are the implications for waste, resource management and packaging

  • Corporate sustainability

– What are the strategies that will maintain commitments for environmental and sustainability work?

– Managing risks, dependencies and vulnerability 

– Rejuvenating the case for sustainability when it might be a lower priority during a time of crisis

  • Climate change and energy

– Links with the climate risk and adaptation agenda

– Maintaining momentum and planning for post-covid climate action

– Mandatory energy schemes and any adjustments

This is not an exhaustive list and there is much more to be said, but it’s clear that even this abridged version suggests that the sector is going to continue to experience upheaval. While it is certainly the case that companies are continuing to sign up to sustainability initiatives and are attempting to fulfil their corporate responsibilities, it is the case that a slow-down in uptake is likely to occur, as companies focus on the here and now: Return on Investment (ROI); cash flow; in short, survival strategies. Companies that have already embedded sustainability – in the supply chain, or in corporate decision-making – are more likely to keep to the required agenda than perhaps those only starting to take their first tentative steps in that direction.

BREEAM, as might be expected, have responded well in practical terms. Showing understanding of the difficulties caused by the situation, a bulletin has been released aiming to assist “assessors, and our wider stakeholders, with continuing to conduct assessments in a robust manner whilst also taking a practical view in light of the COVID-19 global crisis and its impacts on many territories”.

They have provided guidance in four areas, which again are listed, with examples drawn from the bulletin:

  • Submitting assessments and certification

– Provide an account of the particular circumstances of the place and nature of the assessment within the report

  • Gathering evidence for site assessments

– Where an assessor cannot personally visit or gain access to the site, they can appoint a suitable individual, for example a main contractor or asset manager, to undertake a formal site assessment on their behalf

– In such cases, the report should contain photos and/or a virtual tour, but where this is not possible – such as when a site is closed – built drawings and written confirmation from the design team and main contractors that the requirements have been met will be acceptable

  • In use re-certification

– When site assessment is not possible, either by the assessor or a nominated individual, desk-based evidence will be accepted where:

– Evidence demonstrates that the criteria are being met as far as possible without a site assessment

– There is a firm commitment for a follow-up site inspection to be carried out when it is safe to do so, in line with local government guidance on Covid-19

  • Timing of workshops, testing and other subsidiary evidence submissions

– In respect of workshops, the key consideration is that they take place at a time when they have a meaningful impact and achieve the aim of the criteria

– In respect of indoor air quality testing, where possible, the construction programme should allow time for the indoor air quality testing to be undertaken post-construction/pre-occupancy, in line with the BREEAM criteria. However, where it can be demonstrated that this is not possible, due to restrictions relating to COVID-19, it is permissible to undertake the indoor air quality testing post-occupancy.

Examples of when this will be the case are given.

– In respect of subsidiary, third party assessments such as ecological site inspections or audits, desktop surveys based on available information (e.g. planning surveys, agents’ reports, photographs, Google Earth), can be used as an alternative provided there is enough material for a confident recommendation and/or outcome to be achieved

What this tells us is that there has been a sensible approach to assessment in its various forms. BREEAM clearly understand the new imperatives of the new normal, and have adjusted their methods accordingly. It will be interesting to what extent any of these new approaches continue once we are out the other side of Covid-19.

Finally, how to create safe office spaces is of course very much on the agenda. This concerns not just the organisation of already-existing spaces, but the design of new ones, which is already changing. The British Council for Offices (BCO) has released a briefing note outlining what we are more likely to see more and less of in the next period. In the latter category, unsurprisingly, is hot desking; in the former, apps to remind people of various hygiene methods. Here is an indicative list from the briefing:

  • The introduction of screens to protect receptionists
  • The replacement of gendered communal toilets with pod-based ‘superloos’ that feature touchless doors, taps and soap dispensers
  • An increase in bike storage, in the context of workers being likely to avoid public transport
  • Limits on the number of people that can occupy a space, use a meeting room or share a lift at any one time
  • An end to communal cutlery, coffee pots and water bottles
  • The adoption of ventilation and humidification systems which create environments that make transmission tough for viruses

These are all sensible measures, though of course they have a cost, and may well need to be underpinned by legislation. What is the case is this: unless a vaccine is found, it’s extremely unlikely that office work will go back to the way it was before.

Considering the extent to which the Covid-19 outbreak is connected to environmental damage, it may well be that the sustainability agenda is in the long term given a new lease of life by the crisis. Certainly, short term signs are good. The noises coming from CEOs are the right ones. For example, a recent interview for GreenBiz, Mariano Lozano, CEO of Danone North America said this: “ultimately, we believe that this challenging moment can be used as a catalyst to help others recognize that the health of our people and of the planet are all interconnected.” The challenge for all of us working in the sector will be to make sure that thought stay at the forefront of people’s minds once we’re through the worst of this.

Fitwel® – championing a new design for healthy living

Fitwel (facility innovations toward wellness environment leadership) is a building ratings system designed to be used for both commercial interiors and housing. Its guidelines provide an operating model for healthier buildings. It’s not just for existing buildings, either – it can be used in the design of new buildings, too.

The thinking behind it? Supporting health and wellbeing.

Launched in 2017 by the United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and General Services Administration, it has been rolled out universally since then. Fitwel Champions are committed to implementing the Fitwel Standard across their built environment portfolio.

Fitwel asks a question that is key as we enter the third decade of the 21st century: what is the role buildings can play in encouraging healthy behaviour, and consequently healthy lifestyles? Back in the 19th century, in the context of cholera and other infectious diseases, the relationship between the environment and public health started to be understood, leading to an increase in the construction of public parks and healthier (for the time) buildings. Nowadays, more and more of us are on board with the idea that we need to eat well, and exercise, but in what sort of environment? That is a question to which Fitwel can provide an answer.

All the required information is readily accessible and free, so a case can be made that it’s a genuine attempt to make an intervention in health and wellbeing. Also, certification is facilitated by Fitwel’s interactive, digital interface that gives you direct access to details about project performance and the impact upon health. You can register, benchmark, and submit either a single project or a portfolio for Fitwel certification.

What comprises the Fitwel standard?

There are a number of different scorecards, depending on whether you’re thinking about whole sites or individual buildings. For the former, it’s just two:

  • Community scorecard
  • Commercial scorecard

For buildings, there are significantly more:

  • Multi-tenant base building scorecard
  • Multi-tenant whole building scorecard
  • Single tenant building scorecard
  • Commercial interior space scorecard
  • Retail scorecard
  • Multifamily residential building scorecard

Further information, including downloadable scorecards, case studies, fact sheets and pamphlets, can be found here. The scorecards have over 55 strategies for design and operation that are intended to improve buildings through focussing on an extensive range of both health behaviours and risks. Each action has discrete point allocations, pertaining to the strength of the associated evidence, and the impact on the health of the occupants that can be demonstrated. Obviously, a strategy that has greater number of multi-faceted impacts will gain more points.

Fitwel sees health holistically, with no dominant category or area of focus, and because of this, all the strategies are voluntary, and do not have individual prerequisites. This means that there should be significantly fewer barriers to using the system. There are 7 categories that strategies can address:

  • Those pertaining to community health  
  • Those that reduce morbidity and absenteeism
  • Those that supports social equity for vulnerable populations
  • Those that instil feelings of wellbeing
  • Those that improve access to healthy foods
  • Those that promote occupant safety
  • Those that increase physical activity

Becoming a Fitwel Champion means that a company can offer its clients an additional way to attain Green Building Certification, and one that is recognised under the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB). Furthermore, as each strategy is voluntary, there are also fewer initial barriers or costs prohibiting any project from attempting certification.

Mainer Associates are working with a number of clients to examine appropriate assessment methodologies in order to demonstrate sustainability in the built environment. Air quality and more generally, health and wellbeing are at the forefront of people’s minds – just as much as energy, or carbon emissions. Mainer have invested time and budget in to becoming Fitwel Champions, as our chosen methodology for assessing health and wellbeing in the built environment.

The RIBA Plan of Work 2020

The RIBA Library, London. Photo: Wikipedia

The RIBA Plan of Work is the definitive model for the design and construction process of buildings. To paraphrase their own statement, it is designed to organise the process of briefing, designing, delivering, maintaining, operating and using a building into eight stages. It is intended to be used as guidance for the preparation of professional services and building contracts.

It has come a long way from its first iteration in 1963, when it came in the form of a fold-out sheet that simply explained participants’ roles via a basic matrix. As projects increased in complexity, and the regulatory environment changed, so did the Plan of Work, with the current structure of eight numerical stages being adopted in 2013. Specifically, Stage 0 was introduced that year, in order to create a pre-commencement point so that a decision could be made regarding if a building project was the optimum way for the client’s needs to be met, as was Stage 7, which provided a method for acknowledging a building’s life when in use until such time as Stage 0 recommences. Now, after seven years of gathering feedback, the new version has been released.

What is the context?

In June 2019 the UK Government committed to be net zero carbon by 2050, and the RIBA, along with much of the construction industry, are of the view that to meet this target new projects and refurbishments must be designed and constructed that will not require retrofitting again before 2050. A deadline of 2030has been set to achieve this. The RIBA believes that if this is to be successful, it needs to start now.

What is new this time?

The work stages have been renamed and reordered:

0 – Strategic definition

1 – Preparation and briefing

2 – Concept design

3 – Spatial coordination

4 – Technical design

5 – Manufacturing and construction

6 – Handover

7 – Use

There are extensive sections on how each stage works and a larger glossary detailing how each of the topics underpinning the plan are important to the success of a project. Furthermore, project strategies are fully explicated in order to show how a legion of topics will need to be addressed as a project moves through each stage.

The plan has been increasingly affected by the need to centre sustainability. The RIBA Sustainable Futures Group had a role in developing the relevant project strategy section, which emphasises the value of aftercare activities at Stage 6. This has replaced the Green Overlay.

In terms of BIM, where there has been changes as well, the overlay in question has been replaced by a new section, with a view towards addressing the challenges of using next generation digital deliverables, in the context of ever-increasing intricacy of information requirements. There will be greater emphasis on keeping models live, and using embedded data to push evidence-based design and to aid asset and facilities management.

A principal change has come with the change to Stage 3, which was in the previous version entitled ‘Developed Design’. The 2020 version suggests that the spatial coordination stage

“is fundamentally about testing and validating the Architectural Concept, to make sure that the architectural and engineering information prepared at Stage 2 is Spatially Coordinated before the detailed information required to manufacture and construct the building is produced at Stage 4… Stage 3 is not about adjusting the Architectural Concept, which should remain substantially unaltered, although detailed design or engineering tasks may require adjustments to make sure that the building is Spatially Coordinated.”

This has been changed and firmed up to address the issue of information being sought outside the main stage gateways, as it is not always possible for both deliverables and what tasks underpin them to be clear, and every stakeholder’s outputs may not have been taken into account. In short, the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 has been designed to prevent stages being split in two, as feedback suggested had been happening.

The other principal change has been to increase clarity between Stages 2 and 3. The concept should be got right at Stage 2, and should be fully signed off before Stage 3 begins. It shouldn’t be changed at that point. Rather, Stage 3 should comprise design studies for specific portions of the building, and detailed engineering analysis. The cost plan must be got right. Most importantly, the focus ought to be on the lead designer managing this information until Stage 3 is completed and 4 ready to begin.

The RIBA hopes that the Plan of Work 2020 “brings into focus the trends and innovations that are changing the construction industry and provides space for these to thrive on our projects while ensuring a simple and robust framework remains in place”.

It is a worthy ambition. In tandem with their Climate Change 2030 initiative, the RIBA is most definitely doing its part in the global fight for sustainability via the developing and implementing of transparent, measurable and achievable goals in the construction industry.

For our response to the new Plan of Work, see the Mainer RIBA Table.

Paris proof: a road map to sustainability

Windfarm, Friesland, the Netherlands. Photo: Pxfuel

As stakeholders ponder the different ways to achieve the aims of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement, an innovative approach has been taken by the Dutch Green Building Council (DGBC) in the Netherlands. The goal? The creation of a Paris Proof built environment by 2040.

What does Paris Proof mean? A two thirds reduction of energy consumption in comparison to the current average. This is significantly more than what was required in 2016, which was a reduction of one fifth, and therefore represents one of the more ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs) from any country.

This multi-year sustainability programme requires an array of route maps across a range of sectors, which will sit under the umbrella of the Delta Plan for Sustainable Renovation. It will require a range of approaches, dependent on the size of the sector in question. For the six largest ones (healthcare, offices, retails, housing, logistics and education), the DGBC has partnered with working groups to push the best sustainability model. This involves, not surprisingly, buildings being tested for their current consumption levels. That’s the first step of the Delta Plan.

How will this work in practice for an organisation? There are six steps along the road:

  1. A portfolio inventory
  2. An analysis
  3. A sustainability plan
  4. Financing the operation
  5. Realising it
  6. Monitoring it

What are the targets? An office building must only use 50 kWh per square meter per year. By 2050, a care building with overnight accommodation will be allowed 80 kWh per square meter. For supermarkets, the number is larger: 150 kWh per square meter per year will still be available by that time. This will hit the two-thirds reduction target.

Of course, there is a bigger picture here than how much energy a given building must be using by 2050. That is the amount of energy that will be available by then. The Netherlands is committed to producing all energy sustainably – by wind, or solar power, for example – by that year, with the result that there will be less energy available; in short, one third of the current amount, with none of it producing CO₂ emissions. Therefore, the overall amount of energy that will be available perfectly aligns with the target for reduction. The detailed figures can be found here.

Participants at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Photo: wikimedia commons

Paris Proof will allow organisations to hit targets 10 years earlier, at a point where the amount of energy available will still be more than the required use under the model. This will obviously aid in future proofing the Netherlands for the new world of 2050.

How was this plan realised? An important step was the Paris Proof working conference that took place in The Hague on June 13th 2019 comprising DGBC participants, members of the Paris Proof working groups and any other stakeholders. This half-day event saw the DGBC present their road maps, with the idea of encouraging businesses to make their own personal versions that are pertinent to their buildings and organisation.

In order to push their plan and encourage its take-up in other countries, the DGBC is hosting the Paris Proof Congress on May 28th this year. Let us hope it’s well attended, encouraging other countries to push aspirational NDCs. This will a huge help in giving the Paris Climate Agreement the best chance of success.

Upcycled breakfast waste: Throw Away IPA, Cast off Pale Ale and Sling it out Stout

Throw Away IPA. Photo: Seven Bro7ers

I bet you didn’t think your leftover breakfast could be recycled into something you enjoy in the evening, and with such snappy monikers, too? Well, Seven Bro7hers, a family-run brewery (the clue’s in the name) based in Salford, has gone into partnership with Kellogg’s to make it happen, producing three distinct beers:

  • Throw Away IPA: made with Corn Flakes
  • Cast off Pale Ale: made with Rice Krispies
  • Sling it out Stout: made with Coco Pops

Here’s how it works.

Some cornflakes, rice crispies and coco pops don’t make the cut; perhaps because they’re a little overdone or the wrong size or colour. However, they’re obviously edible, taste fine and still have value. These ones formed the basis for Seven Bro7hers’ beer-making experiment. Handily, after they’d been playing around with this idea, Kellogg’s moved their HQ to Media City in Salford, and were approached by the brothers.

It turned out that Kellogg’s were sending over 500 tonnes a year of unused Corn Flakes to be used as animal feed. Kellogg’s as a company are very keen to push a sustainability agenda and are investing in it, so the idea of turning waste into beer sat very well with them, as you’d imagine. They now send a percentage of their unused cereal to Seven Bro7hers.

The first of the beers to be born was Throw Away IPA in November 2018, available on draught or in cans. The brothers discovered that if they replaced 80kg of the malted barley in their already existing stout and pale ale with Coco Pops and Rice Krispies respectively, they had two more cereal beers, giving them a mini-range. It was a case of getting right the ratio of cereal to the existing grain mix; once that was achieved, the brothers say that it’s much the same as making any other beer. It is, but other beers, either those made in small craft breweries or by the giants of the industry, aren’t doing their bit for sustainability.

Food waste in a landfill. Photo: USEPA

As a New York Times article from this July suggests, this is not just a commercial venture: it’s a genuine attempt to contribute to arresting food waste, which as we know plays such a role in climate change. Why? Because a third of the world’s food lies unused, or is wasted or lost. It then goes to landfills, where it decomposes, and releases methane gas into the atmosphere.

Next time you have a drink, think about this, and consider a pint (or can) of one of these beers, particularly if you love the taste of cereal (and don’t we all?) It’s nice to think that every glass you sink is contributing in a small way to the fight against climate change, isn’t it?

New Guidance from BREEAM

YMCA Lakeside

In advance of a 3 year strategy to be announced in early 2020, BREEAM has written to all its assessors to inform them of a new Customer Service Charter and Code of Practice. The message is that there have been improvements in timescales and services but clients should be assured of their ongoing commitment to enhancement, with a particular focus on improving turnaround times for resubmitted assessments as well as assessments requiring translation. Included within the Charter is a set of newly defined Quality Assurance Principles, which describe the themes and behaviours by which their auditors will be guided when conducting technical reviews of assessments. There are three areas:

Communication: To work in partnership with assessors to deliver effectively for them and their client

Trust in Assessors: To recognise the professional competence, reputation and quality of assessors and their work

Confidence in QA: To inspire assessor and end-client confidence in BREEAM, their schemes and certification

Furthermore, the Charter commits BREEAM to delivering outstanding customer service through the motivation of their people to serve customers’ needs in a professional manner. They recognise that their role is to support assessors and their clients via transparent, quality-assured standards, procedures and outcomes that provide value and confidence.

To that end, they have published service level standards for QA audits and new guidance for certification application requests that provide a transparent timeline for audit, feedback and certification. At the assessor’s request, this information can be sent directly to a client. New guidance for registration and licence applications is also in the Charter, with attendant timescales. Guidance for Green Specification ratings is included, with a Green Guide Calculator to enable assessors to quickly and efficiently generate Green Guide ratings.

The Code of Practice aims to promote:

  • the best standards of practice and professional behaviour by Assessors
  •  confidence in the integrity of the Scheme, Assessors, Assessment Services and Certification

Assessors must ensure that they understand and comply with this Code and any accompanying guidance. They must adhere to the Code of Practice and meet its requirements in the following areas:

  • Personal and professional standards
  • Skills and ability
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Marketing
  • Information for the client

The Code of Practice will be rolled-out as part of assessors’ annual licence renewal over the next 12 months (or as part of any new licence application from 2nd January 2020).