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Agents the barriers to green office buildings?

by mel starrs on May 25, 2006

in Green Building Rating

Building Design reports that at the BCO (British Council for Offices) conference in Dublin 2 weeks ago (I was unfortunately unable to attend), agents were concluded to be the main stumbling block in designing green office blocks:

Developers, though, are not the biggest barriers to the spread of sustainable design. If occupiers will pay more for green buildings, developers will build them: it’s as simple as that. Agents are the real sticking point, because they are refusing to let green buildings, claiming they do not have the standby facilities and power generation capacity that occupiers need.

This is a valid point and one which I have recently been exposed to. We have hopefully overcome any reservations by the agents by providing a flexible solution which will suit a broad range of occupiers (the project is currently a speculative office block). Compromises may have to be made on carbon consumption, but a zero energy building which overheats in summer due to high internal loads (people and computers) is obviously inferior to a low carbon building which meets the comfort criteria required by the occupiers. Sustainable construction needs to be seen in a broader context than purely carbon, or we run the risk of building uninhabitable buildings which are not fit for purpose – the opposite of sustainability. The same can be said for renewable energy – slapping 10% renewables on a leaky glass and steel box does not mean you have built sustainably. I’m glad to see that Ken Livingstone is taking a pragmatic approach (not every scheme in London needs to meet 10%, such as King’s Cross – but it does need to be at least considered), but other councils are taking differing views.

We must strive wherever possible to reduce carbon consumption to the absolute minimum, but not to the detriment of the many other parameters to which we all design. Communicating this message to the market is a key challenge, which I look forward to tackling on a daily basis.

From the same conference, Building reports that RIBA want BCO to raise the maximum temperature in summer from 22º to 24º:

Corenet has argued that 30,000 tonnes of carbon could be saved a year if offices were 24°C all year round. This is the equivalent of the carbon generated by 90,000 return flights between London to New York.

Again, this has to be a good idea – and I can’t see the agents arguing against it (could they?). The higher temperature in the winter (from 20º to 24º) seems counterintuitive, until you take into account the fact that with buildings being built to much higher fabric standards and with high internal gains from occupants, the heating season has shortened considerably.

In a tenuous link to the above, it has been announced today by RICS that:

Four leading UK property bodies have formed an alliance to tackle major property issues in a more co-ordinated way while retaining their separate identities and roles.

The formation of the Property Alliance, announced today, will give the commercial property sector a stronger voice on issues where greater coherence can make a difference.

The four members of the Property Alliance are:

  • British Council for Offices (BCO)
  • British Property Federation (BPF)
  • Investment Property Forum (IPF)
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)

Among its first actions the Property Alliance has agreed to set up a pan-industry research group to improve coordination of research programmes across the sector and maximise the impact and reach of that research.

The Alliance will also be undertaking work designed to examine levels of satisfaction among commercial property tenants.

It will worthwhile keeping an eye on this alliance and how their work ties into EPBD (European Performance of Buildings Directive) and it’s impact on the UK commercial property market. It seems to me to be the obvious direction for research to go next.

And stateside I came across a great article in the NYT looking at green architecture and the relationship between design and sustainability.  This quote made me snort:

“I think the trouble with environmentalism is that at most architectural schools it’s been confined to a dreary backwater of mechanical engineering,” he said. “That’s not the way we teach it here.”

They reprieved themselves by going on to state:

David W. Orr, chairman of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College in Ohio, says he thinks that teaching sustainable design requires a whole new educational approach, one that includes architecture but incorporates many other disciplines.

Well said.  Now, how do we go about that particular conundrum?