(photo: Jon Tyson)
08.01.2020, 12:56

Taking Responsibility for Our Built Environment

Facilities Management, Environmental Management, United Kingdom

Aidan Bell, co-founder of sustainable building materials company Envirobuild, explains why facility managers should be championing new sustainability standards.


The built environment contributes around 42 per cent of total carbon footprint in the UK[1], presenting an influential element in the development of climate issues around the world. Half of this contribution is created from everyday home activities f such as using plugs and cooking, as well as infrastructure, involving roads and railways. Therefore, corporate social responsibility, and more specifically sustainability, is becoming increasingly crucial in directing the future of global business strategy, with a focus on built space and its combined efficiency. Fusing important sustainable values into building regulation is a vital step forward, forcing building owners, users and other associated actors to reconsider their policies.


Focusing on what we have

In a report on long-term corporate health, the BBC emphasised that ‘the economic cost of [environmental] inaction is simply too great’[2]. The negative consequences of environmental damage are increasingly falling on companies, who are often struggling to protect or replace the natural resources and materials that they depend on for business.


In recent years, the attention of the construction industry has mainly been centralised around new builds regarding sustainability, making them more efficient alongside increased awareness regarding the importance of green practice. Government policies targeted towards improving the efficiency of existing buildings have been reduced, and rates of insulation installation have halted. However, 80 per cent of the buildings that will be constructed by 2050[3] have already been built, suggesting that more focus should be applied to decarbonising older, existing stock[4], which is lagging behind its contemporary counterparts in sustainable development.


The majority of responsibility for upgrading current building stock consequently falls into the hands of facility managers, whose authority allows them to manage costs and control functions within the built environment for which they are responsible. This role traditionally revolves around ensuring that their facility functions effectively, however, more recent duties have extended to incorporate a new environmental focus. Improving a building to reach smooth and sustainable operation is a long process, requiring a well-crafted policy of maintenance and refurbishment. Some facility managers may inherit dated building systems that are expensive and tricky to maintain, demanding additional attention and work towards achieving sustainable quality.


The Climate Change Act of 2008 legally bound the UK into a long-term plan to cut carbon emissions, committing the Government to reducing carbon emissions by 80% before 2050 through carbon budgeting, trading schemes and targeted carbon limits[5]. Legislation like this is both essential for our climate and motivating for our population, providing us with reason to monitor emissions at all scales.

Potential Solutions: Climate Change and Resource Use

Buildings are significant aspects of climate change adaptation, especially with recent increases in drastic weather conditions. Millions of properties remain in flood-risk areas, with 10% of paving sales in 2013 being permeable, and only 15% of planning applications for flood risk areas mentioning ‘sustainable drainage’ in 2015. Facility managers need to be proactive in securing properties against potential effects of weather damage through adaptation methods such as sustainable drainage systems and flood risk alleviation. Not only will this ensure the safety of the individuals and belongings of those within the building but will also ensure the long-lasting sustainability of the building itself.


Newly constructed buildings are more energy efficient, meaning that facility managers must plan to decarbonise existing builds. 67% of total electricity supply in the UK in 2016 was used in the built environment, with rising emissions from fuel-use proving to be one of the largest tests ahead. Heating contributes 10% of the UK’s carbon footprint, with overheating being an issue, predominantly in social housing. Replacing local heating systems with improved, higher performance heating processes will improve building efficiency. Insulation can easily be incorporated into a maintenance plan, maximising resource efficiency and therefore reducing long-term costs. The initial costs for installing insulation is relatively low in comparison to the combined costs of adding insulation or cover during a components life span, or paying for the additional heating costs.


Building design and metering is a major influence in determining water usage within the built environment, changing both habits and efficiency. Relying on finite resources is expensive, with no chance of long-term success. Identifying issues in the building operation early is crucial in establishing a secure and sustainable estate, and therefore a successful business in the long-term[6]. Facility managers should strive to recognise areas where improvement is possible, such as upgrading drainage systems or improving energy efficiency; saving money, lengthening property potential and developing sustainability. The UKGBC highlights that a sustainable built environment is one that mitigates and adapts to Climate Change whilst eliminating waste and maximising resource efficiency[7].


In summary

Effective facility management both prevents harmful emissions and secures the built environment against climatic consequences. This involves improving the sustainability of building components rather than merely upkeeping old or traditional performance, adjusting values, behaviours and processes to both avoid risks and embrace environmental opportunities. Due to the built environments’ significant contribution towards the UK’s carbon footprint, and the requirement to improve the efficiency of existing buildings as well as new, facility managers are well-placed to implement environmental progress.


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