The best features in recycling
Even in the recession, the need to be sustainable at home and at work, is not going away. Chris Humphrey takes a look at the steps businesses can take in the quest for resource efficiency
Newly-built sustainable offices tend to be very well received; they win numerous awards, are the focus of much publicity and people come to recognise them for their environmental credentials. But how do businesses go about creating a sustainable office?
The most common route for larger organisations is to adopt the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). Over 200,000 buildings have been certified by BREEAM and over a million registered for assessment since it was first launched in 1990. The assessment, which involves a point scoring system carried out at the design and post-construction stages, results in an environmental rating of Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent or Outstanding depending on factors such as the building’s energy and water use, internal environment, pollution, waste and ecology.
BREEAM assessment then enables developers, designers and building managers to demonstrate the environmental credentials of their buildings to clients, planners and members of the public.
According to BREEAM, initial commitment to achieving a high level of sustainability for the building – both in its original design and construction, and its use – is the most important step to take when attempting to create a sustainable office.
Sustainable design, however, is changing all the time. BREEAM even caters for innovation as part of its assessment process. In recent years, a number of developments have taken place: real-time energy use displays have been created to help educate people about energy efficiency and promote renewable technology; facilities for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles have been made to encourage the use of alternative fuel vehicles, and a thermal wall has been designed to allow heat to be conserved naturally.
Despite such innovative developments, there are always problems that need to be faced. The biggest issues people come across when pursuing sustainability are cost, feasibility and the stage at which it is considered. The earlier planning starts on the sustainable elements of a design, the more efficient and cost-effective the building will be.
The issue of cost, though, is not quite as problematic as you might imagine. Investment in sustainable design has increased in recent times, despite the tricky economic circumstances. Simon Guy, a BREEAM spokesperson, says: “Last year, in spite of the recession, our registration levels were the highest we’ve ever seen. We take that as a metric that people are still looking at sustainability as a serious issue, and not just because they want to be seen to be green but because it’s a way of reducing costs in the long term.”
One way of making sure that expenditure is kept to a minimum is to utilise BREEAM In-Use, which was set up two years ago. The scheme was created to help reduce the running costs and improve the environmental performance of existing buildings, and is carried out two or three years into a building’s operation. In fact, to keep a rating of BREEAM Outstanding, a BREEAM In-Use assessment must be carried out within three years. Although primarily used by those offices that were assessed during construction, the assessment is also available to other offices.
When it comes to examples of best practice, there are many BREEAM assessed offices. Currently, One Angel Square, the Co-operative Group’s headquarters in Manchester, is one of the highest rated in the UK. But with the drive for sustainable design still going strong, the number of offices rated BREEAM Outstanding will surely only rise in the future.
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