In the current building climate, discussions regarding sustainability are practically unavoidable. With both European and national legislation, owners, designers, engineers and contractors are being pushed step-by-step to reduce energy consumption, reduce the carbon footprint, and stimulate the usage of environmentally friendly material. However, legislation by definition only covers the minimum. For those wanting to showcase sustainability, there are certification systems and labels that enable quantification of sustainability efforts. These tools can be quite exhausting to go through. With this blog, I would like to provide some general points to keep in mind when pursuing such a goal.
In the Netherlands, there are multiple sustainability certificates a project team can pursue. Depending on the demands of the client, a system shall be chosen. Examples of commonly used certification systems are BREEAM, LEED, GPR Gebouw, Well.
In the initial project phase, try to determine the goal of the project as soon as possible. Sustainable building design concerns many (integral!) aspects ranging from energy consumption, water consumption, material (re)usage, CO2 footprint and more. It can be quite overwhelming trying to achieve the highest label, because a perfect project does not exist. This is also the case with certification projects. So lay down a framework to focus on during the project. What aspects of sustainability are most relevant to you and the client? Which credits are possible to achieve, and which requirements need to be met? This is written in credit language.
Try to understand the reasoning and the intention behind the credit requirements. This will make finding a solution easier. Especially with extensive multi-disciplinary certification systems, it can become quite tedious to implement certain requirements into your project. Understanding a credit can lead you to simple solutions for convoluted problems.
Is the design process a pain to endure or simply a path to walk with ups and downs?
The multi-disciplinary aspect of projects can do strange things to the process of your project. Design choices can have impact on each other. Things that were possible before can become impossible and vice-versa. In addition to technical challenges, in the real world there are always budget constraints. In any case, it is most wise to start early on brainstorming about ideas you can implement in the project to reduce or even avoid the surprise factor later on. Sometimes there just isn`t a solution for a credit you can`t achieve. Setting up a scope allows you to focus, but don`t let your focus lead you to tunnel vision, make sure to stay flexible when needed.
Guide your client and work like a lawyer.
In the end, we are there to fulfil the client`s desire to successfully complete a project. It is important to guide the client through the process. Pursuing sustainability certificates should not be done on a whim. Just like ourselves, clients have their own company culture, which might not fall in line with credit requirements and intentions. Because of “we-always-do-things-this-way”, achievable credits might be dismissed. This is especially inconvenient in case of credits that are easy to implement. Understanding the client combined with credit requirements can go a long way. As an engineer/consultant, aim to work like a lawyer by finding exceptions to rules to convince client and certification assessor.
Paper tiger is a proof of quality!
Pursuing sustainable certification can become a daunting quest for documents and declarations very quickly. While it is tedious, in the end it will be the proof of your labor and qualities. It demonstrates that as an engineer, client, and contractor you are able to design and create an environment beyond minimum legislative requirements, and more importantly: stand for quality and improvement.