Sustainability

With reference to the UK Green Building Council executive summary entitled “ Making the case for a Code for Sustainable Buildings (March 2009)”, succinctly evaluate, critique and assess its potential impact on the construction industry , providing your own informed opinion on this latest Government initiative for sustainability success. Evaluate its worth.

Sustainability has become a buzzword in recent times, with its main focus on the preservation of the environment and the development of infrastructure to meet the needs of today's society whilst building for future generations. As recently as March 2009, the UK Green Building Council (UK GBC) published the Code for Sustainable Buildings with recommendations on improving sustainability within construction. By assessing the Code one will be able to understand, if implemented, its impact to the construction industry. The Code can then be identified as either beneficial or detrimental to construction. This essay will look to explore whether the Code for Sustainable Buildings is a fair and just recommendation to the building industry; furthermore, whether the targets it set are achievable.

We have to firstly look at the provisions that the Code would implement upon the construction industry if it was approved. The Code aims to ensure that all non domestic buildings are to be developed or constructed in order for them to be more eco-friendly. The main thrust of the Code for Sustainable Buildings is the reduction of carbon emissions. The Code will set out a route and targets for achieving a zero carbon sustainable built environment. Other issues mentioned in the Code include the better use of energy resources and proper management of waste disposal. The Code states that these achievements will be monitored “through carbon, energy, waste and water performance and also through regular performance checks also known as Building MOT.”

Another of the conditions of the code is to make it easier for industry to understand policy and regulatory requirements so as to implement them effectively, throughout all stages of a building's lifecycle. This point is consistent with BERR's 2008 strategy for sustainable construction that says “the resulting impact of a defined code would be the providing of clarity to businesses on issues of sustainability by bringing together diverse regulations and initiatives relating to the future role of sustainability in construction”. In addition to the above the Code will be looking to ensure that there is a general agreement that the standard of compliance must consistence throughout the industry.

First of all, the implementation of any provisions within industry is very sensitive. The difficulty arises when trying to gauge the impact these recommendations are likely to have on businesses and the reception they would get from the industry. An immediate result of this is a need for link between all parties of interest. In 2007, a summary for the strategy for sustainable construction was compiled. It stated that “there is no single plan of action on sustainable construction that applies across government and industry.” This point is unison with the recommendation in the Code for Sustainable Buildings. What the recommendation expressed was that the code will be owned by the government but share the general consensus of the construction industry. In my opinion this would be a good suggestion as it results in the creation of a relationship between policy makers and the major stakeholders within the construction industry. A resulting consequence of this will be a mutual understanding of the industry's and governments needs in relationship to the issue sustainability, as well as the possibility of implementing of future initiatives.

An area of construction that can feel the impact of any new provisions is the businesses. Since there is no clear guidelines on what business have to do to be more sustainable or how efficient they have to be in their use of energy and resources. There will be difficulty in implementing the code as no one knows exactly what is expected of them. A simple example is that traditionally the main aim of a contractor was to deliver a good quality project from start to completion as cheaply as possible.

Secondly, if there were legislative initiatives introduced similar to the recommendations in the code, that require all new construction projects to be conducted in a sustainable manner. There would a big impact on businesses because they would have to invest in system applications that make them more eco-friendly. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that implementation of any new regulations is any industry affects the smaller business more harshly than the larger companies. A consequence of this is that smaller businesses experience financial and economical burdens because investing in sustainability in the short term offers no guarantee of long term benefits.

A positive impact of the code is that its application would help in the reduction of CO2 emission also it ensure the industry is aware of the problem. The highest cause of carbon emissions is the machinery and vehicles used whilst building. If a sustainable construction project is to minimize the emissions and pollution of the development over its design life, then extensive care must be taken to select the most appropriate materials. This is in relation to impact of their manufacturing and use materials as well as disposal or recycling. This point is well supported by Wren & Bell (2001), who said “10% of national energy consumption is used in the production and transport of construction products and materials. To reduce this, materials should be sourced as locally as possible and great care should be taken whilst using natural resources”. The Code aims to target zero carbon emissions by 2019 from buildings, the achievement of such a target would make the United Kingdom a world leader is the reduction of carbon emission, a possible result of this is that other nations may adopt similar strategies of tackling this issues. The only drawback however is that UK GBC code does not include recommendations on how to make a project more sustainable before or during as well as after the construction life cycle.

Thirdly, after careful assessment of the UK GBC code there a few recommendations, if added, would make the code more applicable to industry. To determine the potential success of the code it is essential to compare two or more codes or initiatives that preceded the code for sustainable building and assess their impact to their various branches of construction. What this means is that the construction of sustainable buildings will be a modeled upon standards set out in the code, with greater focus made on aspects of innovation, efficiency and the improvement of sustainable building. In addition to this the code has to adopt standards similar to accreditation schemes such as BREEAM. Through this comparisons can be made on the standard of environmental performance across the various divisions of the construction sector.

One major problem with UK Green Building Council's code is that it works under the assumption that there are new buildings going to be constructed. The problem is, with current recession no one is concerned with constructing non-domestic building because demand for them is low, as a result the code should have been more targeted to making existing buildings more sustainable. Old buildings are the biggest polluters because most of them were constructed at a time when the green agenda was a taboo. The first plan of action the code should adopt is a strategy to reduce the emission produced by the old buildings and also a method of developing those buildings to become more eco friendly. In addition the triple bottom line should be used as a criterion for the description of what can be termed a sustainable building. This means that a building should be rated on the merit of its environmental, social and economic sustainability.

In addition to the above recommendation, the code can be implemented through incremental measures rather than wholesale changes. It means that businesses will be given the time and support to adjust to the any changes and new provisions through meeting proposed targets with potential long term benefits. Moreover the instigators of the code can, in the short-term, just like in the code for sustainable homes make compliance to the code voluntary. As a result of this the stakeholders within the construction industry will not feel pressured into applying the code into their methods of construction as the initial exercise of the code will be voluntary. They can also encourage developers and contractors to follow the Codes principles in the event that the Government considers making provisions of the Code mandatory in the future.

Finally to conclude, the Code for Sustainable Building needs to offer a clear definition of what is meant by sustainable building. This will enable the industry to understand what is expected of them. Additionally, since the publication of the UK GBC's code there has been no feedback on the future of code's implementation; because of this more work is needs to be done to push it into actual legislation. In view of the fact that climate change is one the major global agenda, it would ideal if there is a joint endeavor from the construction industry's major companies or even on a global scale. The reasoning behind this view is that where there is collaborated effort conformity ensues; after conformity, trends develop and when trends are established they become regular practice. This is what is key to the success of any provisions on sustainability because an industry works better with a shared consensus.

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