Awards raise standards in sustainable construction

Sensemaking / Awards raise standards in sustainable construction

Green ratings, from LEED to CEEQUAL, are pushing contractors beyond mere compliance on environmental regulations – and reaping rewards for both the developers and their clients.

17 Apr 2012

Green ratings, from LEED to CEEQUAL, are pushing contractors beyond mere compliance on environmental regulations – and reaping rewards for both the developers and their clients.

Sustainability in construction is a moving target. Projects must meet rigorous performance measures to win the highest ratings – and the awards do more than just shine on the shelf. They can really help drive up standards.

In the UK, planning approval can depend on a building achieving a specified rating under BREEAM, a home-grown scheme to assess sustainability and offer a benchmark beyond regulation. But Skanska prefers to measure itself against the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings, developed by the US Green Building Council and better recognised among international companies. And a string of platinum (top) LEED ratings, for buildings and refits across Europe and the Americas, testify to its success.

Tangible business benefits ground this glory in the world of commerce. As David Mason, a senior sustainability manager at Skanska explains, trophies send powerful signals to clients that different units within the company are able and determined to deliver the green goods.

One iconic project was the refit of Skanska's US headquarters on the 32nd floor of the Empire State building in New York. The work cut energy use by 50% – a big step towards recouping costs in as little as five years. Landlord Anthony Malkin, the epitome of the profit-driven property magnate, now shows this to prospective tenants as a shining example.

Skanska has since built on this experience in the UK. Rather than move out of its Woking offices when the lease ran out at Hollywood House, the company worked out a memorandum of understanding with its landlord Prupim, covering a major green revamp and refurbishment. The target of a LEED platinum rating was set – and met – despite the higher costs involved. The result? A vastly improved working environment, with carbon emissions and potable water use cut to 48% below UK requirements, and energy use down by 34%. Significantly, the project also left a legacy: Skanska helped Prupim develop a 'green lease' concept, to incentivise other office tenants to reap the benefits of a high-spec refit.

Another assessment scheme out to lick new developments into shape is CEEQUAL ('civil engineering environmental quality') – promoted by the Institution of Civil Engineers, and recognised in the Government's Strategy for Sustainable Construction. The scheme has progressively expanded its remit to drive standards in everything from energy use and waste management to biodiversity and relations with the local community.

Nigel Sagar, a sustainability expert on Skanska's civil engineering side, has been heavily involved with setting CEEQUAL's ratings for road, rail, water management and other infrastructure-related projects. A distinctive feature of this assessment, he says, is that it doesn't just look at how a project's outputs tick the boxes. Rather, it's concerned with the quality of all the processes involved, from project definition and design through to implementation.

More private developers are adopting optional award schemes

It's an entirely optional scheme at present, rather than compliance-driven, but more private sector developers – such as Anglian Water, Siemens Transport Systems and The Co-operative Group – are adopting it. Skanska is using it to assess major projects such as upgrading the M25 motorway that orbits London and infrastructure for the 2012 Games.

Sagar has helped to develop the scheme for international use, with quite radical variations in local weightings. Water conservation, for instance, gets higher priority in the Middle East than in Sweden (where two road projects by Skanska have just won the first ever platinum ratings under the International Projects rubric).

But what's in it for Skanska? Not only does the scheme help to benchmark the company's own drive to become more sustainable, says Sagar: it is also stimulates awareness in the construction industry of what's achievable, and establishes Skanska as a leader. It's proving a pull for clients too, which are increasingly receptive to both the intrinsic merits and the reputational benefits:

"It's the best way of assuring public sector clients that they're matching up to a governmental green agenda. Private sector clients, such as National Grid, have also been enthusiastic." – Roger East

Skanska is a Forum for the Future Partner.

Photo: Digital Vision / Thinkstock

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