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June 2007 – Sustainability is good business

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The drive towards increasing sustainability of buildings was boosted recently by news from property developer British Land that it aims to become carbon neutral within two years. This has been hailed as the boldest sustainability move yet by a property developer. It is good news for the constructional steelwork sector that such a prominent client that often selects steel as a framing solution for its prestige developments has decided it can achieve this goal.

Obviously British Land has done its homework and concluded that steel frames offer the best chance of meeting its sustainability challenges; two of the company’s current flagship schemes in the City, Broadgate Tower and the adjacent 201 Bishopsgate, have steel frames and are designed to exceed current Building Regulations energy use requirements by 29%.

Construction’s clients are taking a lead, partly in response to consumer expectations, and they clearly expect their suppliers to at least keep pace with them. Anybody unsure of what pace will be required should look at Stanhope’s list of ten core sustainability aims to be pursued for the next three years. The list, called Sustaining Good Business, has been circulated to all of Stanhope’s construction suppliers and funding partners. Among the aims are improving building energy performance by at least 20% against the latest building regulations, reducing construction wastage 30% by volume, 15% of materials used in construction is to be of recycled origin, and 80% of construction waste is to be reused or recycled.

Progress towards many of these aims can be easily achieved by using steel frames for buildings. No other construction material can come close to steel for its reuse and recycling properties, as we highlight this month in the latest article in our sustainability series.

There seems little doubt that the client side of the construction industry has fully embraced sustainability – the targets being adopted now are not merely sketchily defined promises to do better, but are ambitious and, more to the point, measurable.

Developers are confident that all of this makes good business sense, that by exceeding minimum standards in areas like energy efficiency the value of their buildings will be enhanced. Building users are expected to be increasingly reluctant to rent or buy anything from a property company that will have an adverse impact on their own sustainability credentials.

Developers are expecting to have to pay more up front for the next generation of green buildings, perhaps up to 5% according to Stanhope, and there is no certainty that building users will be prepared to pay more for them – they may simply expect modern buildings to have high sustainability values as a base requirement. But there is expected to be a longer term pay back from increased value of the investment that these buildings represent.

New buildings only represent some 2% of the UK’s buildings stock, and it will be a harder task to bring the other 98% into line with the best practice sustainability performances of new buildings. Retro fitting will be the answer for many buildings when they are being upgraded. Steel offers huge benefits to property owners when they want to modernise buildings because of the flexibility of steel framed structures.  Buildings will usually have to be vacated of tenants while these works go on, and there is no doubt that the necessary works will be completed faster in a steel framed building, allowing tenants to get back in as soon as possible.

In short, the drive towards sustainability in buildings presents great opportunities for the constructional steelwork sector, as long as all parts of it take on board what the changing requirements demand of them and enthusiastically support initiatives like the BCSA’s Sustainability Charter and other sustainability measures that are to come.

Nick Barrett

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