Monday, June 10, 2013

‘Greening Buildings’ – Achieving emissions reduction targets will be impossible without significant up-skilling

Guest Article from Professor George Martin, Low Impact Building Centre, Coventry University

Smaller firms are reluctant to make any investment in new approaches and up skilling when budgets are tight; large contracts remain out of reach, and potential partners are put off by their lack of green technology know-how

The urgent task of 'greening' the world's buildings is going to mean big business for those firms with the right skills and knowledge. This does not just mean builders but the whole supply chain: plumbers, electricians, architects, building product designers, product manufacturers, lawyers, agents, building services engineers, facilities managers and of course clients and the users of the buildings.

A combination of tough targets and legislation at government level along with rising energy prices makes low impact building inevitable, and a long-term source of growth for firms. For example, the UK has a target of reducing its carbon emissions by 34% by 2020 from a 1990 base.  Fast forward another 30 years and the requirement is to reduce carbon emissions by 80% from that 1990 base. From 2016 all new housing needs to achieve the latest definition of what is ambitiously know as 'zero carbon, and from 2018 the Energy Act makes it unlawful for landlords to lease residential or commercial buildings with an Energy Performance Certificate rating of an F or G - and that's a lot of leaky old houses, flats, offices and factories that will need upgrading. Take a look at the short video below to see Coventry University's Low Impact Building Grand Challenge Initiative: 

The Global Green Building Trends Report in 2012 confirmed this picture. It's not just seen as the 'right thing to do' or a niche market. Clients increasingly want it, and construction firms can see the benefits from lower operating costs and improved reputation. 63% of firms surveyed internationally have green work planned in new commercial projects and 45% in new institutional projects by 2015; 50% have plans for green renovation work. The market for low carbon building technologies in our region alone (in the West Midlands) is estimated to be £1.7bn.

With the on-going recession in construction you'd expect firms of all sizes to be chasing the new opportunities. Instead smaller firms are reluctant to make any investment in new approaches and up skilling when budgets are tight; large contracts remain out of reach, and potential partners are put off by their lack of green technology know-how. But the opportunities remain huge for those firms willing to commit themselves to the low impact buildings market. More specifically these will be in addressing the need for retrofitting existing properties with energy efficient technologies; supplying new technologies to new building developments to improve their efficiency standards, monitoring on building performance when occupied, and then acting on those reports.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) aren't in a position to even bid for the largest contracts from the public sector or overseas, but they can make themselves an important part of the supply chain and partners to the large firms. Essentially they will achieve this by increasing their knowledge and ability to use the technologies becoming available, developing niche areas of expertise in sustainability and by up skilling their staff. Smaller businesses will also need to be open-minded and flexible when it comes to identifying and participating in opportunities for collaboration, contributing to open innovation and even sharing opportunities with competitors in order to develop their profile in the eyes of the industry giants.

Coventry University's brand new Engineering and Computer Building
To make this happen firms need to get advice and support to make the change. For example, in the West Midlands - where construction and related firms have seen the biggest decline - Coventry University is running the Sustainable Building Futures (SBF) Project for small to medium sized businesses to help them make themselves competitive for the future (until June 2015). Co-financing from the University and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) means the help is all provided free for eligible organisations. There are the general knowledge-building training workshops and seminars on what the opportunities are, for example, new technologies and services that are now available and also specific up-skilling in subjects as Passivhaus, Lean and Building Information Modelling (BIM).  The European Regional Development fund (ERDF) have also provided funding for a state of the art Environmental Chamber, housed within the University’s brand new Engineering and Computer Building, where products can be tested.  One specific initiative involves the up-skilling of window manufacturers in the West Midlands in how they can learn how to produce high performance windows and then to test prototypes in the Environmental Chamber.

The recession hasn't helped the construction industry in its transition to low cost and low carbon buildings that perform in use. But now, low impact building offers the clearest and strongest way forward, in lower costs, new sources of business and jobs, and it will be the forward-looking businesses that are already up skilling who'll secure their place in the new supply chains.

Professor George Martin, Low Impact Building Centre, Coventry University 

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