Policies ‘getting in the way’ of green building design, construction giant warns

EXCLUSIVE: The implementation of efficient and sustainable building practices is being hindered by Government and Mayoral politics which are attempting to "promise the Earth" rather than incentivising the built environment, infrastructure and construction firm AECOM has claimed.

Speaking to edie ahead of his appearance at edie Live next month, (scroll down for details), AECOM’s director of sustainability and building engineering Ant Wilson has urged political parties and mayoral candidates to add more “credibility” to their green policy targets.

Wilson highlighted the Government’s U-turn on the zero-carbon homes policy – which was this week blocked by the House of Lords – as well as the “big flop” of the Green Deal as examples that the Government is failing to grasp what is considered ‘sustainable’ within the built environment; arguing that the understanding of energy efficiency and carbon reduction regulations still varies from person to person and needs to be “defined clearer.”

“In terms of upping the standard for buildings, we can’t impose any extra burdens on housebuilders,” Wilson said. “Better standards will cost more, which will ultimately cost the housebuilders, and they aren’t going to find this option attractive.

“You can incentivise the standards through schemes [such as the Renewable Heat Incentive] or feed-in tariffs, but the Government wants to remove them.”

The use of BREEAM as a “sustainable credential” has been a particularly irksome aspect for Wilson, who believes that creating something to a minimum standard doesn’t necessarily make it an efficient building practice.

“We shouldn’t be getting credit for achieving minimum standards for doing something sustainable,” Wilson said. “You’ve executed the bare minimum for building standards and if you don’t meet them you shouldn’t build it anyway.

“You get credit for going beyond that. We need to influence developers at an early stage to do something in a more sustainable manner.”

Wilson said that the front-runners for the job as next London Mayor are seemingly focusing on housebuilding – especially the construction of social housing – to drive their manifestos; as a “vote winner”, rather than a systematic, sustainable solution to building regulations.

“The numbers of houses is driving the manifesto and especially social housing as it’s a vote-winner,” he said. “I think you’ve got to remove the idea of promising the earth out of politics and get a bit more credibility behind the targets that are set. Some of the politics is getting in the way of the best design processes.”

Building Revolutions

Wilson’s remarks come as AECOM’s sustainability director David Cheshire has released a ‘Building Revolutions’ book. The RIBA-published book explores how a circular economy approach to building design could bring cost, efficiency and environmental benefits to the built environment sector.

Building Revolutions argues that circular thinking could shift away from BREEAM values and percentage-based targets – such as the zero-carbon commitment – and instead focus on keeping the value of building materials within the sector by introducing a circular model.

Ant Wilson at edie Live

Ant Wilson will be speaking on the Energy Efficiency Theatre at edie Live in May, discussing what policies – both future and present – are driving businesses, alongside associates from the Energy Institute and the National Energy Foundation.

If you manage your company’s energy, sustainability, environmental or corporate responsibility, then two days at edie Live will give you a free pass to all the learning, peer-to-peer networking, innovative suppliers and inspiration you need to drive sustainability through your organisation.

View the full edie Live agenda and register to attend for free here.

Matt Mace

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