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Last edited 30 Jan 2021
How to deliver sustainable solutions
We know that clear client ambition, supported by defined sustainability targets is a critical starting point for sustainability. So, why do so many projects fail to deliver sustainability excellence, even when a clear strategy has been set?
Design and construction teams are being pushed to deliver to shorter and shorter time frames, often because an arbitrary ‘opening date’ has been set. The delivery of commercial property is driven by the need to get tenants in as quickly as possible, publicly-funded major infrastructure works are politically driven to be ready for the publicised opening date often set many years in advance before the complexities of the project are fully understood. Of course, the opening date is not always arbitrary; the Olympic and Paralympic Games and other major events such as the World Expo must open their doors on the required date.
But perhaps herein lies the problem; to innovate takes a little time. Time to discuss with peers, regulatory authorities, supply chain partners; time to research and explore ideas from across the globe. Without allowing time to think, innovation is impossible. This time must be built into the programme, and where a little more time would offer significant benefits, it may be wise to adjust the project end date to suit. That’s not to say that a programme should not push designers and contractors to deliver, but sometimes a little more time to think could save a lot of cost and carbon.
Building quicker does not always mean building cheaper. Of course, the full supply chain has to plan for a workload and delay can be difficult and frustrating to accommodate, but surely it is equally frustrating to be asked to return to a project 3 months later to fix damage to your hard work.
In a city like Dubai where the speed of construction and the scale of ambition has amazed everyone across the globe, many experience a sense of unease gazing upon the steel and glass monoliths that rise from the desert. Perhaps it is time that the Middle East became pioneers, not just of bigger buildings but better buildings? They have already proved they can achieve the impossible.
Collaborative design and early engagement with key stakeholders must be the cornerstone of design culture. Weekly co-ordination meetings should be boisterous affairs, with designs tabled, discussed and challenged. Without this healthy analysis of others' designs, we can only expect ‘Business As Usual’, at best.
Ambitious sustainability targets need to be tested and communicated with local supply chain partners at the beginning of concept design, not as work packages are procured. There is often a lazy assumption that by simply stating the requirements in specifications, sustainable, responsibly-sourced products will appear on the market in time for construction programmes.
London2012, often considered to have ‘set the bar’ with regards to sustainability, started communicating their sustainability expectations and offering technical guidance and support to the supply chain as early as 2006 through numerous workshops held in collaboration with the Construction Products Association (CPA). As a result, the UK saw more than 90% of concrete and concrete product suppliers obtain the BES6001 responsible sourcing standard, Ferrari developed a phthalate-free PVC tensile membrane, and there was extensive use of alternative materials such as cold-foamed bitumen and plastic kerbstones.
To be a ‘game-changer’ a client needs to guide and support their design team and supply chain partners in changing the industry's game. That means providing adequate time for design and a clear direction and commitment to innovation. It requires, not that the client seeks early contractor involvement, but early supply chain involvement.
A design team needs to escape from their silos and undertake interactive early stage design reviews – what good is the most efficient steel frame for a given architectural solution, if the actual location of columns, openings and spans has not been explored between architect and engineer?
Contractors need to embrace the emerging tools and technologies available, and use them to creatively explore construction efficiencies, not just in terms of clash detection but to plan efficient use of manpower and machinery, adapt to delays and minimise the extent of rework.
To be a leader in sustainable construction we may have to accept a slightly slower pace of design and develop a more integrated approach in which communication is encouraged, responsibility is allocated and implementation is considered at the earliest stages of project planning.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Ecological impact assessment.
- Emission rates.
- Energy Related Products Regulations.
- Energy targets.
- Environmental impact assessment.
- Environmental legislation.
- Green building.
- Mean lean green.
- Site waste management plan.
- Sustainable development.
- Sustainable materials.
- Sustainable procurement.
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