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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.