Sustainable benchmarking systems can be a powerful and beneficial tool if carried out for the right reason and through a correct process

Sustainable benchmarking systems can be a powerful and beneficial tool if carried out for the right reason and through a correct process

Is Green Still the New Black?

Adam Strudwick, Design Director

What is the point of sustainable benchmarks? Do they really contribute positively to a construction industry that accounts for around half of all the non-renewable resources mankind consumes, do they contribute to the long term survival of our planet or are they just best practice making the industry feel better about itself and a nice marketing one liner?

With a high focus on sustainability and improving carbon footprints across the world, green accreditation is widely available globally with country or region specific options.

Internationally, there are a number of building benchmarking systems used. A key one is DGNB (www.dgnb-system.de/en) which is a German system also becoming prevalent in Russia.

As always, starting from day one and agreeing the preferred accreditation from the outset, setting the brief and objectives all aid in minimizing additional cost. There is often a cost accredited in achieving the highest accreditation levels.

They can be broadly summarized as below:

LEED Certified Platinum - 10% increase

BREEAM Good-Outstanding - 10% increase

SKA Bronze > Gold - up to 5% increase

What increases the cost?

• Wrong Credits pursued/at the wrong time

• Some ratings do reflect exemplary performance.

• Many decisions affecting credits are made well before a decision on using a benchmarking system is made.

• Many key decision-makers are not well-informed about managing sustainability performance.

• Is it really too expensive, or is the cost of change too much at this point – make the decision up front not at Stage D.

Key Questions When Considering the Validity of an Environmental Benchmark.

Why consider a benchmarking system?

There are very obvious reasons why our industry, one of the key contributors to the depletion of natural resources and global warming, should feel that all projects should strive to deliver the best environmental approach possible within the constraints of the project. Why one should consider a benchmarking system is a less straightforward question. True, fully appreciable, benefits are still difficult to quantify and therefore an occupier project sponsor should think carefully as to what the performance indicators may be to demonstrate the success to the business of this part of the project.

The benefits to developers and institutional investors could be more obvious but ultimately less valuable. Most London agents feel that it is considerably harder to lease a new building without a BREEAM accreditation than with one – whether this has the ability to change the agenda, or most importantly, for investors improve the rentable price per sqft or yield remains yet to be fully validated. The concerns arise when a building is completed to, for example, a BREEAM Very Good level, in order to enhance its market performance but is subsequently fitted out with less consideration, effectively negating much of the fine work previously done.

Which benchmarking system is right for your project?

As noted, above there are numerous benchmarking systems globally and making the right selection for your project is a significant step on the path to an effective project. The client and design team should run through the requirements and benefits of each system. This ensures an informed decision is made and the whole team has buy in to delivering this aspect of the project.

There is not a one size fits all approach and the pros and cons of the various systems used should be analysed in order to define the most appropriate. Also for consideration is whether the choice of your building dictates that a particular system must be used or would automatically be the most relevant.

How do I deliver an environmentally sound project?

The right team must be brought together early in the project and the parameters, roles and responsibilities agreed. Agree on the methodology and how this sits beside the whole programme delivery. Allocate the appropriate budget overtly as part of the overall project cost for delivering an Environmental element to the project and monitor this part of the budget as you would any other.

Ensure that a contractor is selected that will deliver to their requirements once on site and build this in to the selection process.

Fundamentally you must believe in the benefits of delivering an environmentally sound project for intrinsic reasons and must be able to communicate this to the business.

Key Points When Designing a Sustainable project

Not having a project accredited does not mean that sustainable design cannot be at the heart of what you achieve. If a benchmarking process is not found to be appropriate, the team should still ensure that every design and specification decision is made with a consideration of its impact on our environment.

Don’t be constricted by the systems – if a decision is right for the business or innovative and delivers an environmental benefit, then it should be considered, regardless of the points available. Additionally, try and avoid ‘buying’ credits or doing things that are not within the context of the project, these will fundamentally affect the reason for putting sustainable design on the project agenda.

Ensure that a robust process for operating and maintaining the building is in place, not on project completion but before. Delivering a sustainable project that either can’t or won’t be run suitably diminishes many of its benefits.

Look beyond benchmarking to see how your project can be truly sustainable rather than just environmentally positive in the short term. 

Benchmarking systems can be a powerful and beneficial tool if carried out for the right reason and through a correct process. Used correctly, LEED, BREEAM or SKA can enable and set the parameters for delivering a project that considers environmental design important to a company’s corporate and organisational objectives.

Green design should not be in ‘vogue’, it should be an integral part of all project delivery, regardless of the search for benchmarking success.