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A welcome sustainability focus, but short on value-delivering measures?

 

I’m not sure, how many people have taken time over coffee to look at the Government’s Construction Strategy for 2016-20, published this week ? For me it was unsurprising in pledging £1.7bn of efficiency savings on its projects by 2020 balanced by a plan to become a “better client” over the period. However, it also contains within it a welcome re-focusing on the value of sustainability in delivering those savings, in terms of enabling and driving whole-life approaches to carbon reduction across construction and operation of buildings, a goal which BREEAM has already delivered substantial success on in the public sector.                                                       

But, and it’s a big but, while the strategy outlines a recommendation that Government departments demonstrate “clear leadership on whole-life cost and whole-life carbon,” it is pretty scant on the detail in terms of implementing measures which will deliver the value it wants to see, including how it will measure whole-life value to establish cost benefits. While important areas such as increasing collaboration within Government and externally with industry, measurement skills capacity within Government procurement and harnessing data and BIM to improve value all have their place in the document’s action plan, there seems to be little in the way of specific deliverables on the whole-life aspects. We can only hope that this will mean clarification will come quickly to facilitate the leadership the plan wants in public sector construction, given the rolling back of sustainability drivers.

 The plan does contain some good, solid statements on the need to deliver whole-life value and reduce carbon. It reiterates the Construction 2025 industrial strategy targets of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment, and emphasises the importance of the subsequent Infrastructure Review which established how increased resourced efficiency together with a reduced carbon footprint can be a facilitator to reduce capital and whole-life costs. In addition it says that robust measurement and analysis of sustainability indicators (which has of course been conducted within BREEAM for 25 years) will help improve the efficiency of the public sector estate. Encompassing a wide range of factors, the strategy says this “would be part of an integrated approach conducted by the Data and Cost Benchmarking Group” but this is unfortunately quite vague in terms of what is actually planned given the urgency of meeting carbon targets.

The strategy also says that driving the uptake of innovative sustainability approaches “would be considered by the Strategic Delivery Group and co-ordinated with the Green Construction Board and the ongoing outputs of the Infrastructure Carbon Review.” Again this seems somewhat amorphous, with no clarification given in the Summary Action Plan of when and how it will happen, but at least the direction of travel can be applauded. As can the final statement in the document that Government contracts “will encourage innovative sustainability solutions on carbon reduction where value can be demonstrated.” If this is driven through, supported by BREEAM assessments, then it will make a major contribution to achieving our national goals on carbon reduction, but a focus on cost savings must not be at the expense of innovation.

The strategy has some shortcomings however there is a welcome return to a focus on carbon reduction in addition to cost reduction. There needs to be greater clarity from Government going forward in how it is going to reconcile the balance between achieving best value on cost metrics and the whole-life value from sustainability which it has pledged to drive in the next few years. We look forward to clearer signs of how it is going to measure true whole-life value in its construction, and hope that although carbon is left until last in this important document, it is a case of last but not least.

Martin Townsend
About the Author
Martin has a diverse professional background covering all aspects of the built environment from advising UK Ministers when he was an Advisor in Government, to his time as a Regulator in the Environment Agency, or working on construction sites. He works closely with the construction industry bringing sustainability issues alive for companies' right across Social, Economic and Environmental agenda. As Director at BRE he looks to accelerate and broaden the uptake of tools, standard and learning throughout the industry, from component, building and city level, and in doing so, challenge the industry to improve, based on both best practise, but also the latest research.

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