SORTED Guide to Sustainability in Further Education – Part 5 - Estates and Operations – 5.6 Estates and Operations: sustainable construction and refurbishment
Introduction to the topic area
The processes needed to achieve sustainable design, material selection and construction are no different to those required to achieve any other aspect of good design. They rely on an understanding of the issues, an ability to respond to site and client specifics and a wider understanding of the cultural, regulatory and technical context.
Sustainable construction as a process has a set of simple goals: minimise waste on and off site; reuse materials and make use of reused or recycled materials; avoid the use of complex components that are difficult to recycle at the end of life; and choose construction systems that can actually be delivered by local operatives either through existing or by introducing new skill sets.
Design is a holistic process that seeks to create the best solution across a broad range of requirements, which includes social and economic sustainability as well as environmental responsibility. A good designer will always look first at exploiting the opportunities of the site and the client's brief to produce a building which, as far as possible, works passively to minimise energy and resource use. The next step is to design in technologies that minimise resource demand, that are appropriate to the site, the building occupants’ needs and their capacity to manage and operate them. Designing to allow future flexibility, changes of use, easy maintenance and eventual disassembly and reuse will lengthen the useful life of a building and minimise its impact at the end of its life.
Organisational value of embedding sustainability in this area
- Continued efficiencies – the build or refurbishment is a key point of opportunity to ensure that the building is as efficient as possible. Designing in effective ways to keep utility spend low is crucial, whether this is through the actual design of the building (e.g. good use of natural daylighting; installation of rain water harvesting), or through technologies (air source heat pumps; smart lighting; etc). Financial assessments of any project should consider the building's whole life costs, including its design, construction, running and eventual deconstruction, rather than focussing purely on initial design and construction costs.
- Legal compliance – the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is an EU measure designed to tackle climate change by reducing the amount of carbon produced by buildings. In England and Wales, the Building Regulations Part L (conservation of fuel and power) sets out energy efficiency standards for new builds and refurbishments.
- Effective waste management – on-site reuse and recycling of construction waste can save costs on new materials, as well as costs of disposal. Sorting waste for recycling on-site can enable a financial return to be achieved on some waste types that your institution would otherwise have paid to dispose of.
- Reputational benefits – nothing can be more visual than a new or refurbished building. A high quality building demonstrates innovation and leadership, giving confidence to incoming students, local businesses, and partners.
- Educational benefits – incorporating sustainable design and technology in new and refurbished buildings gives additional learning opportunities for students bringing innovation and best practice to them in their own learning environment.
Wider benefits of embedding sustainability in this area
The FE sector has a role to play in demonstrating good practice, in terms of raising awareness and leading by example. Supporting local business innovation can help to grow businesses in the local area, which in turn will support employment of outgoing students.
- The first step towards achieving new or refurbished buildings that meet highest standards in sustainable development is to ensure that there is comprehensive and committed support and buy-in at all levels of your organisation. This includes enthusiastic endorsement for the project from higher management and from the delivery team including the finance department, the architect and the design and construction team. Developers of many successful buildings emphasise the importance of having at least one “champion” from senior management who is fully committed to the concept and the practicalities of implementing sustainable development into the project.
- Become familiar with design possibilities and technologies available. Visit other refurbishments or new builds that have incorporated good sustainable design. Go to a trade show where sustainable construction and refurbishment technologies are being demonstrated. Having the knowledge and understanding of these will help when discussing the possibilities of these different elements with architects and designers.
- The most widely adopted voluntary standard within buildings design and management is the Building Research Establishment’s family of BREEAM (BRE Energy Assessment Model) tools. These set out stringent standards to which the energy and environmental performance of new or existing buildings is rated by trained BRE assessors. There may be a capital cost to building to the enhanced standards promoted by BREEAM, but delivering through BREEAM offers value in reduced operating costs; creating a more productive and healthy place to work and study; ensuring the building is attractive should it be let or sold in the future; and ensuring buildings are equipped for future use and conditions.
Ask your EAUC Scotland colleagues for support via EAUC Scotland Sustainable Construction Topic Support Network.