Richard Waterhouse, CEO, NBS and RIBA Enterprises introduces the 2012 NBS Sustainability Survey...
I am delighted to be able to introduce this first NBS survey on the issue of sustainability. This single word is used to cover a multitude of different critical subjects, and it is clear from the survey that many struggle to adequately quantify its definition and scope. The consistency lies in the desire to do and be better – to deliver improvements in the environment (ecological, social and economic) and to make effective use of the resources we have.
The UK Government's commitment to Low Carbon Construction will provide some leadership in this area. The welcome improvements in energy efficiency in the Building Regulations continue to raise the performance bar. Unfortunately, many see achieving Building Regulations approval as the target rather than the minimum requirement. There are more credible steps to increasing sustainable standards and, on the whole, the industry believes that it has appropriate knowledge of the issue and that multiple sources of knowledge and information are easily available.
The Building Regulations improvements are mainly limited to new build and major refurbishment. Hopefully the development of the Green Deal (and other future initiatives) will provide similar improvements for existing building stock. The focus on existing stock is likely to lead to a change in the way we conceive new building projects. As we improve the 'operating carbon' of our buildings, so the 'embodied carbon' in the building materials and processes becomes more of an issue. In the future, we might find that lower carbon design means reworking existing building rather than demolishing to make way for new. However, the report shows that desire to reduce carbon is not enough – the economics must work too. With VAT applied to rework, demolition in many projects is a lower cost but higher carbon option.
It is not surprising to find that challenges remain in achieving sustainability in design and construction. At present, our sustainable objectives must, in my opinion, take second place to economic considerations. However, design and performance requirements are being recognised as adding to the success of a building, both commercially and environmentally. There is also strong support for using various sustainability criteria to judge what makes a good building and the awards that might follow – substance rather than beauty!
So, the report finds progress. Awareness of the issue is in place. Standards are available and many know how to make improvements and achieve them in project delivery. Still, there is much to do if we are to achieve our 2050 emissions targets. Future NBS surveys will chart that progress and we will continue to enhance our knowledge provision to support the industry along the way.