jump to navigation

Our blog has moved June 28, 2016

Posted by Tom Kordel in Editorial.
add a comment

We’ve been busy creating a new website, which has a flashy integrated blog.  Therefore, all our future blogs will be located here XCO2 Opinion

If you have any comments on the new website or new blogs then we would love to hear from you in the comments section.

Capture

 

 

WELLcome to the Revolution! May 18, 2016

Posted by catrionabrady in Editorial.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

The future of the building industry is here.

Headlined as ‘the next trillion dollar industry’¹, health and wellbeing in the building industry has been gaining momentum and popularity since the introduction of the WELL Building Standard to the US in 2013.

2015 marked the arrival of the WELL Building Standard in the UK. As a result, awareness of health and wellbeing has been gaining momentum across the building sector. With some high-profile projects registering for WELL certification (such as the innovative London Bishopsgate skyscraper), it would appear that the transition to healthier buildings is WELL under way.

WELL projects map

More than 25 million square feet of projects have already registered or certified to the standard (WELL; 2016)

What the WELL?

An assessment methodology, similar to BREEAM or LEED, WELL provides a framework to aid the transition to a ‘healthy’ building, and provide internationally recognised certification.

Whether you’re designing an office, home, restaurant or retail space, ‘healthy living’ concepts can be implemented across the entire industry. Working alongside the traditional emphasis on building performance, Health and Wellbeing marries intelligent design with thoughtful operation to focus on the outcome of the building user – their health, their productivity, and therefore ultimately for commercial buildings, their company’s revenue.

But what does this mean, and look like in your building?

It could be smart lighting that mimics sunlight’s natural benefits on the rhythm of the human body; green spaces incorporated with cutting edge technology to provide relaxation and optimal air quality; occupant comfort that is truly multi-sensory (olfactory, acoustic, ergonomic, thermal and visual) and encouraging healthy choices in nourishment, hydration and physical activity that stimulate better emotional and physical health.

It means people working in offices designed to maximise daylight, retail spaces that provide a ‘visitor experience’, and hotels that offer optimal air and water quality as well as reducing traveller jetlag with circadian lighting. Green space can become interior design, and static office environments could become a thing of the past. Energy is optimised – both in efficiency of use by the building, and in the choice of foodstuffs that fuel the people within it.

Health and Wellbeing isn’t just a box-ticking exercise or a design stage consideration. It’s about making choices that impact operations, lifestyle and user behaviour.

 

More than just a pretty space

The benefits of incorporating Health and Wellbeing go far beyond providing pleasant environments.

Internationally recognised industry bodies (including UK and World Green Building Councils) have proclaimed the results of research undertaken into Health and Wellbeing. The quantitative evidence of the economic benefit of investing in human wellbeing is persuasive, particularly in the commercial sector.

The focus of the research is people, and more specifically, the price of performance. 90% of a business’ expenditure in a 30 year cycle is invested in personnel. Investing in people, therefore, can provide a sizeable return.

Improved health and wellbeing has been seen to lead to a reduction in absenteeism, decreased presenteeism, higher staff retention, lower recruitment and training costs, better emotional wellbeing and reduced stress – and consequently, increased productivity and company revenue.

Business operating costs

We spend 90% of our time indoors. Investing in this environment is a provision for better performance. ‘Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices’ (WGBC; 2014)

 

A healthy shade of Green

A focus on Health and Wellbeing can make your building a shade greener.

Health and Wellbeing has always existed as an environmental consideration within traditional, performance-focused building standards (an entire BREEAM section for example). It has become commonplace across the industry to consider sustainability of resources (such as energy, waste and water), which we monitor, regulate and strive to improve.

The focus of health and wellbeing is to apply sustainability concepts to people – be it your workforce, your customers or your clients. The innovative concept of health and wellbeing is to consider people as a resource, and provide equal consideration to them as to conventional regulated resources.

WELL Certification can work hand-in-hand with BREEAM, LEED and equivalent building standards. Providing high quality working and living environments that are healthy and productive will become the new norm for sustainability.

 

Get WELL soon

The business case is convincing. The stage has been set globally, and the trend is accelerating across the UK building industry.

Are you interested in incorporating Health and Wellbeing into an upcoming project or your own office?

We offer workshops to provide a thorough background and assess project applicability, WELL pre-assessments and early stage operational guidance.

XCO2 can help you move to the cutting edge of the building industry.

 

 

¹McKinsey & Company 2012 Healthy, wealthy and (maybe) wise: The emerging trillion-dollar market for health and wellness

Is it all just Green Sky Thinking? May 9, 2016

Posted by Alan Partington in Editorial.
1 comment so far

Nobody likes change.

 

I for one nearly cancelled Easter when I discovered Kraft had decided to change the recipe of the Cadbury’s Crème Egg chocolate from delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, takes you back to simpler times Dairy Milk to a vomit-inducing abomination called ‘standard cocoa mix’.

 

But that’s ok. That’s normal. If you’ve found something that you like or something that works for you, why risk changing and ending up in a worse situation? (In a somewhat deserved twist of fate this change of recipe resulted in a £6 million loss for the business – so I can’t be the only one who called time on my loyalty to the British chocolate institution).

 

But change is exactly what’s happening in the built environment industry, and there’s a limit on how much we can influence that change. In the words of Judit Kimpian: “policy has a trajectory and changing that trajectory by lobbying or presenting evidence is not very effective”. We’re not the rule-makers; we’re the rule implementers. Regardless of our opinions of these changes we’ve got to adapt to this new policy landscape, do the best we can with the framework we’re given and feed our experience of the practical implications of this policy back into the system wherever and whenever we can. People always have different opinions on green policy, and that’s what’s great about this industry. You might not agree with someone – but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some great ideas by listening to what they think.

 

In this spirit we hosted an informal debate as part of the Green Sky Thinking week of London-wide events to get a feel for where the built environment is in it’s opinion of the latest developments in green policy (namely the axing of solar subsidies and the green investment bank, the scrapping of zero carbon homes, the lack of clarity on non-domestic CO2 targets and the long term route to meeting EU CO2 reduction targets).

 

It was a great discussion with a lot of interesting points and a few fiery opinions. One of the things that stood out the most for me was something Paul Fletcher said:

 

“We need to stop being such arrogant gits – treating building occupiers like they’re stupid is the worst thing we can do”

 

It’s very easy in the design process to make assumptions about the ‘type’ of person that will be using the space. Not big assumptions in themselves but a number of small ones that ultimately lead to big design decisions that affect the way a space can be used. Whether this is through the removal of occupant control by automation of building systems, or assuming that all of the problems with the performance gap between expected energy use and actual energy are because people “don’t use buildings like they are supposed to”.

 

If you assume that the occupants of your building aren’t able to make smart decisions about how to use and condition their space, you end up trying to take that control away from them for their own good. But if you provide a building that has already made the decisions for them – taking the majority of control away from them – how do you expect them to use it effectively and efficiently? We should be providing an environment that has the flexibility to allow them to make decisions.

 

So what’s the solution?

 

If the policy isn’t there to dictate how we should be designing, then it’s no longer about us. It’s no longer about the product that we want to provide; that we think people should want. It’s about the service and lifestyle that people buy into.

 

Your initial reaction to the notion that anybody (particularly Millennials and those struggling to keep pace with the exploding prices of the London housing market) has any choice about the things they look for in a home might be to completely dismiss it as wishful thinking. That their influence on the quality of housing is being hampered by high house prices. That in a market like ours you’re lucky to get anything at all, never mind being able to dictate the type of home you want.

 

I’ll admit, that was my first reaction too. But if you take a step back and look at the way people make decisions it becomes clear that no matter what it is that you’re considering buying, 90% of the time it is, at it’s heart, not something you actually need. You’re not buying the product; you’re buying the lifestyle that it facilitates.

 

This might sound like a cliché, and goodness knows I hate clichés, but think about what’s popular right now; organic food, artisanal coffee, Apple products… very few people actually need these things (bar those with specific dietary needs and creative professionals), yet their popularity is rising exponentially. It shows that no matter who you are, no matter what you actually need, nobody is immune to the concept of aspirational living. Whether we admit the fact or not, these are things that influence our decisions and ultimately, without policy, the only thing that has the power to influence what the market provides is what we demand from it.

 

I can see the result of these changes in policy moving us towards a market focused more towards listening to what people actually want and then providing them with an environment that gives them that. Whether that’s developing your own set of criteria based on previous project experience and post-occupancy evaluations or using an established international system like the WELL Building Standard or the BRE’s Home Quality Mark. It could be engaging with occupants, using the information and data that both they and the facilities managers have collected, analysing the business case for what’s most effective and feeding this back to clients and the design process. You could tap into your past experience – no project is perfect and there are always lessons to learn – and use this to inform future design strategies. Or, if you’re light on experience in a particular type of development there are lots of resources out there like the four year Building Performance Evaluation study by Innovate UK looking at how real-world buildings perform; from schools to apartments, supermarkets to offices, health centers to houses (final non-domestic report download here and final domestic report download here). Or if you need an abundance of case studies to look at what has been done before – what works and what doesn’t – then using Carbon Buzz as a resource as early as Stage 0 will always put you in good stead.

 

Whichever route you decide to take, it’s probably going to be a change from what you’re used to.

 

You might not like the change. You might not agree with the change. You might wish you could take the change by its smug little face and bury it 6 feet under, where nobody will find it. But the truth is, the change in policy is here, the change to market forces is real. And if you want to adapt in this industry you’ve got to embrace the change and make it work for you.

 

Because if you don’t, you’ll end up standing at the supermarket checkout, wishing you were back in the good old days when Crème Eggs were tasty and green policy was heading in the right direction.

 

And when you’re gripped by nostalgia for the past, you can’t do anything for people in the present.

The Road to Green Sky… April 26, 2016

Posted by catrionabrady in Editorial.
add a comment

In the run up to our Green Sky Thinking event ‘Bridging the Zero Carbon Void’ (have we mentioned we’re hosting an event on Thursday?) we have released a series of blogs to provide a bit of background information. You don’t need me to tell you that – you’ve been engrossed, constantly refreshing the XCO2 blog page, I know.

But just in case you missed it – this is what we’ve been blogging about ahead of our event in order to set the scene on the void in zero carbon policy.

 

Dave’s dodgy decisions

We kicked off by kicking off about the closure of the Zero Carbon Hub, for which we wholeheartedly blamed the government. This slotted in neatly to the degenerative trend of disappearing environmental policy, and led us to a hearty critique of the shortcomings of the latest Housing SPG.

The outcome of this is evident. The building industry needs an evolution in standards to improve environmental performance. But how does one facilitate a rapid evolutionary change? Do we wait for the Government to U-turn and start releasing policies that will actually benefit the green building industry, or should we, the industry, be the drivers of regulatory change itself?

A Zero-Carbon Tardis

From there, we’ve travelled in time: back 50 years and zooming to the present day, analysing the changing onus on green buildings within industry policy in the last half century. This analysis has suggested to us that when it comes to implementing successful policy, local lasts longer. Regulations such as the Merton Rule and the London Plan have achieved far more in terms of long-term industry influence that Government-driven policies such as Zero Carbon Homes or the Green Investment Bank, both of which were scrapped before reaching full potential. So how do we apply these lessons in future?

Future vision setting?

If historical precedent is used as a basis for our decision making, it makes sense for local authorities to be leading on regulatory change for the ‘greening’ of buildings. And given the currently unfavourable political circumstances for anything remotely pro-planet, we believe that industry lobbying and alliances are our most important tool for implementing change on a local or regional level.  Talk of alliances furthers the question: does the industry need leadership to unite efforts and create a concentrated laser-beam force of change? Or are we on the right track with dozens of devolved, expert-led separate organisations?

 

Questions galore, and answers… not sure

On Thursday evening we’ll be unravelling these issues in greater detail, and exploring the options that are available in terms of drivers towards industry-led regulatory change. We’ll be talking operational targets, such as the Australian NABERS scheme which has raised performance standards for the past ten years and been implemented across the entire property market. We’ll be talking incentives and quality marks – the carrot or the stick? And we’ll contextualise this within today’s political climate – how will changes to the London Mayor, and even the ‘Brexit’ campaign impact our future policy options?

The keystone of our understanding thus far is that a policy void exists and must be filled. The building blocks of solutions however, are yet to be constructed. Our ultimate conclusion is this: our industry must come together, to share knowledge and carve a future path for improved building performance in the fight against climate change.

You can play your part by joining the debate. Come along to our Green Sky Thinking event on Thursday (book your ticket here!) to watch and contribute to discussion on how we can fill this policy void alongside our panel of industry experts. We look forward to having you join us.

Thursday 28th at 6.30pm, Crypt on the Green, Clerkenwell.

How can the UK’s green building industry influence future policy making? April 25, 2016

Posted by mariettagont in Editorial.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

The building industry is sometimes perceived to be conservative and slow-moving; comfortable with ‘business as usual’ and lacking a collaborative integrated approach that is essential going forward. This has to change.

There is no more time to lose; not if the industry is to make the major leap, at the pace required, to actually contribute its fair share in reducing the impact of climate change. Scientists have been warning us for quite a while and the world leaders and businesses seem to have awoken to the call (post COP21) – but we’re far from averting the danger.

The message is clear, we have already seen that in less fortunate parts of the world the harsh reality of climate change is a fight for survival.

When the stakes are high, and at times when governments prove inadequate or unwilling to drive the necessary change – can the industry afford to stay silent and not enter the political battlefield? The obvious answer is ‘No’! We risk failing in our obligations towards society, losing investor confidence, behaving unethically and unprofessionally if we do.

So what will it take for the industry to drive change? Well, to start with, a change of mind set and an unprecedented joining of forces.

We will need to take a step back and re-think our ways: closer interdisciplinary collaboration within project teams, sharing knowledge, push the business case for sustainability with more vigour – communicate, communicate, communicate.

And what if, we managed to tackle this fragmentation of resources and missing links, and develop trustworthy mechanisms of collaboration towards a specific direction, with a clearer focus.

Yes, there are dozens of NGOs advocating and lobbying for sustainability in the built environment, hundreds’ of architectural practices and consultancies with their heart in the cause, academic institutions and research projects, engineers’ organisations and businesses that strive to do more, environmental groups and key players.

Going forward, we need to find a way to come together, share knowledge and expertise effectively, shape a vision and make it resonate with society.

I assume one partnership or another will need to take the lead and make the first (and perhaps the most difficult) step: setting up a forum or platform where all parties can come together and devise a roadmap for the industry’s role towards a sustainable future; a roadmap which sets the scene for our immediate and long-term goals; a roadmap that puts together specific suggestions (and demands) for new effective policies that will fill the policy gap and enable action in the right direction.

Supporting sustainable communities should be at the heart of our vision; and the right to high quality housing, health & well-being and sustainable employment; the need for healthy ecosystems and thriving communities should be integral to our approach. With everything so densely intertwined, energy and carbon is only one aspect of what should be a holistic proposal for the built environment to become one of the vehicles of transition to a circular economy, to a better world.

The UK Green Building Council is probably in the best place to launch this ‘emergency appeal’ for the industry to come forwards with a clear plan; it will be up to all of us to offer our skills, time and effort to the cause.   

Changing the mind set within the industry and shaping up a plan alone– no matter how well constructed- won’t get us far without economic, political and community alliances.

With governmental energy policy looking non-existent for the coming crucial years, focus should shift to local authorities and community partnerships to accelerate change, as their focus lies in the long-term; their interest in the success of their community. Most importantly, it is the public sector that needs to take immediate action if the housing crisis is to be addressed, because let’s face it – the private sector lacks the will and incentives to provide adequate new housing of a high quality.

The industry has a role to play in assisting local authorities develop progressive policies (beyond zero carbon for new builds), deliver new sustainable housing and allocate resources (e.g. carbon offset payments) for refurbishment uptake at a large scale. We must create a working group where local authorities first come to for advice; our ‘roadmap’ and resources must be accessible to decision makers.

As far as funding goes, sustainability by its very nature makes a business case for those interested in long-term investments. As ever, from an interesting article in the New Yorker (The New Economics of Climate Change, Katy Lederer, July 2015), I got to read that the obvious financial allies in the fight to curb climate change are pension funds, whose ‘scale and power is unprecedented in the history of capitalism. More conventional funding mechanisms (e.g. loans) are also available, especially for local authorities or business partnerships with a long-term focus. So money can be found, provided the vision and plan to make a change is there.

For an industry where traditionally multiple disciplines have had trouble working together gaining an insight into the world of money and talking business can be very tricky. Our best bet is to bring connoisseurs into our discussions, design teams and professional development courses, and make sure curriculums enable future professionals to develop this wider set of skills required.

The above desires, form a wish list, setting aside the multiple barriers which can hold the industry from mobilising, to defend a sustainable future.

It is true that there are more questions than answers; but it is also clear that the time has come to stand up and be counted.

Join us, XCO2 Energy, at our Green Sky Thinking Event – ‘The Policy Gap – Bridging the Zero Carbon Void’ to discuss this further. Listen, learn and contribute at an informal debate with an expert panel of policy influencers (UKGBC, Better Building Partnership, Green Alliance) and building professionals (AHR Architects and XCO2) on Thursday 28th April, 6.30pm. Book your spot here.

What has UK policy been up to? A timeline of building performance policy in the UK April 21, 2016

Posted by tomgwyn in Editorial.
add a comment

This is a time of change in UK climate policy. There are many of us with a keen interest in tackling climate change but does anyone else feel like the government fall short of producing effective green policies?

In our previous blog, we’ve explained the recent Government policy changes that have led to the scrapping of the Zero Carbon Hub and the lack of national zero-carbon home building standards. Let us follow on here by providing a policy context from the past 50 years. An understanding of our past allows us to draw on lessons learnt to shape the policy decisions of our future.

But back to the present…

Recent news in the sustainable building industry has included the hype of the Paris Agreement last December amongst the slaughtering of environmental policies by the new government.  It’s like we win one and then lose more?

But seeing as worldwide interest in climate change has grown from pretty much nothing in the last 50 years, surely we have seen some improvement in building performance?  Let’s look back over the key national policies which have shaped the construction industry and the development of energy efficient homes…

 

1965 – It seems apt to begin with the introduction of the first Building Regulations for England and Wales, over 50 years ago.  Interestingly, the Building Regulations did include u-values: a rather leaky 1.7 for walls and 1.4 for ceilings; not doing much for the conservation of fossil fuels – which by the way were abundant as in 1965 BP were the first to strike oil in the North Sea.

1984The Building Act consolidated numerous legislations about buildings over the years on the design and construction of buildings and gave more power to the government to enforce the building regulations.  One year later, for the first time ever, the building regulations include a Part L: Conservation of Fuel and Power in Buildings.  This was by no means our environmental issues solved, but merely recognised that our gas and coal weren’t limitless.

Internationally, this climate change thing was beginning to get recognised later in the 1980s with IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientific studies on anthropogenic climate change and its impacts; and how to mitigate and adapt to it.

1990s – You probably think by now things are progressing pretty slowly, and you wouldn’t be wrong.  However, let us look from an international perspective for a moment… As the IPCC studies had showed up some possible future problems with anthropogenic climate change and reversing the effects would be difficult, the general thought was that action should be taken.  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change emerged in 1994, who set up the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 which made many countries commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Such commitments gradually sunk into the European Union and into UK policy, leading into some rather busy years ahead…

2003 – The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) came into force at the start of what proved to be an important year for UK environmental policy.  The EPBD, pushed forward by the European Union, called for the UK to introduce a standardised methodology for the assessment of energy performance in buildings, improvement of buildings by the implementation of minimum performance standards and a rating system for constructed buildings.  Such a demanding task took the UK a number of years to implement.

Meanwhile, back across the channel, the UK government were getting nervous about the fact that the UK will start to be a net importer of gas and electricity by the end of the decade.  Also, they better do something following that Kyoto Protocol they signed in 1997, and limit greenhouse gas emissions against 1990 levels.  As a result, the UK government proudly presented their Energy White Paper to detail their new energy policy to protect our energy security, the environment and our economic growth, all at the same time.  Clever, although perhaps ambitious.  And it receives much expert attention…

On a local level, 2003 also saw the first planning policy which required a 10% renewable energy generation for commercial developments over 1000m2- in the London Borough of Merton. You could say the borough was a pioneer of the environmental era- the first time buildings were made to significantly reduce their CO2 emissions, as “The Merton Rule” gradually became adopted across London boroughs.

2004 – More happening in London as the Greater London Authority reveals the first ever London Plan.  A regional planning document it may be, but with so much development in London, it needed to be done correctly, with aim of making it a “green” city.

2006 –Part L of the building regulations receives a face lift and is the year “Conservation of Fuel and Power in Buildings” finally got mean.  An impact of the EPBD no doubt, Part L was now presented as a 4-part series- remember the EPBD wanted minimum energy efficiency standards and an assessment methodology to be implemented? Well this was it: L1A, L1B, L2A and L2B.  They enforced the use of SAP for dwellings and SBEM for other buildings.  Tougher targets were set in the consecutive 2010 and 2014 building regulations.

With a strong set of regulations in place, the labour government famously announced their Zero Carbon Homes policy.  This targeted 2016 as the year all new homes would be zero carbon (and 2019 for commercial buildings).

2007Introduction of the Energy Performance Certificate, another EPBD offspring.  All homes would now be labelled with an energy score to represent how energy efficient the property is. The introduction of the Code for Sustainable Homes certification would also lead the path towards zero carbon.

Also, 2007 sees the formation of the UK Green Building Council to support the construction and property industry in a sustainable built environment.

2008 – A busy year. 2008 saw the introduction of the Climate Change Act. Labour pushed in some tough targets- 80% carbon emissions by 2050.  Very impressive.  Also included were carbon budgets to keep us on track to 2050, the setting up of the Committee of Climate Change and also the Zero Carbon Hub to support the design and development of zero carbon homes in the UK.

To assist local authorities, the government published their Planning Policy Statement requiring all councils in England and Wales to adopt the Merton Rule policy, as well as to improve energy efficiency standards over and above those required by the building regulations.  This also meant updating the London Plan.

In other news, XCO2 Energy is founded.  Massive win for the future of sustainable buildings.  Many other consultancies pop up across the UK and multi-disciplinary firms start up sustainability teams.

2010 – the market in the UK for renewables, especially PVs, received a big boost with the introduction of Feed in Tariffs, a rather generous financial incentive for renewable technologies by the secretary of energy and climate change at the time.  Sadly, it only took the new coalition one year to begin cutting it back to the measly amount it is today.

2011 – the London Plan receives further updates.

2015 – As a final act of the coalition government, the Code for Sustainable Homes assessment is abolished.

 

Let us not forget that since 1965 the building regulations have remained the guiding force of better buildings.  They have also evolved over time to tackle the issues of the era- Part L for example has been a defining step forward for improving the energy performance of buildings. Although in no way perfect (see Performance Gap for more details) they have gently pushed developments by imposing a sound intention of conserving heat and power.

No doubt the building regulations will change, but let them continue to move developments forward into a greener future.  The expectation is that the best elements from the abolished Code for Sustainable Homes will find its way into building regulations; or perhaps the building regulations will take on a more aggressive approach on reducing CO2 following the 2015 Paris Agreement.

We all want to be bold and set the road for zero carbon, but for some reason policies like that don’t last.  Perhaps smaller steps led by local authorities, like the Merton Rule are simpler to implement and are successful in spreading to national policy.

Some politicians set demanding targets which excite many of us and stimulate innovation, while other politicians cut them back for a multitude of reasons most of which I disagree with.  One thing which is certain- is that the future of building performance policy will be interesting.

Aside from policy, as individuals we all have an obligation to encourage sustainable design and I believe we are enthused about mitigating against climate change.  But without governmental support through policies, this will be near on impossible.

We need proactive climate policy in the future, but where shall we look for it?

This question and others will be debated at our Green Sky Thinking Event – ‘The Policy Gap – Bridging the Zero Carbon Void’, on Thursday 28th April, 6.30pm.  Listen, learn and contribute at this informal debate with an expert panel of policy influencers (UKGBC, Better Building Partnership, Green Alliance) and building professionals (AHR Architects, BAM and XCO2). Book your spot here.