This blog piece is brought to you by Duncan Reed, formerly of Balfour Beatty.

Duncan is a sustainability advocate with experience drawn from a career delivering schemes in a variety of market sectors as a Principal Contractor. As a sustainability champion he works to ensure that good practice and transparency is used to make a difference in the communities and to leave a positive legacy.

The spring season of Green Vision came to a fantastic end on Wednesday 17th April with the half day conference Demystifying Green Buildings. There was a venue change this time with hosts WSP providing some great facilitates for the attendees.

Claire Bowles, Project Director for Construction Knowledge Exchange and powerhouse behind the event, opened the proceedings and introduced the chair for the day – Sophie Stephens, Head of Sustainability; Delivery and Development (@SophLS78)

The first speaker up was David Symons (@DavidSymons) from our hosts WSP. He gave a wonderfully animated overview of what we thought the 21st century was going to look like for people living in the 1950s and proved the analogy that the major trends will may often be right the details can be a little off – yes where are our personal flying cars? He outlined three large changes, mega trends, which are facing the world as it strives to become more sustainable.

  1. Resources will be much more expensive than today – David highlighted the challenges faced by big business – the amount of timber IKEA consumes a year on one hand (an area the size of Switzerland!!)  yet how Interface is making carpets out of old fishing nets in the Philippines
  2. Technology will change how we work – and in what type of building. This one really caught my attention. The various levels of productivity between office and home working. We all need to interact with other people but don’t necessarily need to travel into the office. Yet home working is less efficient in terms of energy use! David cited the really novel idea of working hubs – effectively multi firm hot desking – being created above train station in the Netherlands. They looked great with the added bonus of trains outside the windows too! 
  3. A future of equals, a shift from a one size fits all approach to business to a future that is bespoke to the customer preference.

Following on from David was John Alker, Director of Policy & Communications at the UK Green Building Council (@johnalker) John took us all for a brisk walk through the current policy changes happening in relation to sustainability in the UK. There were many challenges to the delegates themselves –

  • How green do we think the coalition really is?
  • Are we supporting Green for Growth?
  • Is our professional Institution supporting the Building Magazine campaign

John finished up with a heads up of what’s coming next –

  • Part L: May
  • Housing Standards Review: May
  • Green Deal plan numbers: June
  • Allowable solutions: July
  • Energy audits: Summer
  • RHI: Summer
  • MEPs: Autumn

But my favourite bit was the slide from the USGBC conference. During the presentation from the head of the USGBC the back drop said – We Are Right. Powerful words but ones we should be using too.

Both keynotes gave us some great insights and powerful thoughts for us to consider across the rest of the afternoon sessions.

The first roundtable session I sat in was led by Jason Richards from WSP.

Jason outlined the WSP tool ReValue but conversation soon moved into a healthy discussion covering how to define levels of refurbishment (with the view that in reality there were many levels of granularity) the important need to start with a real conversation with the customer as to what was best value for them in the context of refurbishment and yet again how to unlock greater in use benefits by moving operational expenditure to support capital works. A lively debate thanks to representatives from Skanska, Race Cottam, Bottle Alley Glass, DTZ and Balfour Beatty among others.

The second roundtable I sat in Green Deal perspectives, led by Martin Brown (@fairsnape).

6 in group.

Martin highlighted how important the Green Deal is to sustainability and how it is as much to do with changing behaviour as reducing energy consumption. In the UK a huge chuck of energy use is from domestic sector but the Green Deal also is designed to combat UK fuel poverty, which is one of the highest in Europe. He also described how there are knock on effects to that people in fuel poverty are often found to be living in unhealthy buildings too. However the group was also reminded that the Green deal is fundamentally a financial model and needs to be considered this way with repayments against loans made through the property, via the meter in a very well controlled and regulated market.

The group discussed the confusion between Assessors, Providers (PM), Installers and how this was changing supply chain dynamics as well as concerns with the scheme around the thoroughness of the assessment, the use of the building and dealing with behavioural change. In many cases warmer homes meant people just wore less rather than turned the heating down! There is also evidence that as heating costs reduce overall energy sots do not as electrical costs increase.

The discussion moved onto the commercial application of the Green Deal. This is already possible, which was a surprise to much of our group. Applying the Green Deal could have major implications to the retrofit market, not just for customers and designers but also for FM providers. Lots of food for thought.

We all then gathered back into the main room for feedback from all the roundtable sessions. In addition the two sessions I attended there were two other roundtables discussions that fed back to the main group.

Financing Low Carbon Retrofit, by Christoph Harwood of Marksman Consulting.

Christoph was asking whether there are barriers to arranging finance for renewables, equipment or fabric upgrade for a building. The group found that there were different options regardless of the buildingwith it more being down to the  occupier and/or tenant, and their financing needs and strategies. With the many ways to secure finance (on balance sheet, off balance sheet, ESCO, Green deal etc) there should be no reason not to finance building retrofit.  Non-financial barriers are often bigger issues.

Better things to spend your money on, by Colin Robertson of NG Bailey.

Colin took another view on possible market barriers, centred on financial, technical and operational issues. If property as an investment is not performing well then refurbishment can be high on agenda and investing in buildings can be better for softer benefits too. In short owners need to be more aware of opportunities and the challenge was set on how to may owners and occupiers more aware..

Next up on the bill was our international speaker, Amanda Sturgeon from the Living Building Challenge. https://ilbi.org/lbc  Amanda is their Vice President and several of the audience had been lucky enough to see her present in London 3rd April (for more details of this event see http://fairsnape.com/2013/04/04/introducing-the-living-building-challenge-in-the-uk/ ).  Thanks to some technical wizardry by Martin Brown the link was made and Amanda was able to speak to the room directly from Seattle.

Today she was sharing a case study on the Bullitt Centre, Seattle, which Amanda and her colleagues moved in to 4 weeks ago as the new home for Living Building Challenge.

Amanda described the highlights of their new building and how is met the seriously challenging requirements to be Living Building certified.

  • No parking provided. Bus line, car share, light rail.
  • Net zero energy despite being located in the most limited solar resource in US.
  • The 244kW array on the roof, still bigger than the footprint of the building but sized based on an overall 83% reduction in energy requirements through the overall design process.
  • Using daylight factor to reduce energy needs. Pretty much 100% day lighting that can be can be used.
  • Net Zero water. A 52000 gallon cistern has been provided with rainwater for potable uses. The team lobbied the local authorities to change potable water use, and to get a grey water infiltration agreement. The latter was resolved by a 400sqft bio-mediation field, a 2nd level roof garden and by a sidewalk infiltration bed.
  • No black water treatment, all dealt with by the use of composting toilets with ten composting bins in basement where the residue is used as fertiliser.
  • Health and community. Irresistible stair – big and best views to persuade people use them rather than elevators.
  • Workstations within 30ft of windows, which are openable.
  • Triple gazed Schuco windows that weren’t previously available in the US. New workshop created in Seattle by supplier Goldfinch that can now deliver this system elsewhere in the US.

Materials.

Amanda described how they avoided materials on the red list. This list of 14 banned materials leads to a longer list of 362 chemicals that are not permitted under the Challenge.

https://ilbi.org/lbc/LBC%20Documents/lbc-2.1

The project challenged suppliers to go further with chemical transparency and more sustainable souring. For example dry wall materials were normally sourced in Mexico but the team found a  supplier in British Columbia that meant that the impact of these materials was greatly reduced. It was not without complication but could be done and proved that by challenging and tracking it is possible to achieve better results. Don’t accept the norm.

Amanda finished up by answering questions from the delegates back in Leeds.

  1. How much was the building design determined by building physics? Yes – thermal solar gain was reviewed in detail and the building was extensively modelled shading, blinds. The Centre faces west, typical for building in Seattle, but a challenge to the design.  There were extensive studies on the envelope too which helped them achieve the massive reduction in energy load. (the Bullitt Centre also complies with Passivhaus standards). Very tight envelope. However the biggest variable will be plug loads and this will be a challenge to try to keep on track.
  2. What is in place to monitor the building? Research will continue and is being studied by one tenant – Integrated Design Lab – a laboratory of University of Washington with other partners. The LVB are also designating a member of staff to monitor energy use too. For the next 12-18 months.
  3. How is the building heated? Electrical under floor heating with a small amount of domestic hot water. No combustion is allowed under the Living Building Challenge.

The audience was also reminded that there is now a Living Building Collaborative in Leeds (@UK_LBC). This is being managed jointly by Leeds Sustainability Institute  and Fairsnape.

After this thought provoking presentation the delegates were treated to two very different Pecha Kucha sessions. For those who haven’t seen this format there are just two rules – 20 slides and they auto advance every 20 seconds.

First up was Phillipa Ashbee from Glass Bottle Alley.

Phillipa showcased her business that makes recycled glass into anything from worktops, splash backs, place mats and coasters to furniture and external envelope panels – in fact pretty much anything in glass. What makes Glass Bottle Alley unique is that they fuse their crushed glass in a kiln so there is not resin added, the product is 100% and can be recycled again if necessary without any loss of quality. Phillipa showed some fantastic images both commercial and domestic with novel uses such as backlighting or colour change LEDs to further enhance their product.

The second presentation was from Martin Brown and focussed on the opportunities and the risks associated with the Green Deal.

The Green Deal is a finance model, a personal finance initiative. But there is a risk of the perfect storm of –

the untrained selling unsuitable to the uninformed

Whilst Martin agreed that energy use is very important he noted that we count solve today’s problems with the thinking that created them in the first place, we can’t just  be less bad and cited why the Living Building Challenge is so good.

The delegates were challenged how to think differently? But still being collaborative.

 Every time you make the right decision for the environment you make a profit.

Yves Chouinard.

 So what is the Green Vision network going to take from today? Some of the key points that came out in the final open discussions were

  • More information and advice on the Living Building Challenge. Materials, healthy products.
  • A broader view of sustainability, not just energy focussed.
  • .Project examples. Exemplar projects.
  • How monitor and feedback.
  • Honest appraisal of the buildings in use.
  • Sharing that knowledge.
  • It’s more than the design. Think about in the round. Not legislation driver but a business opportunity.
  • Howe do we get people to think longer term, 5,10,15 years of building in flexibility. Get owners and occupiers to understand this first.
  • Landlords making places as a destination. Not throwing everything away bit building virtuous circles.
  • Recycled content information. Is there information or a database out there?

So after an other useful, interesting and undoubtedly challenging afternoon Sophie brought the proceeding to an end with thanks to all the speakers, the organisers and the delegates.

See you all at the next event – Green Vision are presenting at GreenBuild on May 8th and then the next twilight seminar will be focussing on ‘Building Transparency ‘ on June 12th.