Smart Cities: When efficiency is not enough

A version of this article first appeared in a Special Report on ‘Smart Cities’, published in The Times, 7 June, 2012.

Building bridges: Bristol Smart City programme aims to see this historic urban centre transformed to become an inclusive world-class green-digital economy.

Efficiencies in technology and infrastructure will bring multiple benefits to inhabitants of Smart Cities – saving them time and money, energy and water, waste and space – but cannot alone guarantee wellbeing and improved quality of life.

“There is a need to combine integrated ‘layers of smartness’ with a future city model that should embrace not just resource efficiency but promotion of good health, economic stability, a sense of shared community and with an ability to adapt,” explains Andrew Comer, Director Environment and Infrastructure, Buro Happold. “In short, we need a more sophisticated and universal language and an integrated approach to urban development, funding and governance.”

In relative terms, some of the smaller high-growth economies in Asia, such as Singapore or Malaysia, are perhaps ideally positioned to reap and deliver the greatest benefits from investing in such an integrated approach to Smart City development. Realising this potential, their thinking is big and strategic, as Hugh Roberts, Business Development Director at SKM Colin Buchanan, saw first-hand:

“Smart Cities are no longer merely showpiece flagships; a second generation is now contributing to wider regional investment and growth. Sarawak, one of Malaysia’s eastern states on the island of Borneo, is launching SCORE – the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy. This multi-sector development plan commences with low-cost power generation from hydro schemes which will fuel aluminium and copper smelting and large-scale silica production, together with new agro and food production industries. It then moves on to planning a Smart City at Mukah, to serve as nerve centre for the sub region.”

The Smart City is to feature Knowledge, Administrative and R&D hubs, bringing together academia, industry, business and technology. Economic growth and efficiency benefits to businesses and organisations mean the opportunity to develop and retain home-grown human-resource talent, particularly in IT-driven labour pools, is a clear win-win for employer and employee alike.

Business opportunities in connection with the Smart Cities agenda are not however limited just to companies physically located within the urban areas themselves – there is a whole smart service industry emerging, blazing technology trails lit by best-practice beacons old and new.

IBM has involvement in over 2,000 Smarter Cities projects worldwide, working on initiatives right across the sustainability spectrum – from helping reduce carbon footprints of buildings, IT energy usage and traffic emissions, to providing healthcare innovation that supports independent living for the elderly, or aids diagnostics in clinical decision-making.

For education, business and government, Canadian company SMART Technologies provides visual collaboration solutions via interactive whiteboards in over 100 countries. Effective data sharing offers potential to save money, increase productivity and reduce carbon footprints. In this new commercial and cultural landscape, working together is working smart: No company is an island; no worker cut off.

Whilst location need not necessarily prove a barrier to smart market participation, potentially age might: Can a city simply be too old and too developed to join the smart party?

With a Royal Charter dating back to 1155, Bristol is home to a collaborative Smart City programme between the public sector, business and community. Priorities are smart energy, transport and data, with initiatives ranging from technology support for domestic energy efficiency, through ICT for electric vehicles, to major investment in digital infrastructure and connectivity.

Bristol is unabashed about its ambitions to compete on a world-class scale as an inclusive green-digital economy, but for many an Old World metropolis, the full Smart City makeover presents a daunting prospect, as Peter Sharratt, Director Sustainability Services, Deloitte LLP, observes:

“This is a real challenge. Designing new is relatively easy, but retrofitting old is much harder and will cost much more. The solution lies in both the physical and the virtual – we need to reconfigure our infrastructure to be significantly more efficient, but at the same time we need to drive behaviour change throughout our citizens on a mass scale. A Smart City requires successful integration of smart systems AND smart people!”

With choice editing for citizens stimulating a virtuous spiral of upwards mobility in quality of life, perhaps the smart message will rapidly disseminate going forward: Ask not what your city can do for you – ask what you can do for your city.

To view the Special report in full online, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

UK Sustainable Skills Go Global

Article on Exporting Success for UK-GBC supplement ‘Building for the Future’, published in The Times, 6 September, 2010

 

Success for AECOM: European Investment Bank HQ, Luxembourg, Winner of the International Prize: Project of the Year, at the sustain’ magazine Awards 2010. (Photo courtesy of Marc Wilwert.)

From Masdar in Abu Dhabi, through New Delhi in India, to Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou in China, the call of the East is strong for UK companies and practices providing sustainable solutions in property and the built environment. The West, however, is far from won, with fresh opportunities on the horizon.

At present, the outlook for China is mixed and evolving. UK eco-entrepreneurs and consultancy BioRegional has established BioRegional China as a Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise. Weighing up the wider prospects, Pooran Desai, co-founder of BioRegional, offers a measured assessment: ‘China is hungry for ideas but on their own terms. There are opportunities to license and manufacture green technologies. Some engineering companies are doing well. Planning and sustainability consulting is much tougher. I suspect ultimately the companies that are successful in China may have some roots here but will be, in essence, Chinese.’
In general, according to the Construction Products Association, UK figures for both imports and exports of industry goods continue to hover around the 10 per cent mark, in spite of fluctuations in currency markets and volatile trading conditions. As regards project work for UK firms, whilst we are becoming accustomed to reading stories of activity in architecture and building coming out of Asia, by no means all journeys of export and expansion into international waters are headed East.
In the middle of the Atlantic, some 2,500 miles from the nearest port, the only architectural firm in the Top 60 of the Sunday Times Best Green Companies list, Purcell Miller Tritton has been developing the design for an Oberoi hotel, set to become a global exemplar of eco luxury. With a client brief to deliver the world’s greenest facility, the design intent is to ‘grow’ a hotel on the island of St Helena, using indigenous flax and lime for wall construction, plus a living roof.
Sailing still further West, routes into attractive North American markets are also opening up. In February this year, the Clean and Cool Mission – organised with assistance from the Technology Strategy Board and the support of UK Trade & Investment – took a shortlist of 19 UK businesses out to San Francisco. For one in particular, carbon-banking building-system specialist ModCell, the trip proved the catalyst for a move into California, resulting in them launching Stateside this month, as Director Craig White explains:
“It was revealing to see that European legislation on carbon reduction has driven a huge amount of innovation back home in the UK, whereas in America, most is only dated as recently as 2009, from the Obama administration. In many regards, Europe is up to 10 years ahead, although when America moves on this agenda it will do so very powerfully. Consequently, we saw a clear business opportunity.”
Whether looking East or West, it seems clear that UK companies are set fair for a shot at achieving future exporting success, in terms of knowledge, technology and even the building materials themselves that are driving sustainable development worldwide.

To view the full Supplement online, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

Tackling the Problem at Source

Article on Responsible Sourcing for UK-GBC supplement ‘Building for the Future’, published in The Times, 6 September, 2010

 

Contracts a-changing: £7M iCon building in Daventry is the first completed using new sustainability guidance introduced by the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT).

As well as being complicit in acts contributing to global warming and water poverty, plus exploitation and waste of natural resources, could you also be guilty of environmental discrimination and exporting pollution, plus human rights abuses including benefiting from child labour? Are you personally and professionally responsible?

Failure to ensure responsible sourcing of products, goods, services and materials for specification and procurement on the part of a decision maker in the construction industry could leave that person answerable on all counts. Some wrongdoings are more likely to result in accusations of engendering economic greed, environmental harm and anti-social behaviour, than actual charges on legal, ethical or moral grounds, but all are effectively crimes against sustainability. All are bad for business. Most are, however, commonplace. So, what is Construction doing to clean up its act?

 

Well, to manage it, first you have to measure it. Sadly, this is not as straightforward as it sounds, even for resource use and efficiency.

London 2012 set out to be “the most sustainable Games ever”, with targets and objectives that are unprecedented for major construction projects, driving forward innovation. Do the Games showcase the industry’s thorough understanding of its resource impacts? Unfortunately they do not, as Shaun McCarthy, Chair of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, frankly explains: “The discovery that 67 per cent of the 3.4Mt carbon footprint for the Games is embodied in construction was a shock and a revelation. I was also surprised to see that the Aquatic Centre has three times the embodied energy of the Velodrome. The construction industry does not know how to manage embodied impacts and the UK sustainable construction strategy is silent on the subject.”

In response to the industry’s obvious frustrations with traditional evaluation tools, a new methodology called Carbon Profiling has been developed by Sturgis Associates, combining both operational and embodied carbon emissions. On Ropemaker Place, a recent case-study project in London, profiling showed that over half of the building’s CO2e impacts are attributable to embodied carbon.

So, does quantifying embodied energy and embedded carbon hold the key to unlocking the secrets of energy-responsible construction? No, it does not, according to Dr Miles Watkins, Director of Sustainable Construction, at Aggregate Industries Europe, who argues for an altogether more joined-up assessment: “Embedded carbon in isolation is not really that helpful. Performance of materials in use has to be taken into account. It is simply not sustainable to build a building with the lowest embedded carbon possible and then have to add crazy levels of renewable bling to make it work properly.”

Standards and Labels

Whilst the industry grapples with assessment methods and  measures for energy and carbon, other formal standards and sector-wide initiatives abound.

Construction contracts themselves are changing: The £7M iCon building in Daventry is the first project completed using the sustainability guidance newly introduced by the Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT). British Standards are also multiplying: In addition to the existing BS 8902 for Responsible Sourcing, this autumn will see the launch of a brand new standard for Sustainable Procurement, BS 8903.

On the materials front, representative bodies are addressing issues of responsible sourcing. The concrete sector, as well as working to ambitious 2012 waste targets, has warmly embraced the requirements of the BRE standard BES 6001 for Responsible Sourcing of Construction Products. The Steel Construction Sustainability Charter, as advocated by the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA), operates to objectives of economic viability, social progress and environmental responsibility. Plus, for timber, long-touted as the only truly carbon-neutral (or better) building material, advanced certification systems have been developed, involving chain-of-custody standards, plus product labelling, lead by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). These have helped distinguish the sustainable from the merely legal, with the prospect of further EU legislation on due diligence set to raise the bar still higher.

In addition, mainstreaming of natural and renewable building materials, featuring use of such as hemp, straw and lime to provide low-impact construction methods, is rapidly expanding the range and application of responsible solutions.

Ethics and Social Responsibility

Less responsible sourcing of products and materials from parts of the world where emissions targets may be more lenient (creating so-called ‘carbon leakage’), pollution more poorly policed and resource depletion more tolerated, often causes harm and creates risk indirectly, as a seemingly faceless crime. Sourcing that carries a direct cost to human life and wellbeing is different.

Ethical supply chain management is not, however, easy. In 2007, hard landscaping company Marshalls was the first in its sector to become a member of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), but says initially, the company had met with a lot of resistance and cynicism about the serious issues facing the stone industry in India. Group Marketing Director, Chris Harrop says: “So many disputed the fact that child labour was still in existence. It was only by being in India we saw it for ourselves, and decided to do something about it.”

Responsibility as Opportunity

Whilst details may be complex and sometimes conflicting, the business case for responsible sourcing is nevertheless clear. Or, at least it is to clients, as Diane Booth, Head of Environmental Policy at Network Rail, explains: “Once baselines and the cost/benefit are well understood, it is relatively easy to design specifications and contractual incentives to drive improvement. However, gaining detailed understanding of the opportunity can only be done in conjunction with contractors and suppliers, some of whom seem reluctant to engage. They are not seeing this as a differentiating factor, when clients do.”

In short, for Construction, the future is lean, green and responsible, as Paul Toyne, Head of Sustainability at Bovis Lend Lease, concludes: “The age of austerity could become the age of sustainability as both are about efficient resource use, which if we get it right allows the industry to offer affordable solutions, here in the UK and abroad. Companies need to position themselves ready for the upturn in the market.”

To view the full Supplement online, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

A True Measure of Performance?

Article on Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for UK-GBC supplement ‘Building for the Future’, published in The Times, 22 September, 2009

In much the same way as GCSEs are intended both to drive academic performance across the Education sector as a whole and inspire effort and achievement in individuals, so should EPCs (and DECs) raise standards in Property and Construction and deliver better buildings and dwellings. Certification in theory is the answer, but the question is, will it work in practice?

No vision for a low-carbon economy can carry any credibility without strategies in place for delivering on aspirations for CO2 reduction and energy efficiency in the built environment. The process of turning such aspirations into achievements calls for targets to be first set, then met. So, how do we measure success?
One simple solution is to award grades in recognition of levels of achievement and performance, operating a comparative assessment and rating system.
Introduced as part of the European Performance of Buildings Directive, an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is now required when any building (over 50sq m) is sold, rented out or constructed, and in some cases following refurbishment. EPCs rate properties on a descending sliding scale from A to G and come complete with a Recommendation Report. Only qualified and accredited energy assessors or certified home inspectors can produce EPCs, which also form an essential part of the Home Information Pack (HIP) for domestic properties marketed for sale. In addition, certain public buildings must have a Display Energy Certificate (DEC) on show.
“Of course, Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) should help improve compliance with buildings regulations”, acknowledges Dr Martin Gibson, Director of Government-approved provider of energy-assessor software, BuildDesk. “The theory is that people will start to make use of the EPCs in their buying decisions and though there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of this yet, it is still early days.
“I remember the early days of energy labels on white goods and it took a few years before people started to shy away from lower grades. However, the market for white goods has now been transformed and it is hard to buy anything worse than an appliance rated A or B. Who, after all, wants to admit to buying second best?”
Establishing the value of excellence in energy performance of commercial buildings and demonstrating benefits to owners and occupiers is vital to stimulating demand for certification and driving up standards. The accompanying Recommendation Report is arguably the most important part of an EPC, laying the foundations for ongoing improvement. It is however all too often ignored once the lowest-cost base rating is safely in the bag. If the scheme is to operate effectively going forward, buy-in on the part of clients is key, as Terry Dix, Director at Arup, explains:
“EPCs are only an effective measure for new buildings and even then only if clients set ambitious targets by doing more than getting a simple pass – in other words, more than just complying with minimum legal standards.”
Certification costs both time and money and clients need to be confident the effort is worth it. Seeking to sweat physical assets harder, corporate property owners and developers will be looking to EPCs to satisfy the demands of two audiences: one upstream, made up of investors and perhaps pension funds; the other, downstream, comprising letting agents and tenants. Badly performing buildings are hard to let and uncomfortable to occupy. They represent an unattractive prospect from both perspectives: Mergers and Acquisitions teams do not like liabilities on the balance sheet in the shape of unsaleable and unlettable property; tenants are concerned about committing to bottom-line cost impacts over time. Futureproofing against excessive utilities bills is good news for everyone, as is the promise of an indoor working environment that is conducive to staff health and wellbeing, minimising levels of absenteeism, maximising output.
There is a virtuous spiral in play here: Happy tenants make for happy owners and happy investors. When all are talking commercial building performance, certification is the common language. At present, though, there remains a sales job to be done for the metrics.
Selling the benefits of certification to developers and owners is an issue In the residential sector too. Amongst consumers in general, there is growing awareness of the advantages of labelling. With developers, homeowners and landlords, however, there is a need to establish a more positive attitude towards enhanced (re)sale and rental returns, based on strong certification ratings, consolidating and raising demand on the part of the prospective buyer or tenant. Achieving higher levels of energy performance in dwellings needs to be communicated as a matter of investment, not cost, as Chief Executive of the Energy Saving Trust, Philip Sellwood explains:
“We know that people are going to be looking to rent out places that are cheaper to run – it’s hardly rocket science. A poorly insulated three-bedroom semi-detached house could move from band F to C saving a tenant £700 a year on energy bills if the landlord installed straightforward energy-saving measures like insulation.
“There is no good reason for landlords to pass the cost of upgrading a property to meet energy efficient criteria to their tenants – there is financial support available which can help recoup any financial outlay involved.
“We urge all landlords to see this new legislation as an opportunity not a challenge. All the evidence points to the fact that an energy-efficient home will be much more appealing to prospective tenants.”
One thing is certain: There is no shortage of qualified and accredited assessors. Government targets for professional numbers have been exceeded several times over, with initial fears of a shortfall in personnel proving quite unfounded. A whole army of energy performance troops has effectively been enlisted in the fight for carbon reduction and energy efficiency in buildings. As the government wages war on Climate Change, it is the frontline battle for the hearts and minds of clients, owners and developers that still remains to be won.

To view the full Supplement online, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

Waging War on Carbon

Article on Zero-Carbon New Buildings for ‘Smart Energy Management’ supplement, published in The Times, 15 September, 2009

In terms of property-related impacts and emissions, Great Britain is effectively at war with Carbon. The offensive started in earnest back in July 2007, with the announcement of a Government proposal for all new homes to be required to be ‘Zero Carbon’ from 2016. Following on from this initial assault on housing, co-ordinated campaigns have been launched to target non-residential buildings with zero-carbon compliance by 2019, plus an accelerated programme for both Education (2016) and public-sector property (2018).

As the target compliance dates for all building types fall within the Government’s critical first period to 2020 of its climate change strategy for overall emissions reduction, the spotlight will undoubtedly focus on success or failure in these areas.

So what exactly is the construction and property sector tasked with doing and what has been the response to the challenge?

Not surprisingly, much of the debate has centred around the precise definition of net zero-carbon emissions. In order to balance the zero-sum books, what exactly is allowable in the ‘credit’ column, to offset the ‘debit’ figure generated by the calculated carbon emissions of a property. In response, policy documents have set out a three-part hierarchy of achievement needs for zero-carbon design and development:

• In first place are the requirements for very high standards of energy efficiency in design, specification and construction;

• Secondly, carrying the most concern regarding cost implications, comes the call for carbon compliance in terms of on-site generation of renewable energy;

• Thirdly, provoking perhaps the most discussion, appears the potential for provision of other off-site measures and allowable solutions – only permitted almost as an conditional option of last resort, on the basis of credits earned in respect of achievement in the other two areas of primary and secondary need.

The key associated piece of building regulation is the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH), now a mandatory requirement for all new housing in England and adopted into minimum standards in both Wales and Northern Ireland. Sustainability is assessed across nine design categories, resulting in Code star ratings ranging from the lowest Level 1, through to the highest Level 6 for Zero Carbon.

In response, there have undoubtedly been dissenting voices, with architects, housing developers and engineers in some quarters branding the proposals high risk and unrealistic. Some have accused the government of expecting too much too soon, in hoping for widespread achievement of CSH Level 6. Others have complained of there being too little in the pot, in terms of investment in both technology and skills. Doubts about financial viability have inevitably been raised in more minds as a result of the recent deterioration in economic conditions.

Overall, there remains though a strong body of industry support amongst leading players who welcome the policy framework and regulatory roadmap that have been born out of the vision of de-carbonising Britain. The agenda is gaining not only acceptance, but real momentum, albeit with some reservations, as Chief Executive of leading built environment consultancy Inbuilt, Professor David Strong explains:

“The drive towards zero carbon is very important – it has had a powerful effect in galvanising the UK housebuilding and property development community and in stimulating innovation. This may not have happened without such a strong legislative and policy initiative. A growing number of major housebuilders have a broad plan of how they are going to meet the Government’s zero-carbon targets and the intermediate stages planned for the 2010 and 2013 Building Regulations. The housebuilding industry is generally now more positive about delivering higher environmental standards than it was in the past. However, many are concerned about the cost of compliance and the potential liabilities and risks associated with the new standards.”

Zero-carbon aspirations are also considered both a driver and a differentiator of design excellence, with some architectural practices keen not to see the bar lowered too hastily, nor to have the issues taken out of their proper context of sustainable design. Alan Shingler, of Sheppard Robson, Architects of the UK’s first net zero-carbon home built to Level 6, The Lighthouse, advocates staying faithful to a big-picture vision of Sustainability:

“The Code for Sustainable Homes is likely to allow some off-site renewable power generation. Whilst we welcome the overall approach, we believe that the proposed legislative framework should not be allowed to confuse or dilute true zero-carbon development which takes a holistic approach to sustainability including embodied energy, social and economic longevity, as well as environment and carbon reduction.”

Nobody is pretending it will be easy and for developers and investors working with relatively long lead-in times and extended project calendars, it is vital that government provides both the strategic vision and leadership needed, but also builds in sufficient flexibility and room for manoeuvre.

As a key member of the newly-formed Carbon Consensus group, Claudine Blamey, Head of Sustainability at property investment and development company Segro, calls for more joined-up working between government and business:

“The government has to see their role as strategic planners in order to set the scene for business to deliver a zero-carbon economy in the most efficient way possible. The property industry then needs to be given flexibility to utilise the full-range of renewable energy solutions (i.e. on-site, near-site and off-site) in order to maximise carbon-emissions reductions. Furthermore, the capacity of renewable to deliver savings will change over time, as technologies become more viable.”

Sustainable development by definition calls for adaptability and whilst zero carbon might be the agreed target destination, the route map is being re-drawn on a regular basis. The challenge for both the property market and the construction industry is to continue to deliver on contractual project objectives, whilst operating within this evolving policy and regulatory framework. Living with this state of flux is the zero-carbon business challenge.

To view the full Supplement online, please click here.

Author: Jim McClelland

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