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Sustainable Construction in Practice

by mel starrs on June 6, 2006

in Events & Conferences

Last week I attended an event organised by Construction News Conferences at 27 Sussex Place: ‘Sustainable Construction in Practice‘. Below are some notes and thoughts from the day, roughly in the order of the presentations. Some of the presentations were not available in paper on the day and when these are released on pdf I may add to this list.

One thing which did strike me about the event was the high proportion of women attendees – from the delegate list I’d estimate 36%. Interesting?

Sue Innes of Constructing Excellence kicked off the proceedings and quoted one of my favourite stats – 1% absenteeism in an office can account for the same amount of money as running the office for a year.

Deborah Brownhill of BRE then presented a quick whistlestop tour through the Code for Sustainable Homes, Part L1A and EcoHomes. CSH is currently post-consultation, and there have been 400 responses for the BRE to assess. We’re not due a response until September when hopefully all will become clear. It is based on EcoHomes, but with minimum standards to be met in each of six categories (EcoHomes is tradable). A case of ‘watch this space’…

David McCullough from Carillion was one of the most animated speakers of the day. He had the tough task of whizzing through Part L in 30 minutes and did a decent job of it. He answered back to all the doom and gloom around the implementation of Part L and suggested that perhaps our expectations of parliament were too high and we should just all get on with accepting the principle and getting on with things. He highlighted the change in roles between architects and ‘experts’ – the building regs are now a science and ought to be done by competent persons (a great opportunity for some of us). He also mentioned that SAP tends to favour slightly larger dwellings due to the scaling on discrete elements such as washing machines, which is a useful fact to know.

Barry Plowright from Atkins was a stand-in speaker and I don’t have his slides. The most entertaining bit of the morning came when a senior researcher from University of Oxford asked a question afterwards, one of the answers to which was to install a desalination plant. The UoO guy exploded and said a desalination plant would be ‘utter madness’ and add to the carbon emissions – good point.

Rachel Wooliscroft from Wates gave a presentation on waste. Has anyone else noticed how the Albert Hall has become a unit of measurement? Did you know, the UK produces enough waste to fill the Albert Hall every 2 hours. Wates’ target is to produce zero non-hazardous waste to landfill by 2010, a worthy goal.

After lunch Jerry Williams of Taylor Woodrow gave a quick overview of the National Assembly of Wales and how it was built as a sustainable project. 100% of the cooling comes from 27 No. 100m deep geothermal bores, and heating is via a wood chip boiler.

Rita Singh from Construction Products Association spoke about responsibility versus sustainability. Unfortunately I don’t have her slides, but she had some interesting points to make. The website has lots of the benchmarking information she talked about (almost too much information).

The final section of the afternoon were the ‘names’, Isabel McAllister, George Martin and Cal Bailey:

Isabel from Cyril Swett did a very enthusiastic cost-benefit analysis of sustainability and confirmed what I have begun to suspect. The numbers don’t add up, but if you (as a developer or a client) don’t get on board then you will begin to lose out in future (rather than gain today from implementing sustainability). The slides have yet to be issued and this is one I will definitely be looking at again.

George Martin has the oddest job title in the industry ‘Head of Re-Thinking’ at Willmott Dixon, which I suspect is a nod to Egan. I wasn’t that impressed by his presentation (not much to bring away from it) but he did highlight DQI‘s which use a similar tool to the sustainability workshops which I run (I’m not yet a DQI facilitator).

And finally we listened to Cal Bailey of NG Bailey persuade us that MMC (modern methods of construction) are the key to sustainable construction. OSM (off site manufacture) solves many of the co-ordination, quality and carbon issues associated with a ‘live’ building site. I am almost convinced, although I still see the benefits of training a local workforce in certain situations.

As with all these conferences, some of the most interesting conversations went on in the tea breaks. As a result I’ll be checking out Hockerton versus BedZed.