Sustainable value engineering: is it possible?

World Green Building Week

We’ve been thinking about how we can not only identify the goals and strategies for better climate impacts of development, but how we can act to achieve them. In particular, we’ve been examining the role of project managers and quantity surveyors to encourage improvement by design teams in an area that is often missed out on in climate talks: value engineering.

Carbon reduction in buildings has come a long way but we are still behind the curve compared to other industries. Why? Put simply, the willingness to pay for it is still lacking. Quantity surveyors control the purse strings and understand how funds can be spent wisely, but can we factor more sustainable decisions in to the process?

As part of multidisciplinary project teams, members collaborate to achieve a balance of several drivers whilst meeting the client’s brief.

Over the last year, over 1500 organisations comprising architects, engineers, contractors, consultants, and project managers have signed up to the ‘Declare’ movement[i], committing to undertake design and construction with significantly less carbon. This is a leap forward in terms of sustainable development intentions by a large portion of the built environment sector.

However, moving away from bolt on sustainability services towards integrated, holistic and sustainable system design requires a fundamental rethink of the design process. And yet one of the fundamental steps that the sector needs to take is to integrate three key gatekeepers of our build processes: project managers, quantity surveyors and the procurement chain.

“Value engineering is used to solve problems and identify and eliminate unwanted costs, whilst improving function and quality.”

Designing Buildings Wiki

Value engineering for good

In its best possible incarnation, value engineering can get the best out of a design. Some everyday examples of how value engineering can benefit the environment around us include:

  • Using a salvaged/reconditioned raised access floor system instead of installing a brand new one. 
  • Prolonging the life of well-maintained HVAC systems rather than automatically replacing them because the original systems have exceeded CIBSE life expectancy guidelines.
  • Using natural materials to replace more carbon intensive, mass produced materials such as PVC.
  • Designing out components – e.g. avoiding the use of mastic and sealants to waterproof joints.
  • Careful modelling of building performance in use to optimise plant size.

However, at its worst, value engineering could literally cost us the earth. The decisions designers and contractors make now must move us towards Net Zero and it is fundamentally important that those in control of budgets understand the impact of changes to an optimised low carbon design. A tight specification that integrates carbon is essential for good intentions not to be undermined by contractual ‘opportunities’.

Never has a good brief been more important

Clients need to lead in their requirements for moving towards Net Zero. Our respective Declare movements demand that we design and build in the right way. However, if the same goal isn’t shared by our clients, it is quite possible that whilst the value engineering process may satisfy increases in value for cost, programme and quality, the effect on climate and carbon isn’t quantified in the same way. 

So, how do we change our processes to achieve a sustainable built environment?

1. Baking and knitting skills – a Project Manager’s discipline

Firstly, project managers are responsible for a setting the tone and the ambition of the project, not to mention the considerable amount of “knitting” that has to happen between the different disciplines. Knowing that sustainability should be baked in from RIBA Stage 1, and not the last thing on the DTM agenda, or bringing in sustainability consultants purely for a planning submission, changes how sustainability is managed and considered throughout the design phase. Advocating to clients at RIBA Stage 0 for a sustainability process to be included can drastically change the project outcomes and value (Yes, even at RIBA Stage 0 there are issues that sustainability professionals can shed light on such as future proofing and circular economy!)

2. Carbon – a Quantity Surveyor’s dream

Secondly, the best Quantity Surveyors (QS) understand the balance of drivers that a design team works with and how best value is attained. Many of these drivers are qualitative and subjective. Carbon, on the other hand, is mostly quantitative* and is highly suited to being part of the QS domain. They measure what they can measure very well, and not what they can’t. Carbon needs to be another column on the QS cost plan.

*Using PAS 2080, EN 15978, the RICS Methodology and some LCA software

3. Procurement – a direct cost link we can’t ignore

Procurement is where the rubber meets the road in terms of carbon. Whether the years of low carbon design work and planning is seen through to the end of construction will be determined by how closely the procurement chain, which can be highly fragmented, follows the product and performance specification.

Designers and contractors need to bring the PM and QS communities and the procurement chain with us on the multiple sustainability narratives we are working through as a sector including: low carbon, whole life carbon and cost, and circular economy. Sustainability professionals understand how a value engineering tweak can significantly impact on these sustainability outcomes. QS professionals are well placed to understand how the desirable sustainability outcomes can impact on the other traditional client drivers. Striking that balance and finding our new normal is difficult but currently, the balance is still weighted towards cost and business directives.

Including these disciplines and specialists as part of a project’s objectives is critical to making sustainability not just a strategy, but a point of action.

[i] Construction Declares covering Architects, Building Services, Civil Engineers, Contractors, Landscape Architects, Project Managers and Structural Engineers Declare pages.

TFT M&E Associate completes charity fundraiser Tour de Cornwall with ex-footballers

Tour de Cornwall
Top left – Mark at Land’s End on Day 1 of the ‘Tour’

Mark Fenwick, one of TFT’s keen cyclists, has just completed the Tour de Cornwall: 190 miles and 16,000 ft of climbing over three days across Cornwall to raise money for umbrella charity 11 Foundation. The charity ‘curate unique collaborations to provide support and funding to established charities to help enable health related initiatives, community led environment schemes and the provision of opportunities for disadvantaged and vulnerable people’ (

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Former Chelsea and England footballer Joe Cole, who set up 11 Foundation with his wife Carly, joined the group of property professionals for the ride along with former teammates Wayne Bridge and Steve Sidwell. To keep in line with COVID-19 measures, riders had their temperatures checked before they set off each day and anyone with symptoms was pulled out of the event.

Upon completion, Mark said:

It was always going to be a challenge, however the certainly training paid off! We had fantastic weather for three days and with every climb our thoughts inevitably turned to the amazing cause we were raising money for. The rides were gruelling – even for the seasoned rider – but the entire group proudly completed the tour.

Donations from friends, family, TFT colleagues and industry peers have sponsored Mark over £2k, beating his £1750 target to help the team raise close to £50k for the charity.

This ride couldn’t have been possible without everyone’s incredibly generous donations and the support of my sponsors. We have just reached the £50,000 mark which is an amazing achievement by all.

A massive thank you to all of my colleagues at TFT for sponsoring me for this challenge!

If you’d like to show support and donate to the cause, please click here.


Sustainable buildings: climate adaptation and whole life costing

As investors and occupiers place sustainability outcomes higher on their strategic priorities, TFT advice is helping project teams align their sustainable and commercial agendas. Here, we talk about climate change adaptation and whole life costing – two topics which directly marry up commercial and the sustainable concerns.

There are many opportunities to contribute to more sustainable outcomes across the building life-cycle, and to prove the commercial benefits of doing so. TFT Sustainability Associate, Oliver Morris, spoke at the RICS conference on this topic, drawing on TFT’s experience in project teams and as client advisers for building investors and occupiers alike.

Looking for an introduction to aligning commercial and sustainable outcomes? This article explains the importance of long-term thinking and TFT’s approach to design for performance, here.

In this article, we’ll discuss two issues which affect the whole project team and directly impact building longevity and value.

Climate change adaptation

One of the most acute risks to sustainable building performance for investors and building owners is the impact of extreme weather patterns.

The obvious impacts can include physical damage from wind, rain and flooding. But more extreme seasonal temperatures could negatively impact thermal comfort, or increase HVAC use to keep occupants comfortable through the year, which means more frequent plant maintenance or replacement.

Mitigating these risks means designing and building with future weather and climate projections in mind. The most adaptable and durable buildings will maintain their physical integrity and the comfort and wellbeing of its users – adding up to a better-performing asset in the long term.

Whole life cost analysis

In following a strategy for in-use performance, and factoring in the risks of climate change on a building’s future, whole-life costing analysis can help identify the value of building materials in terms of their contribution to a more useful lifespan.

Whole Life Costing allows us to understand the full picture of a building’s requirements across its lifecycle. It provides a commercial basis for improving specification and justifying sustainable materials or systems which improve the financial outlook across a building’s life.

By providing more transparency of potential costs through a building’s life cycle can give investors, development and asset managers more confidence in moving towards business ‘as unusual’ and realising the economic benefits of embedding sustainability as a core design principle. With the increasing Net Zero Carbon agenda within the industry undertaking Whole Life Costing with Whole Life Carbon (Confusingly the same acronym) assessments can highlight the relationship between reducing a building’s operational and embodied carbon emissions with operational costs.

These areas impact all aspects of the building lifecycle, and we at TFT have the scope to identify the opportunities and drive collective responsibility for acting on them. Challenging project teams and other stakeholders to move away from business as usual will be crucial to help us all advance better buildings for the future – and not a moment too soon.

Would you like more information on any of the subjects discussed in this article? Contact Mat Lown, TFT Partner and Head of Sustainability.

Sustainable buildings

Sustainable buildings: long-term thinking and design for performance

Sustainable buildings are no longer a specialist’s responsibility. Every stakeholder in the building design, construction, management and maintenance processes can contribute to more sustainable outcomes, so long as they work towards a common goal. They key to aligning these different roles is in matching up sustainable best practice with a better commercial outlook for the project.

TFT Sustainability Associate, Oliver Morris, recently joined a RICS conference panel to discuss how this can be achieved, drawing on our experience as part of project teams and client advisers for building investors and occupiers alike.

So how can project teams and clients contribute to more sustainable buildings and the commercial outlook for their next project?

Sustainable buildings are more valuable in the long-term

Developers and investment funds are increasingly following property strategies which prioritise long-term sustainability and occupant well-being. Their confidence is bolstered by an industry which is proving its experience in delivering these outcomes but also providing greater certainty of the costs involved. The good news is that project teams engage more fully with the proper application of sustainable design and construction principles from the outset.

However, major schemes tend to embrace this process more fully than smaller or less high-profile buildings. Budget limitations can mean that projects aim to simply meet regulations, not exceed them. The problem is that regulations are evolving continually: while buildings may still be ‘compliant’ in the future, in a market of newer and higher performing buildings those assest are at risk of becoming under-valued or stranded.

Our solution is to advocate for a beyond-compliance approach at an early stage to avoid the risk of stranded assets down the line.

Would you like more information on any of the subjects discussed in this article? Contact Mat Lown, TFT Partner and Head of Sustainability.

Designing for performance beyond compliance

TFT is a delivery partner for the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) Design for Performance programme. The BBP aims to tackle the performance gap: the difference between how buildings are designed to perform, and how they function after the project is finished and the occupants move in.

Projects which rely on design intent alone to measure building performance, miss out on the most important indicator of success: the experience of the buildings’ users over time.

Designing for performance means gathering data on how the finished building is used by its occupants, and how well its component parts meet their needs. Operational targets can refer to aspects like energy efficiency and occupant satisfaction levels, broken down to whichever metrics are most important to the key stakeholders.

Choosing the right indicators and monitoring their performance is the best way to ensure that an asset is delivering value for its occupants, and therefore sustainable returns for its owners.

Sustainable buildings

If you’d like to know about evaluating the impact of sustainable building decisions, or about climate change adaptation, our follow-up article on this topic is here.

Would you like more information on any of the subjects discussed in this article? Contact Mat Lown, TFT Partner and Head of Sustainability.

TFT’s London office becomes ISO 14001 certified

Following our refurbishment at the start of the year, combined with effective environmental operational practices, TFT’s London office in Holborn has now been certified by the International Organisation for Standardization’s (ISO) standard 14001:2015. This shows that our sustainability strategy for the fit-out work met environmental criteria aligning with TFT as a sustainable business, supporting the wellbeing of all in the London office and minimizing negative impact on the planet.

Specifying materials which avoid the use of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and enhancing natural daylight across the space is delivering immediate and long term gains. Extensive recycling and biophilia were also positively identified during the audit. Our Birmingham and Guildford offices have already achieved the ISO 14001 standard and we are progressing the plan to have all seven TFT offices certified.

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TFT London office, February 2020

The refurbishment was project managed in-house by Dan Cooper along with Senior Energy & Sustainability Consultant Giulia Mori, who guided the process to achieve the well-being and environmental outcomes we advise our clients to aim for every day.

Examples of elements considered within the refurb in order to meet the standard include:

  • Use of paint with recycled content in meeting rooms.
  • Materials and fabrics with sustainability credentials, such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), were been prioritised within the procurement process.
  • 100% of the furniture procured contained low volatile organic compounds to support good indoor air quality in the office.

We caught up with Giulia to learn more about what the ISO certification means and why it’s important for organisations and the environment.

What is ISO 14001:2015 and why would a firm seek to gain this certification?

This certification, which is valid for 12 months, specifies the requirements of an environmental management system (EMS) that an organisation can use to enhance its environmental performance. In particular, it recognises an organisation that manages its environmental responsibilities in a systematic manner in order to contribute to the environmental pillar of sustainability (the other two pillars are economy and society).

Why is this certification important?

For any company that advocates sustainability at the heart of its business model (like TFT!), achieving an ISO 14001 assures us and our clients that our processes:

  • Are environmentally focused
  • Provide information to build success over the long term
  • Create options for contributing to sustainable development

Should everyone in the property industry be certified?

Yes – everyone should! Firms should at least require it from their supply chain (mostly for their main contractors) as they manage the performance of construction sites, which of course, have a consistent impact on the environment. ISO 14001:2015 is applicable to any organisation, regardless of size, type and nature, and applies to the environmental aspects of its activities, products and services.

Where does it sit against sustainability strategies?

We encounter ISO 14001 requirements for product manufacturers and main contractors in environmental-related standards such as BREEAM. It’s also part of some clients’ sustainability targets.

When firms select their supply chain according to their environmental management system, it demonstrates the sustainability and transparency of a certain manufacturing process or service, supporting the industry shift towards sustainable procurement and processes, as well as a circular economy.

This standard also contributes to following the UN’s sustainable development goals which are used by many of our clients as a tool for improving sustainability and equity within the design of their projects.

Click here to view TFT’s Sustainability service lines and get in touch with one of our specialists today!

Permitted development rights (PDR): rights to light and party wall injunction risks remain

A new set of permitted development rights have been announced to help address the UK housing shortage. They will come into force in August 2020 and allow for certain residential buildings to be extended upwards by 7 metres without the need for planning permission, so long as the overall building height is no greater than 30 metres.

The Government hopes this measure will unlock the potential of eligible buildings. However, critics suggest that substandard habitable spaces could be created without the proper oversight from planners.

Either way, developers should be aware that the new permissions don’t reduce other risks to potential works.

Daylight, sunlight and overshadowing assessments still important

Although planning permission is not required, the local planning authority will still need to be satisfied with the quality of the new development. This will include requests for daylight, sunlight and overshadowing assessments to be provided. They will help demonstrate that new habitable spaces will be adequately lit and the additional massing will not adversely impact the neighbouring residential properties.

In addition, the new development rights will not override legal constraints associated with a development. Neighbourly constraints such as Rights of Light and Party Wall issues will still need to be mitigated.

Why are rights to light separate to permitted development rights?

Regardless of the new permitted development rights, neighbours could still invoke their right to light and seek an injunction to stop a development.

Rights to light relate to a certain level of light over land belonging to another. The most common way to obtain these rights is by enjoying a given level of light on your land, uninterrupted, for a period of at least 20 years.

So, when developing a building where the neighbouring properties are more than 20 years old, there is every chance the neighbours have acquired a right to light.

It’s important to consider the legal constraints and associated mitigation measures which could result from this, early in the development process.

Party Wall rights present another neighbourly challenge

Permitted Development rights don’t allow for building owners to avoid the responsibilities placed on them under the Party Wall Etc Act 1996. Neither does it provide for automatic rights of access to land which belongs to an adjoining owner, to undertake those works. 

The obligations of developers and building owners mean that despite Permitted Development, works could be notifiable under the Party Wall Act. Therefore, building owners may need to serve party wall notices to adjoining owners and agree awards before such works could start.

TFT’s specialist advisers are here to help developers, building owners and neighbours navigate their planning and construction works.

Contact Chris Harris, our head of neighbourly matters, to support you with your next project.

Air quality, thermal comfort, sedentary living and COVID-19: TFT on the Green Urbanist Podcast

TFT Senior Energy and Sustainability Consultant Giulia Mori joined Ross O’Ceallaigh on the Green Urbanist Podcast to discuss ‘Wellbeing in the Built Environment’. Their discussion focused on air quality, thermal comfort, sedentary lifestyles and the effects of COVID-19 on the buildings we use.

You can listen to the full episode on all major podcast platforms. Here’s a Spotify link to Giulia’s episode.

And here are some of our favourite quotes from the discussion.

On a holistic view of well-being:

When we talk health and well-being it is not just about the absence of disease but is ultimately the enjoyment of a productive life that brings us happiness and makes us feel satisfied. This includes both physical well-being and mental well-being”

On the versatility of buildings and well-being design:

“I am a great fan of bioclimatic architecture, which means buildings are designed for the climate you are building them in. Even when the client aspiration is different to a bioclimatic approach there is always something we can do to make buildings sustainable and healthy.”

On promoting less sedentary lifestyles:

“When we design a building, we can design it to have active circulation within the building. For example, motivational signs on the lift to remind you that the building has stairs. Sometimes it’s just about reminding people that opportunities to move within the building are there”.

TFT contributes to World GBC sustainable renovation report

The World Green Building Council (GBC) recognises the role of renovating building stock to boost economic recovery across Europe following the COVID-19 pandemic and its wider effects. To that end, the World GBC has issued guidance and case studies on leading sustainable building renovation programmes. Published under the EU-funded BUILD UPON2 project, the Starting a Renovation Wave Report (download link) is now available.

The report summarises the World GBC’s recommended approach to sustainable renovations:

  • Starting local with best practice case studies of sustainable building renovations.
  • Use leaders and regulators, including mandatory energy performance requirements to drive building standards such as the UK’s Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES).
  • Systemic impact tracking to enable cities and local authorities to understand the outcomes of their initiatives.
  • Convene diverse stakeholders across the building and construction value chain to solve sustainable renovation barriers together.

In terms of regulation, the UK’s MEES certification is a unique proposition in global real estate, because it imposes a minimum standard for a building to achieve before it is let or sold.

TFT is often brought in to advise investors and building owners on their buildings’ operational energy use, with a view to MEES and its impact on property or portfolio’s commercial prospects. No other country has a requirement as consequential as this in the market and, looking ahead, it’s possible the UK government will go on to introduce higher standards still.

Partner and Head of Sustainability Mat Lown contributed to the report’s deep dive on MEES in the UK, explaining how our clients are responding to the regulations and expect it to tighten in the near future.

“Of the several thousand properties and transactions that we’ve been involved in, we’ve only lodged two exemptions, which is because either we were able to improve the rating by accurately modelling the property and/or by our clients carrying out cost-effective improvements to secure a compliant rating. However, with the continue to let provisions kicking in for non-domestic property in 2023 and if the minimum standard tightens to a B in 2030, then I expect it will become more challenging to meet the standard and therefore, expect there to be an increase in the number of exemptions.

The future trajectory of MEES is very much on our clients’ radar with the acceptance that the minimum standard is likely to move to a B within the next 10 years.”

Mat Lown, TFT Partner and Head of Sustainability

TFT joins call for UK’s sustainable economic recovery

TFT has joined over 200 businesses in urging the UK Government to launch a sustainable economic recovery plan which incentivises businesses to meet the UK’s net zero carbon target. The letter calls for government support for low-carbon technologies, a focus on stimulating sectors which can create jobs and also help lower the UK’s emissions (including construction), and steps to ensure that business strategies are aligned with the government’s own climate goals.

TFT’s support for these steps is echoed by major organisations including leading banks, property companies and architects.

“A more sustainable, inclusive and resilient UK economy for the future”

The initiative is yet another example of sustainability and commercial agendas aligning, demonstrating that the best business operations are those which are primed for and resilient to our future. For building owners and occupiers applying this strategy to workplaces, retail, leisure and residential buildings means more holistic advice is required.

We continue to support innovative thinking in our work, our industry collaboration with our peers, clients and industry bodies to ensure that our expert advice supports better buildings across their life-cycle.

For instance, building owners and investors benefit from our due diligence and feasibility studies which include cost consultants, surveyors, energy and sustainability specialists and M&E engineers. The combination of expertise provides a holistic picture of a given building’s commercial potential and the best steps to improve it.

By contrast, where these services are recruited individually or bolted on to a project, the overall picture becomes disjointed, resulting in additional costs and proving less instructive for commercial decision-makers.

If you think there’s an opportunity to think more holistically about the sustainable future of your building or a portfolio of buildings, please get in touch with Mat Lown, TFT Partner and Head of Sustainability.

Back to the workplace: The first step to safe building use

While every business disrupted by Covid-19 will be making plans to return to full operation, a return to workplaces will be tricky for SMEs or large businesses without dedicated health and safety risk management support.

Analysing a building’s layout, physical contact points, HVAC systems and more besides for potential hazards in-use can be a complex process. Government guidance states that all employers must have a full risk assessment for their business which addresses the risks of Covid-19.

This requirement is not just for offices and includes construction sites, shops or retail branches, warehouses, leisure and hospitality settings too.

Following recent risk assessments of our clients’ workplaces and of course all TFT offices, we have developed a comprehensive process for measuring and responding to risk.

Our goal is to help employees, clients and visitors feel at ease when returning to these buildings.

Photo by TASK

The process takes one to two days.

In that time, our assessments begin by discussing how the client has used the space in the past and wants to use the space in the future – to determine norms and expectations for the workforce. Then, after a physical site inspection, we will produce a full report identifying hazards, establishes who might be harmed, evaluates the risks, records the findings and provides an action plan.

It is also possible to prepare a Covid-19 risk assessment in-house.

If you are planning to take this approach, have a look at the re-opening guidelines produced by RICS, which includes steps and a helpful building checklist to follow.

The Health and Safety Executive also has detailed advice, in plain English, which explains what you need to be thinking about. Read it here.

If you have any questions while you are going through this process, or would like formal advice from one of our Chartered Health and Safety practitioners, please get in touch with Shoaib Shaikh.