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Contractors, consultants and architects argue that their influence over the eventual sustainability of a building is limited to what the client can be persuaded to pay for. Sustainable buildings are important in the construction industry and will inevitably become part of legislation to comply with CO2 reduction pledges made by Governments. There is an opinion among those in the industry that this will be extremely costly. This means a bigger bill for the client, and with the country only beginning to recover from the worst recession on record, will remain challenging to pass on.
As sustainability continues to cross over from a specialist to a mainstream concern, the argument has become less challenging - particularly as government guidance, building regulations and local planning committees offer sustainable building their full support. But struggling house-builders and developers are caught in a precarious position as finance availability remains low while consumer spending is uncertain to recover.
The past decade marks a shift from thinking of facilities as a way to house the workforce to thinking about the entire building portfolio of a company in strategic terms (Horgen, 1999). There is reason to believe that sustainability may become a strategic asset in the future (Johnson, 1996). Further emphasised by the 2008 Climate Change Act; which made Britain the first country in the world to set legally binding 'carbon budgets', aiming to cut UK emissions by at least 80% by 2050. The construction industry currently contributes 50% of landfill usage (SEEDA, 2009) and so has a vital part to play in the reduction of CO2. Sustainable construction provides the solution for this over time.
With increased uncertainty over future energy costs, a very short pay back period of a sustainable approach can be realised. One particular Ecohomes case study from a Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) report identified that 15% of Warrington buyers have signified a willingness to pay over 6% more for a sustainable home. This 6% can be derived from commanding higher rents, higher market values, attracting tenants more quickly, reducing tenant turnover and lowering financial risks for investors. (RICS, 2005)
While there are slightly increased costs to make the building sustainable the benefits outweigh these. As previously mentioned Government may make these costs inevitable. For example, beginning this year the Dutch Government will refuse to rent buildings that are inefficient. The energy rating system in the EU has various bands which range from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient). The building is surveyed and an Energy Performance certificate is issued with a rating. The Dutch government has now declared that beginning in 2010 they will only consider buildings with an Energy Performance certificate grade of A, B, or C. The most recent estimation is that only 33% of all Dutch office stock has the potential for these grades. Clearly, this is devastating to clients with inefficient buildings as 66% of building stock is now deemed as unacceptable to rent. (Eicholtz et al, 2009)
The industry must innovate its processes of construction and the resultant buildings in order to gain higher sustainability. All the areas of construction must be thoroughly scrutinised to find savings in material consumption and waste. More needs to be done to alert clients that making their projects sustainable need not be prohibitively expensive. There is still a misconception that this is always the case.
The construction industry is of undeniable relevance to the economy as it incorporates 10% of the GDP and 7% of the workforce. Considering buildings consume the largest share of the final EU energy needs, and accounting for the various energy mixes in different countries, they produce 35% of all greenhouse emissions. An enormous amount which needs drastic action.
There are many issues which should be considered in order to address sustainable construction. This includes energy efficiency during the construction and post construction period of a facility; minimisation of green house gas emissions; design and construction of the facility is done in such a way that it encourages green transport and water conservation; waste minimisation and management during the construction and at the time of demolition; consideration given to the wild life and local nuisance during the design and construction phases; etc.
Clients may not be willing to pay for sustainability now but in the very near future they will most likely not have a choice. However, as illustrated above the costs to do so are generally not as high as they may have thought. The Government will enforce sustainability targets completely on companies with harsh penalties if compliance is not met. As discussed, carbon credits will be required should the building rise above predetermined limits which in the long term will be extremely costly. Especially considering the number of credits will be reduced each year.