Building services contractors have been quicker than most to recognise and tackle the practical aspects of the often misunderstood sustainability agenda, according to Mike McCloskey.What are the economic impacts of the sustainability agenda?
How can specialist engineering contractors contribute to delivering the best performance from buildings?
The demand for sustainable engineering solutions will continue to grow steadily throughout 2007 and it is vital that contractors are ready and able to respond and to offer expert guidance to clients.
Late last year, Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, raised the stakes significantly by making explicit reference, for the first time in a public speech, to mandatory Energy Performance Certificates for all buildings. "One way Government can help is by giving people the information they need," she said. "By 2009 we expect almost every building in the country to have an Energy Performance Certificate when built, sold or rented out."
This is a serious statement of intent and reflects growing political determination to tackle our wasteful habits and carbon intensive building stock. However, the principle of a sustainable lifestyle goes even further as it applies to social and economic factors as well as the more easily grasped technical elements of energy saving and recycling of waste products. And it is the specialist installation and contracting professions that hold the key.
Sustainability encompasses our efficient generation and use of energy, the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels and the minimisation of waste in all its manifestations. It requires us all to plan our developments in socially sensitive ways and to look at the impact on local economies of our work. Ultimately, it also means that what we do should be much more efficiently managed to be less wasteful and far less expensive.
We have to strike a balance between the commercial and the residential, between public and private forms of transport to service our projects, and look at how new developments will impact on the public that live in and around the local area for generations to come.
This might seem rather far above the heads of 'mere' M&E contracting firms, but it is not - in fact, these values are going to be central to the way we do our work in the future. It also has huge implications for our future economic prospects.
With this in mind, the HVCA's Sustainability Issues Group (SIG) commissioned consulting engineering firm Faber Maunsell to produce a report outlining the key sustainability market drivers and likely impacts on contractors. This revealed, as we suspected, that there is widespread lack of knowledge at all levels in our sector about the opportunities available to contractors. However, it also revealed just how much of this work will be carried out by engineers with traditional services skills.
It is also becoming ever more obvious that clients have the strongest possible financial motive for making sure that we grasp this opportunity so they can reap the long-term environmental and running cost benefits.
The research findings have now been transformed into an Agenda for Action, which was launched earlier this year and identifies a series of actions that our sector must take to position itself to lead the sustainability drive. The first steps are already underway and include the need to raise awareness among HVCA members of sustainability in all its aspects, and to assist them towards an expertise in the identification and implementation of sustainable solutions. We will also identify and, where necessary develop, the standards against which actual and potential sustainable solutions can be evaluated.
This, inevitably, will require us to define the additional skills requirements demanded by the sustainability challenge, and to facilitate vocational training and workforce development to meet these needs. We will also promote HVCA members as experts in 'integrated energy systems', able to take a holistic approach to the growing building services engineering needs of customers and clients.
Many 'traditional' installers still think that sustainability is something they leave to others. They wish to carry on planning and implementing projects in the same way they have always done - they must quickly get out of this mindset. Our engineers have an enormous amount of technical expertise to bring to this party and, if we do not, clients will soon be looking for others who can.
The huge over-arching goal is to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent over the next 44 years and the Government's recently proposed Climate Change Bill will, hopefully, enshrine that aim. The hardest part of that task is tackling existing buildings, as 70 per cent of the stock that will still be in use in 2050 is already built.
This leaves large parts of the construction industry relatively powerless to intervene, but not building services engineers, who find themselves right in the frontline in implementing what is a key plank of the country's sustainability programme because they can tackle existing building systems and put them right.
The HVCA Agenda for Action, therefore, includes a series of steps that the sector must take to ensure it is ready to fully exploit the opportunities and meet its responsibilities.
First of all, we are developing a series of single-sheet information leaflets on aspects of sustainability, to be available free of charge to members via the encrypted area on the HVCA website and in hard copy. These will be supported by a series of seminars, workshops and debates spreading the sustainability message. There will also be opportunities, during the rest of this year, to present and promote the key elements of sustainability and the importance of contractors' role in its delivery to MPs, Ministers, civil servants and other opinion formers, including client bodies and professional institutions.
The Association is also in the process of publishing a series of 'green' guides to good practice and/or specifications for sustainable systems and equipment including geothermal heat pumps, combined heat and power, solar thermal technologies and biomass boilers.
The HVCA will review, on an annual basis, the environmental aspects of its independent member inspection and assessment regime - and the standards upon which they are based - to ensure compliance with current best practice. We will also encourage members to adopt the principles enshrined in the ISO 14001 international standard for environmental management of their businesses.
These are ambitious and urgent targets, but we have little choice if we are to keep pace with the rapid rate of change and rising client expectations. This marks a step change in the contracting industry's approach to sustainability. All contractors must take the information on board and adjust their businesses accordingly to make sure they are not left behind.
Many of the installed heating, ventilation and power systems in buildings are not working to anything like their full potential. Poor scheduling and compressed construction timetables have led to many buildings never being properly commissioned with air and water systems left unbalanced when the building is occupied - this in turn has had a disastrous effect on performance and occupant comfort. In short, it makes them unsustainable because not only are they overly expensive to heat and cool, they are uncomfortable places to work, making their occupants extremely unproductive - not to mention unhappy.
A basic approach to proper commissioning and optimisation can improve the energy efficiency of buildings long before engineers have to start thinking about how to integrate renewables. Even fairly minor 'tweaks' could reduce fuel usage and hence energy bills by considerable amounts. This is where specialist engineering contractors can play an important part by working closely with manufacturers to ensure they can set up systems to deliver best lifetime performance.
Handling the barrage
The current barrage of legislation also leaves us with little choice. While contractors are struggling to get their heads round Parts L, P and F of the Building Regulations, they are already subject to a welter of other regulations such as the Secure and Sustainable Buildings Act, European Directives on the Energy Performance of Buildings (EPBD) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), which sit on top of our national regulations.
The Government's Code for Sustainable Homes pulled some of these strands together, but all of these regulatory changes are aimed at increasing recycling, reducing waste and improving the environmental footprint of our work. The competent person schemes now established to support implementation of the Building Regulations should give further incentive to specialist contractors as properly assessed and accredited individuals will be able to self-certify their work in line with the Regulations.
The HVCA's Independent Inspection & Assessment regime, which has now been in place for more than three years, is regarded as a template for such schemes as it ensures all association members and prospective members have adequate health and safety, business and environmental skills verified by a third party - i.e. that they are sustainable businesses. As a result the HVCA has set up Building Engineering Services Competence Accreditation Ltd (BESCA) to run a competent persons scheme on behalf of the Government.
Specialist contractors have been quick off the mark to recognise the potential in sustainability and clearly they will play an important part in the UK's attempts to deliver a sustainable built environment far into the future.
About the author
Mike McCloskey is President of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors' Association. Please visit www.hvca.org.uk/
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