Reflections from the Building the Future Commission conference
“How is the net zero agenda transforming the built environment?”
This was the question posed to me recently as one of the sustainability panellists at Building’s inaugural Building the Future Commission, a conference held to share the insights of Building magazine’s year long commission within the sector, as well as for key stakeholders within in to talk about the pressing issues we face today and, of course, the solutions to these challenges.
As the Global Chair and Chief Executive of RLB UK and Europe, how we really build for the future, if we build at all, is close to my heart. It is a subject that we talk about daily, across sector, across region, across service. How we support our clients to produce long term strategies and how we interweave sustainability best practice into the solutions we offer our clients both for new builds, but also when retrofitting and for the lifecycle of their estates. It was therefore a pleasure and a privilege to sit alongside Lynne Sullivan with her National Retrofit Hub hat on, Simon Wyatt from Cundall, Karl Desai, Lendlease and Jimmy Close from Mitek as well as being hosted by Chloe McCulloch, Editorial Director at Assemble Media Group.
Both during the conference and in my working life, there are three clear actions for me when it comes to sustainability:
Globally, inconsistency exists at three levels – policy level, client level and implementation. However, as with all challenges, that inconsistently offers the opportunity to drive consistency and the conference showed that there was this consistency of intent within our industry. The news that the present government is dialling back on its sustainable promises and pushing the deadlines back shows that we can’t wait for governance and that the built environment can lead the charge. When it comes to implementation, if we see inconsistent approaches through project or programme we need to push for better outcomes. And when it comes to policy, we need to push the politicians to make sustainability apolitical – where it isn’t about party policies but about long term plans.
Of course, these best outcomes come from collaboration – where clients, private or public sector and other stakeholders within the lifecycle set the belief from the outset that the project should be sustainable. We know that often sustainability measures are brought in at RIBA Stage 3 or 4 when discussion at Stage 0 would lead to better design options and mitigate costs down the line. For example, we know that 80% of carbon emissions come from 20% of materials used, so if we can reduce the 20%, the 80% significantly decreases too – yet this decision needs to be made in the design and procurement stage of the project. We also know that where sustainability is often included at design stage it then is value engineered out. Again, collaboration is needed to show lifecycle value of sustainable builds including long term operational savings.
And we need to be committed. Committed to understand the skills that we are going to need to drive the sustainability agenda. Like we did many years ago with building safety, we brought in mandatory training, certification and knowledge standards and governance around safety across the industry, across the tiers. We need to connect our industry together, so these standards are uniform when it comes to sustainability, that we share the same sustainable skillsets, whatever project, whatever sector, whatever region. At RLB we are committed with mandatory training and an implementation of a business led approach to ensuring our contribution and challenge as professionals to drive sustainable outcomes happens on every projects.
If we get these things right, I believe our industry will see the real value of sustainability. This is where clients are measuring and recognising the asset benefit of sustainable development, whether through brown discounts, increase chargeable rents through improved EPC performance, certification value and increase asset value through CRREM measurement. We know property yields are widening between sustainable and non-sustainable assets already and this will only continue into the future. Couple this with robust viability modelling with the benefit equally applied to the development appraisal or business case, we can bring real success. A great example of this we are already seeing is a 1000 occupant residential project with a £1.8m decision in capital cost saving £23m in energy and social value impact over 10 years.
What a great opportunity for our construction industrial revolution to lead the way in creating a sustainable future for the world through the built environment in a digitally enabled world. As a young person, I would want to be part of that. And let’s not ask the government what it can do for us but unite and tell the government what we will deliver to drive this agenda with passion and unity – which of course was the key objective of the Building for the Future Commission.