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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.

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 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.

How can WELL v2 inform your wellbeing strategy?

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) the body responsible for the WELL™ Building Standard (WELL™), has released interim guidance to prepare buildings, communities and organisations to support health and wellbeing in the workplace, in the midst of COVID-19. The advice is useful for organisations and building owners preparing to receive greater numbers back to workplaces following the latest official advice.

Though it draws on the existing WELL™ version 2, this guidance does not provide a new badge or certification. It is still very useful for understanding the most relevant WELL™ version 2 requirements in prevention and preparedness, resilience and recovery from the current pandemic. The guidelines touch on different aspects of the built environment including cleanliness, air and water quality, organisational resilience, mental health and comfort.

Following the interim guidance is the August launch of IWBI’s full Guidelines for Prevention and Preparedness, Resilience and Recovery and the graduated WELL™ v2 Standard.

In June IWBI will also launch the WELL™ Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management, which applies to a range of other facility types and market sectors including: offices, hotels, retail, grocery stores, warehouses, manufacturing, theatres, recreation, restaurants and schools.

Our team at TFT include WELL™ Accredited Professional and we are part of the recently instituted IWBI Task Force on COVID-19 and Other Respiratory Infections. We draw upon our wellbeing expertise to help organisations occupying buildings, and building owners themselves, to understand which WELL™ strategies are most appropriate for their buildings and users to maximise opportunities to enhance wellbeing.

Get in touch to find out how we can support you and your company on your workplace wellbeing journey, at: tftsustainability@tftconsultants.com and stay tuned for more news over the summer months.

You can read the interim guidance document here.

Back to the workplace: safer heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems

To support workers who must return to offices and other workplaces while also mitigating COVID-19 spread, building owners, managers and occupiers must assess their spaces and HVAC systems with new challenges in mind. How prepared are buildings to limit the transfer of the COVID-19 virus in working environments?

Building HVAC systems are a key part of the solution for both occupied and partially-occupied buildings.

Where buildings remain vacant, please take a look at our article on managing buildings with reduced usage.

REHVA (the Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations) has released a guidance document on practical measures that can be applied to HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air-Conditioning systems). This is intended to work alongside and support the government’s social distancing requirements and advice from NHS England and the World Health Organisation. The recommendations are applicable to support those employees which must travel to work, to limit the risk of infection spread between building users.

First and foremost, despite usual instincts, managers must not simply switch off plant and equipment to save energy during times of reduced usage. Anything we can do to minimise the transfer of infections in the current outbreak is a higher priority than potential energy savings (which would be minimal during the current Spring season in any case).

Research from previous epidemics shows us how viruses similar to COVID-19 can be transferred in small droplets which can in turn be caught in the air movements of ventilation systems. So, supplying as much fresh air as possible and exhausting air to atmosphere can help to remove contaminated particulates from office spaces, before they are inhaled or land on and infect surfaces.

We have outlined 12 practical measures to help prepare building services, per REHVA guidance:

1. Secure ventilation of spaces with outdoor air

Supply air should be provided from outside air wherever possible. If this is not possible, it is recommended that you consider not using these areas.

2. Switch ventilation systems to nominal speed at least 2 hours before the building usage time and switch to lower speed 2 hours after the building usage time

It is not always possible to alter speed dependant on the age of the building. Where it is not possible to change the fan speed, we recommend running at nominal speed 24/7.

3. At nights and weekends, do not switch ventilation off

Keep systems running at lower speed – May not be able to reduce speed, recommend running at full speed where this is not possible.

4. Ensure regular airing with windows (even in mechanically ventilated buildings)

Where buildings have opening windows, it is recommended that these are opened as much as possible, even if this causes some discomfort. (Note: toilets and W/C’s should always have their windows shut).

5. Keep toilet ventilation in operation 24/7

This is to create negative pressure within the toilet areas, as these areas are considered to be of higher risk. (small areas, lots of contact areas, more likely to be sneezing, toilet flushes spread particles as well). COVID-19 has been sampled within stool samples in some studies.

In this higher risk area, avoid open windows to ensure the right direction of ventilation. Building occupants should flush toilets with closed lid to further limit the amount of droplets released into the air.

6. Switch air handling units with re-circulation to 100% outdoor air

Re-circulating air may allow airborne viruses to re-enter the building. The filter media within these systems are generally not able to capture airborne particles with sufficient efficiency.

7. Inspect heat recovery equipment for leakages

This is generally to do with thermal wheels and actuators, which may not “seal” as well as they should, due to wear and tear, or faults. Any leakage may recirculate airborne virus particles as above.

8. Switch fan coils off or operate so that fans are continuously on

This is to avoid spreading the virus around internally, or where necessary keep them running to avoid the virus contaminating the fan coil unit filters and chassis.

9. Do not change heating, cooling and possible humidification set points

There is no evidence that a change in temperature or humidity will impact the proliferation or destruction of the virus. It is noted that relative humidity of 30% or less can increase the likelihood of spreading viral infections.

10. Do not plan duct cleaning for this period

Ductwork cleaning has no theoretical or proven effect on reducing the spread of the virus and could expose the workers to potential infections.

11. Replace central outdoor air and extract air filters according to your maintenance schedule

Please note: the size of the droplets typically expected are unlikely to be caught in conventional filter media installed in an office environment. The types of filters required are generally specialist, for pharmaceutical/laboratory/operating theatres.

12. Regular filter replacement and maintenance works shall be performed with common protective measures including respiratory protection

There’s no evidence that the virus is likely to be completely removed from incoming air by filtration, but it may get caught within the filter media, creating a contamination risk. In addition, filters should be “double bagged” once removed.

Read full CIBSE and REHVA guidance on HVAC systems here: CIBSE guidance, REHVA guidance.

Our highly-experienced building services experts can provide commercial advice in relation to the requirements above to landlords, managing agents, end users and asset, property and facilities managers.

If you would like to discuss the above further, please contact: maintenance-management@tftconsultants.com

How can construction projects achieve circular economy ambitions?

TFT has supported UKGBC's circular economy guidance since it launched in 2018

One of the greatest opportunities about the circular economy is also its greatest challenge: success will deliver, and relies on, systemic change. In the context of sustainable construction that means investors, contractors, consultants and construction supply chains must work together and follow the same strategies to do things differently.

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) issued its latest guidance on putting circular economy principles into practice. It highlighted that, of 50,000 buildings demolished every year, much of the 90% of waste which is recovered is then recycled into less valuable products or materials, as opposed to being reused. This leaves a huge environmental and financial opportunity for our industry to resolve.

The circular economy brings clear benefits to construction, including:

  • Reduced embodied carbon
  • Reduced landfill costs
  • Help to secure planning permission more easily
  • Reduced depletion of natural resources

TFT has supported UKGBC Circular Economy guidance from its conception in 2018. We do so because we believe it is becoming the most important tool for our industry to act on replacing material waste and carbon emissions with circular principles through our day-to-day work.

The latest stage of its guidance focusses on three changes of mindset and practice. Together, they will drive us closer to a circular process which results in a better environmental impact and lower project costs too.

1. Use the circular economy to inform building design (not the other way around)

Some investors and developers – those initiating the build or works in question – are more aware of circular economy principles than others, but invariably the steps they take to achieve them must come sooner.

Material inventories and assessment tends to be part of the design process, which results in a diminished scope for designing a building for circularity, so the advantages of the process are already proportionally reduced. These steps need to begin as early as RIBA Stage 0-1.

Our circular economy consultancy typically kicks in before this stage. At this point, we can advise on setting ambitions for the work then organising and communicating the process so that design teams can understand what existing materials we are working with, and coming up with the best design to suit their re-use.

2. Procure products as a service (PaaS) to improve installation, maintenance and replacement

As well as reuse, the UKGBC has released guidance on embracing products as a service (PaaS). The principle is to create a feedback loop which engages suppliers of building products such as lighting fixtures, steel tubing or flooring on a contract basis. This way, products are installed, maintained and decommissioned for refurbishment by the supplier, as opposed to being bought, used and discarded or recycled by different parties through the building or product lifecycle.

UKGBC describes lighting as a service (LaaS) to illustrate and encourage the demand for servicing over purchasing. The model results in greater efficiencies, longer product lifetime and specialist refurbishment and reuse or, as a last resort, recycling.

This How-to Guide takes project teams which are working on projects that are replacing lighting, through the process and project teams’ roles and responsibilities for applying LaaS. This guide provides an understanding of what information is required, who to involve and at which point in the programme.

A huge advantage we see for this approach is in re-evaluating the way maintenance contracts are procured. A closed loop approach owned by the manufacturer lends itself to better-performing fittings and a fully accountable maintenance regime by the product experts.

Furthermore PaaS can help support dilapidations-free leases and more flexible models of tenancy. If components are created and installed with ease of removal, dismantling and re-use in mind, that could be one less hurdle for tenants and landlords to negotiate at the end of a lease.  

Illustrating how the circular economy applies to product procurement, maintenance and replacement. From the UKGBC Circular Economy How-to Guide

3. Share circular economy responsibility across the whole design and construction team

Though the impetus will come from the client at the outset of a project, responsibility for meeting a circular ambition rests with the client’s entire delivery team. Over the course of the works, everyone from procurement, project management, main contractor, demolition contractor, design team, facilities management and inventory auditor will play a vital role and have responsibilities in progressing circular outcomes.

In our Development and Project Consultancy roles, TFT helps to orient project teams toward greater material reuse and waste reduction, using resources such as the UKGBC guidance. Doing so effectively means early involvement, as we suggest in point 1!

Further reading: UKGBC innovation insights

You can find out more about the UKGBC’s Circular Economy work, including the above points, here. In our support of the programme we have also been involved with two further pieces of guidance relating to how apply circular principles to construction works.

You can find out about those, here and here.

Sustainable building services: 3 steps for building owners and managers

This post is adapted from an article written by Mat Lown, TFT Partner and Head of Sustainability, for the CIBSE blog. Mat spoke at CIBSE’s Build2Perform event about how building surveyors and engineers could deliver sustainable and resilient buildings by working with landlords and tenants to adopt a customer experience focus.

Sustainable building is often understood in material terms – from use in construction to energy efficiency in operation. But better management of building services can contribute significantly to a building’s resilience to future climate change as well as evolving requirements of occupiers.

How can building owners create more resilient assets?

There are three ways that property managers and facilities managers can overcome unsustainable practices. Standard practice currently splits responsibility and organises maintenance in silos, resulting in a disconnection between the work of surveyors, engineers, facility and property managers. Each of these points helps to overcome this barrier to building resilience and sustainable performance.

1. Use contracts and procurement to set sustainable building priorities

As with many procedures in the building industry, contract content, structure and mobilisation is critical. Current procurement practices tend to favour the lowest bidder that often under-prices the maintenance element, while maintenance contracts and contractor performance is monitored against statutory compliance alone.

This is a short-term approach for a building which could be in use for decades, subject to a great deal of change in that period. It also does not reflect increasing market demands in relation to building performance, sustainability and user experience.

Instead, a closer and more consultative relationship with contractors can result in a better long-term strategy and delivery of more sustainable and economical outcomes. To make this work, the building owner must be clear about specifying the right maintenance and performance measures at the outset, while also engaging with the contractors’ own expertise early on to assess overall viability.

By better understanding the condition of building plant and equipment, one can determine what repairs and maintenance are required to ensure optimal performance and a long service life. Then independent verification can ensure that maintenance is undertaken and that occupiers feel they are receiving value for money.

Understanding of system design and settings is essential to ensure that the building is operating as designed thanks to its maintenance regime. 

2. Combine surveying and engineering skills for sustainable building maintenance

Surveying and engineering roles don’t always overlap, but they should work in tandem. Join up the process to mitigate wastage of equipment and time for access, and to anticipate potential problems and save money on future repair or replacement works.

For instance, if an engineer is commissioned to replace equipment on the roof, allow a surveyor to access and inspect the entire roof area and recommend simultaneous works or identify developing issues.

Even if there are no additional works resulting, surveyors and engineers can be useful consultants for a building manager. While their language and viewpoints are different, surveyors’ understanding of service charges, leases and landlord obligations can put the engineers’ deep technical expertise into context and help owners prioritise and plan for more effective maintenance.

3. Maintain sustainable building services for user experience and occupier needs

Prospective occupants now view building performance not simply in terms of energy badges and due diligence reports. Instead, they consider how spaces will function for the comfort and performance of their users, the people within it. That functionality might change as occupiers spend time in a space and adapt it to their needs, so the role of maintenance becomes crucial to adapt and optimise performance of services rather than only to keep them functioning.

That requires regular and quality dialogue between those using the building and those maintaining and managing it. Surveys and measurement tools can provide metrics, while qualitative feedback by occupiers’ employees for instance can contextualise the experiences of individuals against what they use the space for, and how that might change.