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Beyond EPBD

14 March 2008

Carbon rating a building’s entire lifecycle for the EPBD places great demands on resources. Michael Johnson explains how to manage these and develop an approach that exploits opportunities to compete more effectively in a hard-pressed property market

APRIL 6, 2008 WILL HAVE A SPECIAL RESONANCE for facilities managers in the public and private sectors. It will mark another significant milestone in the implementation of the (EU) European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive . Although the EPBD is now a priority for facilities managers, it is really part of a much bigger issue and a crucial objective – the need to reduce and control carbon emissions, improve energy efficiency, limit climate change and work towards a more sustainable world.

How does this affect facilities managers? As the government’s DEFRA website states: ‘Buildings are major consumers of energy. Around 40 per cent of final energy consumption in the European Community is in the buildings sector’ . This places substantial pressure on the whole property supply chain to make improvements. In the case of new-build or refurbishment it has even more profound ramifications.

With the carbon issue we can no longer think of a simple ‘cradle to grave’ lifecycle where, at the end of the building’s life it is demolished and the remains end up in scrap metal yards, road foundations, or landfill. Today every material, construction process, building component, and other part of the building’s fabric, at every stage of its life – from concept to de-commissioning – must demonstrate carbon efficiency.

This applies to the start of the lifecycle too. For example, if a designer in one part of the world wants to specify a modular fenestration, or a roof structure system, he or she now needs to consider where it comes from (on the globe or locally), what it costs to ship in, how efficiently it is been made, how well it performs in use, and how it can be recycled once it needs to be replaced or scrapped. In other words, the lifecycle is no longer sequential, it is circular.

Cradle to cradle
Think in terms of a new phrase being used, ‘cradle to cradle’. This is where used materials may be given a new lease of life and contribute positively to sustainability. In short, it is a case of re-birth, not rubbish tip. The approach applies to building new and maintaining existing buildings, including refurbishment.

Cradle to cradle is also associated with the concept of carbon-focused lifecycle assessment (LCA). The LCA has been actively developed over the past three decades in many countries by governments, institutions and respective building and construction industries. In recent years interest has been dramatically accelerated by global concerns for reducing carbon generation and in particular, the major effect that building construction, use and disposal has on the environment.

Objectively combining social, economic and environmental dimensions, LCA aims to reduce carbon emissions and use resources in a way that minimises harmful effects to the environment. It considers every aspect of a building’s lifecycle – from concept, design, construction and use, to demolition and regeneration.

Holistic in scope, it is far from an ideal dreamed up by academics and institutions: enlightened business is enthusiastically embracing the idea. Besides helping to save significant energy costs, it represents an important opportunity to promote green credentials and aspirations. Large high street names are using it as a strategic marketing tool and an influential, way to differentiate themselves from rivals. They can demonstrate social responsibility to consumers and the active contribution they are making towards carbon neutrality. Property developers can promote their buildings as greener than ones marketed by a competitor.

In principle, the approach seems simple, but in practice it represents a major commitment, especially in the case of multiproperty portfolios.

The concept means every aspect of the construction or refurbishment process has to come under new scrutiny and the application of new criteria – is this or that method, process, material, product or system going to achieve the least detrimental effect on the environment?

And of course it’s not just the material or product’s functional performance in relation to carbon neutrality – it is also the involvement of the supply chain aspect referred to earlier: manufacture, delivery and installation. This brings a totally new meaning to the phrase ‘carbon efficiency’. The carbon ratings for all the materials, components and other factors in the building’s cradle to cradle lifecycle have to add up to a compliant or acceptable standard.

In terms of the supply chain, the approach also places new demands on material and product manufacturers. Now they will need to supply architects and designers with carbon-related information about their product in relation to manufacturing and transportation plus disposal and recycling. This should be in a common, industry-standard format, so designers can make comparisons fairly and objectively between materials and products from different manufacturers.

But how do you establish all the ratings required and manage them? In a large project the amount of data may be immense. How do you gather all this data together, make the right assessments between possible materials, products and processes, evaluate proposals and changes, test ‘what if’ ideas and options, and arrive at an optimum solution, often when specifiers and decision-makers are operating in different parts of a country, region or the globe?

Carbon-focused LCA brings a new level of data intensity and volume to search, evaluation and decision-making. To achieve its worthy objective it places considerable demands on the processes of design specification, procurement and investment analysis. No longer can specifiers and decision-makers think simply of purely functional imperatives, they have to consider much more.

Carbon indexing
To address this important issue an advanced data management system has been developed in the UK, the world’s first such commercial solution. Known as a carbon indexing and modelling tool it incorporates a robust repository that stores all the required project data and information about materials and products relating to the building. It provides the technical glue to build a comprehensive model of an entire project. It may be used by the whole team, at whatever level of detail is required, throughout the lifecycle of the building.

Planners, designers, specifiers, builders and contractors, manufacturers, facilities managers, building users, and ultimately, demolition and recycling specialists, will now be able to refer to one project-centric database where data and information may be stored once and accessed by many. Knowledge may be better shared and reused, avoiding duplication of data and creation of wasteful private ‘silos’. What’s more, the project-based carbon indexing system integrates the supply chain and encourages manufacturers to play their part in providing appropriate details. Currently built around the Archibus facilities management system, its open architecture is compatible with most appropriate mainstream technology platforms.

The new system represents not only a tool for evaluating the right options at the design stage, but also provides a collaborative framework to facilitate discussion and shared responsibility, throughout the building’s life. For example, it will be easier to systematically review and categorise the raw materials and types of energy used to produce materials and products, and what effects they may have on the environment before, during and after use. Through better categorisation of issues and the right solutions, it will provide an effective means for teams to work together, examine and agree on the best cradle to cradle materials and products for a given brief.

EPBD may seem like the most important priority today and to many it will be, but in reality carbon-focused lifecycle assessment is the more profound and fundamental issue. The IT system developed in response to this need provides a starting point and a primary source of inspiration and information for questions and answers about energy performance in buildings, for the public and private sector.

Strategically, property developers are seeing that a favourable carbon rating will competitively differentiate their building from a rival. Chief executives are realising that doing the right thing environmentally - making their buildings and workforce perform better in terms of energy and carbon efficiency - delivers a social responsibility dividend. Private and public sector organisations may exploit and publicise good carbon ratings in several ways, boosting the bottom line, or their corporate reputation. Gaining high-scoring EPBD certification is an example.

A lifecycle assessment approach brings challenges and benefits. Using a carbon indexing and modelling tool will comprehensively help to manage these new demands. The tool provides a cost-effective way to improve assessment, optimisation and decision-making processes. It will also let owners of buildings and facilities managers fully exploit the higher efficiency to be gained through better control of carbon issues. In a market now under considerable economic pressure, the solution will also enable property management companies and developers to market their buildings in more competitive ways.

More info
The (EU) European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) Directive Implementation Advisory Group (DIAG)
Leaflet ‘EPBD – The facts you need to know’

● Michael Johnson is a Director of Mass plc

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