Not so long ago, commercial office occupiers wanted the kudos of a green building but they weren’t so keen on paying for the specification. Now, things are changing.
Not only have approaches to sustainability improved and become more affordable, but the benefits of a sustainable business environment are also more measureable, demonstrating to both developers and end users the tangible value embedded in a more sustainable approach to design and delivery.
The big picture background to the development of a more sustainable commercial construction landscape is complex and is driven by a number of factors across stakeholder groups.
Factors such as indoor air quality, thermal comfort and biophilic design are increasingly being linked to the health and wellbeing of buildings’ occupants. Studies indicate these design considerations can have a measurable positive effect on productivity while reducing absenteeism and staff turnover, which in turn support enhanced company efficiency.
Legislation is a key influence, with Part L building regulations becoming more stringent at every iteration. Alongside this, local authorities, inward investment agencies and planners are also placing increasing importance on sustainability for new developments, both from an eco-credentials point of view and from a life-cycle, longevity and impact on local resources perspective.
Reputational impact and customer/public opinion is also critical. Occupiers are keen to demonstrate their environmental impact across all their activities, including their business premises, and increasing numbers of corporate businesses are having their carbon footprint independently audited. Programmes like BREEAM and LEED are, therefore increasingly important for buildings of all standards, with BCO criteria also influencing specification of offices.
Alongside the environmental benefits of reduced carbon emissions are the operational cost benefits of reduced energy consumption and maintenance. As a result, insulation, energy efficient mechanical and electrical installations and low maintenance, extended lifecycle building materials all have tangible commercial value to the occupier or owner-occupier.
While the lifecycle costs of a building are not always prioritised over capex build costs by the developer, the need to address issues such as energy price volatility and overhead cost management in order to market a building successfully are helping to create a more long-term specification strategy.
Sustainable development in the built environment has evolved and will continue to do so, leading to a more holistic view point. Simply choosing the most environmentally-friendly products is no longer sufficient; the cost of a project should not be considered in isolation but as part of an equation that encompasses all aspects of sustainability. After all, if a project isn’t economically viable, it doesn’t matter how resource-efficient it is, it’s not viable. The aim, therefore, should be to balance the equation, achieving value for money, resource efficiency and durability whilst considering the impacts of the project on society as a whole.
As we continue to build on that culture, it’s vital that sustainable specification is delivered as a holistic process, with an integrated approach to maximising the lifespan of the building by ensuring that materials are complementary.
Only by assessing materials in combination on a basis that combines formulation, embedded carbon, thermal/energy benefits and lifespan can specifiers truly put sustainability at the heart of a scheme.