It’s a sad fact that there has been more bad news than good on sustainable building in the UK in recent times. After the scrapping of the Green Deal without replacement, the unexpected reversal of the Zero Carbon Homes policy and the defeat of efforts to reintroduce building standards through the Housing and Planning Act this year, there’s been little to cheer for those interested in improving the carbon efficiency of our built environment.
Whilst some have complained of a “policy vacuum” in low carbon building, there is still enough oxygen to sustain some interesting and valuable projects that can serve as examples of what can practicably be done – so long as there is the client has the will.
Best BAR none?
Land Rover BAR, Britain’s America’s Cup team lead by Team Principal and Skipper Ben Ainslie, is at the forefront of sustainability best practice – particularly appropriate for an organisation dedicated to producing exceptionally fast and reliable wind-powered vessels. It regularly reports on its sustainability achievements, an approach that many other businesses could usefully replicate.
When the team wanted to build its own dedicated base on the Camber Quay in Portsmouth, sustainability was a high priority, both in its design and construction. The team made use of its partnerships with 11th Hour Racing, Land Rover, BT, and Low Carbon, and secured the co-operation of contractors, designers, utilities, and the council to make sure that sustainability standards were achieved. It also secured a grant of £7.5m from the then Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – but the criteria for this related to economic development rather than sustainability.
Building these relationships required an up-front investment of effort, but paid dividends in helping the construction process to proceed smoothly and quickly, while achieving its environmental objectives. For example, the demise of Site Waste Management Plan requirements in England has reduced the incentive to plan carefully for the responsible treatment of construction and demolition waste. In the Land Rover BAR project, working closely with the designers and contractors enabled all of the demolition concrete produced in preparing the site to be reused in the foundations of the new building. In all, over 97% of the demolition materials from the site were recycled.
BREEAM me up!
The project made extensive use of the BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) sustainability standards to inform its development, and has recently been awarded BREEAM Excellent status. The existence of these standards, which date back to 1990 and have been applied in over seventy countries worldwide, is critically important in providing well-founded and well-understood criteria for achieving sustainability in buildings across ten categories: energy, health and wellbeing, innovation, land use, materials, management, pollution, water, waste and transport.
BREEAM allows developers to apply sustainable practices at each level of development and to utilize natural and renewable resources in an efficient manner, while taking account of the different requirements that the local climate entails. The standards also help to ensure that, once in use, the footprint of a building is minimised.
The standards also contribute to the wellbeing of those who live and work in BREEAM certified buildings. For example, they promote improved air quality and natural lighting, both of which contribute to an increase in employee productivity and eliminate the need for power-hungry mechanical systems.
At Land Rover BAR’s headquarters, the glazed atrium allows daylight to filter from the top floor down through all levels, including the workshop. It also draws air up through the building, releasing it through glazed louvres to help regulate internal temperatures. This eliminates the need for a mechanical ventilation system and minimises the need for artificial light, reducing the building’s need for power.
Glass half full
With so much glass in use, there might be concerns about heating and cooling the building. To address this, a gigantic translucent fabric wrap has been applied to much of its façade. This admits natural light to the interior, but reduces solar glare and provides a layer of insulation. The result is a heat saving air cushion of approximately 4-5 degrees, and a significant reduction in the need for both heating and cooling.
Of course, the base does still have a need for power. Low Carbon is supporting the team by providing 130 MWh/yr of renewable energy from 432 solar panels, covering all of the available roof space. This meets 20% of the team’s energy requirements, reducing running costs and saving around 60 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. The remainder of the team’s electricity is bought in on renewable energy tariffs.
The ostensible reason for the Government’s bonfire of building regulation red tape has been to reduce the costs of development. But like any business, Land Rover BAR has to have an eye to the bottom line in its choices, and while meeting BREEAM standards can have initial costs, they deliver longer-term savings.
The use of recycled aggregate on site, the removal of ceilings from the fit out, and the use of Westock beams with decreased steel volume all helped to save money and raw materials in the construction of the building. In some areas, meeting sustainability standards led to increased capital costs: for example, the energy efficient lighting used in the building, or the high performance plant and machinery that was selected. However, Land Rover BAR is confident that these investments will quickly be repaid through lower running costs.
It’s critical that we make the most of powerful case studies that show how sustainable choices can be affordable and practical. There are established standards to guide development and willing partners with the technical solutions to complex construction and energy efficiency problems. It only requires the willingness to embrace sustainable design and to prioritise long term savings over short-term costs.
Quentin Scott is Marketing Director of Low Carbon. Like other Isonomia authors, Quentin writes in a personal capacity. The views above do not necessarily reflect those of Low Carbon.