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Large glass commercial building in a city

6 steps to success: making commercial buildings sustainable

Mike Plaster
Wednesday 1st June, 2016

With the news that UK businesses and their premises are responsible for 20% of the UK’s carbon output, here we look at the different ways to consider a more sustainable future for commercial properties.

A number of studies in recent years has highlighted the excessive levels of carbon emissions from buildings in the UK. The Committee on Climate Change estimates[1] that emissions from both commercial and residential buildings account for 17% of all our greenhouse gas output. In addition, Christopher Botten from the Better Buildings Partnership has written that our business premises are a particular source of contention.

According to Botten, 18% of all carbon emissions in the UK come from our commercial buildings[2]. That’s almost a fifth of our total carbon output, which in 2014 was estimated to be 415.4 million metric tonnes – in Europe, only Germany produced more[3].

It would appear that increasing the sustainability of new and existing commercial properties in the UK is – or should be – a key focus. Late last year, nearly 200 nations signed the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change, while the European Union has also previously outlined its pledge to cut emissions by 40% on 1990 levels by the year 2030.

In accordance with government expectations, we’ve set the pace to deliver a reduction of CO2 – by 34% by 2020, and 80% by 2050.

In order to get the ball rolling on the production and retention of sustainable buildings in the UK to bolster our bid for meeting that ambitious target, the following are factors that designers and decision makers alike should take into account. In the long run, they can deliver financial savings as well as those on efficiency and sustainability, and as such can be beneficial to businesses with one eye on the books.

  1. Location, location, location

Having an initial consultation on where to house the building can be key later on. A well-thought out plan regarding its location can have environmental benefits not only for the building’s own operation, but also on how resources are used by those travelling to and from the location. By providing other services and facilities at the destination, the impact of fuel emissions isn’t squared on your site alone if travellers are heading there for more than one reason.

Research into the resources for a more eco-friendly building can also affect where you choose to build. For example, a location that would make better use of the average hours of sunlight available would perhaps make it the more preferable one from a potential list.

  1. Life-cycle consideration

Life Cycle Assessment is more typically associated with products than it is with buildings; this is the study to determine the efficiency and environmental effects of a project from its beginnings through its realisation and beyond. In scoping out a project build, LCA should be used to score the potential of an eco-friendly lifespan, thus ensuring that it will be sustainable both in construction and maintenance.

It’s at this point where our input can and has made the difference in ensuring a sustainable build meets its full potential. From locally sourcing the building materials, to thorough planning of where and when the materials will be delivered, a shaped focus on sustainability can help contribute to a reduced carbon output, and increase operational efficiencies to boot.

  1. Health and efficiency

A sustainable build should make full use of materials that can boost its eco credentials – both inside and outside.

Insulating the build properly is a vital component of construction, helping to reduce wasted energy by managing the climate more appropriately to the season – saving on energy usage and resultant bills too.

Water management is another important aspect of sustainable building. Experts in the field are always keen to assess how a project with high demand can employ innovative, responsible methods for its collection and usage. The Edge in Amsterdam, for example – which received the highest ever award from BREEAM – uses the rainwater it collects to flush its toilets.

A building that makes proper use of natural resources is one which holds the sustainable edge – consider the use of natural light to brighten up and heat a space, not just to help power it.

  1. Catching some rays

In addition to the above, conducting in-depth site analysis ahead of the build can also allow you to make the best use of the sun to heat and cool internal spaces throughout the year – through the best practice of passive solar building design. Both new builds and redesigns alike can benefit.

Considering the amount of light and heat you’d expect in a particular location, the siting of windows and doors and their contribution to the building’s solar intake can help to provide a no-cost control on keeping a building at a comfortable temperature – especially when backed with the appropriate insulation.

  1. In capable hands

Once the incredibly complex job of constructing a building using the utmost sustainable measures is complete, there’s still plenty of room for manoeuvre. As part of the Life Cycle Assessment, work should be done on identifying the aspects of ongoing building operation that could potentially contribute to high carbon emission such as waste disposal, maintenance and powering the facility. Each of these aspects can then be monitored by a specialist team that’s specifically tasked with continuing a sustainable streamlining operation.

The Better Buildings Partnership offers a toolkit for Green Building Management, designed to help businesses and other users put together the right team with a shared set of values and goals to promote sustainable use.

  1. Reporting results

In order to demonstrate where your project is succeeding and what will need further work in terms of sustainability, your green building management team should be well versed in creating regular reports that measure and evaluate the savings made. Consulting closely with the guidelines set out by BREEAM in its regular technical manual updates will prove beneficial during the construction and subsequent operation of new builds.

To achieve the expectations of a more eco-conscious and sustainable infrastructure, work must be done on reining in the UK’s carbon emissions both at home and work. It’s never been more important to ensure that our business buildings do their bit in trying to cut down on carbon emissions, if we’re to try and meet the exacting standards laid out by the government.

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