Dr Don McLean, MD of Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), looks to the future of sustainability in the world of building design and construction

Sustainability may be the topic of the moment, but how does it relate to the built environment? Sustainable building design should aim to strike a balance, offering optimum working/living conditions, alongside reduced environmental impact, both now and in the future. Taking the complete building lifecycle into consideration, there are many factors involved: the location and design of the building; the materials and practices used in its construction; subsequent operation and maintenance; and how any future changes of use are addressed.

Contrary to popular belief, sustainable buildings need not cost more. Greater attention to detail is the key, together with more intelligent design and working practices. All involved in the design process have a duty to address these issues, as by doing so they will not only improve user comfort and reduce environmental impact, but will also help raise the standard of building design and construction.

A bigger picture

Often, however, a larger agenda is needed to kick-start mainstream commercial uptake. Over the last six months climate change and environmental issues have become more strongly lodged in the public consciousness; the Kyoto agreement came into force in February alongside shocking global warming predictions. Tony Blair has also placed climate change firmly at the top of his political agenda and the Government has set an ambitious target of reducing CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. With buildings accounting for over 40% of all UK CO2 emissions, and with as many as 140,000 new homes needed each year, it is no surprise that reducing these emissions is a high priority.

Interestingly, while here in Europe the drive towards more sustainable building design is being led by regulatory factors, in the USA the rating tool LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is generating commercial competition to help achieve industry transformation.

Here, the European Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) will play a vital role in achieving the Government’s emissions objectives, as well as introducing a building performance rating system. This will include energy performance assessments at the design stage, the built potential, and regular appraisals of actual operation levels.

The EPBD was drawn up to help the EU meet its climate change commitments under the Kyoto agreement, and each Member State is required to transpose the Directive into law by the beginning of 2006, with a further three years allowed for full implementation of specific articles.

It is important that what the Government is trying to achieve should be recognised. England and Wales are among only a few EU countries looking at implementing the EPBD in full by January 2006, but doing so will keep us at the forefront of sustainable building design.

The EPBD will be integrated into the Building Regulations in England and Wales, with the proposed amendments radically changing current compliance methods. For example, for non-domestic buildings the Elemental, Office CPR and Whole Building calculation methods will no longer be valid. The changes aim to reduce energy consumption of buildings by between 23.5% and 28% of that required by 2002 rules, but designers will still need to ensure that standards for ventilation, indoor air quality and health are maintained.

These amendments will have far-reaching effects. They will help promote a more integrated and holistic approach to building design. One of the major changes is the proposal for new National Calculation Methodology and the use of a detailed building simulation tool for the compliance assessment of complex buildings.

Leading the way

Currently, the UK leads the world in its proportion of buildings designed using simulation products. Such software can enable a more informed approach, both at the outset and during a building’s life. For instance, IES’s Virtual Environment can analyse issues such as heat loss/gain, environmental pollution, lifecycle costs, and solar, daylighting and thermal analysis. The detailed information provided on the consequences of design changes allows for more informed choices, promoting design excellence.

Ultimately, embracing the EPBD and the principles behind building performance software makes commercial sense, as well as addressing key environmental concerns.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie