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REALLY BE SUSTAINABLE? The construction industry has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but only if it is open to innovation and change with a more holistic approach, the David Ball Group debates whether it is possible.

“In this country, policy changes are made frequently and there is no time for the industry to change with it,” said Dr Gavin Dunn, Director of BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology), at a recent Green Sky Thinking panel debate, in which seven industry professionals came together to discuss the all- important question: Can construction really be sustainable?

A panel of industry experts tackled this challenging question, discussing the development of innovative products, the role of codes and standards and how to embed sustainability throughout projects and company strategy.

Gavin continued, “At the moment with each political cycle comes a new wave of energy policies and standards, sometimes policies even change mid-term. Each policy has a slightly different agenda, causing a confused marketplace and resulting in investment suffering. There would be more investment if policies were longer-term, but at the moment people don’t want to invest if the policy will change next year. For example, prototypes of houses built using 3D printing have shown this technology is extremely efficient, however, how long will it take for policies and standards to promote the uptake of this technology?”

David Ball, Founder of David Ball Group also sat on the panel, he echoed Gavin’s comments, saying:

“The industry needs standards to ensure we are on a ‘level playing field’ whereby there is a minimum acceptable qualifying standard for


sustainable construction. Minimum standards are essential to moving the sustainability argument into the consciousness of designers and contractors alike, to ensure everyone is working towards the same common goal.”

The lack of joined up thinking between industry, government and business is also a concern for Victoria Ball, Sustainability Strategist at David Ball Group, who discussed how vital it is for companies to embed sustainability across their entire strategy, suggesting:

“The green economy has massive growth potential, especially for those in the construction sector. With building analysts suggesting building revenue will rise by 23% annually in the next three years, it would be foolish not to embrace sustainability both for the good of society, the environment and for the company’s own bottom line. Recently, a Goldman Sachs report discovered that companies that pay attention to social and environmental government policies have a 25% higher stock value than their non- sustainable equivalents, and a UCL study revealed that companies listed as ‘green’ were 16% more productive than their direct competitors.”

While the argument for sustainable business practices is compelling, historically implementation can be much more difficult. However, Dr Mike de Silva, Sustainability Manager at Crossrail explained that he has been encouraged by what the industry has done recently with regard to innovative ‘green design’ and suggested a key

source of inspiration was the natural world. He said:

“Over the last 100 years we have become disjointed from our natural environment. If we look back at old architecture, they focused on natural cooling by working alongside nature, rather than against it. The industry has already begun to use these innovations in technologies, however, we must start talking about biomimicry and how we can adopt those concepts.

“Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that draws inspiration from nature's time-tested patterns and strategies. If we use biomimicry here, we pose the idea of how the human body cools itself, by sweating, and this is an area the industry is already trying to incorporate into future building designs by mimicking evapotranspiration.”

David concluded that the construction industry is keen to become sustainable, but there needs to be a holistic approach if current practices are to change. He said, “The debate was a great opportunity for industry leaders across the various sectors to come together to voice their opinions. It was also excellent to see active planning for the future, by working together to come up with potential solutions to solve the problem of sustainable construction and the opportunities that it presents.”

Green Sky Thinking is a week long, London-wide events programme for built environment and property professionals highlighting innovative practice on how we 'design in' sustainability for London.

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