Engineering in a world of climate change

The role of engineers in social awareness and influence — CIBSE’s new president, John Armstrong.
CIBSE’s new president, John Armstrong, believes that reducing the energy consumption of buildings is increasingly a key role of building-services engineers — with convergence driving the engineering and technology of the future.Reducing the energy consumption of buildings in the UK in response to the threat of climate change demands that the building-services industry must not be afraid to look back at previous projects. In doing so, they must learn from successes and failures . Value of experience That is how John Armstrong, the new president of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers sees the value of experience and history. And he has considerable experience of operating buildings — rather than designing them or building them, having spent his working life in the management, care and main- tenance of buildings and their engineering services. Indeed, he is currently a self-employed property consultant specialising in engineering maintenance. His previous experience includes 18 months with Ove Arup & Partners in facilities management, 11 years in the property division of Barclays, seven years in the building operators section at the Building Services Research & Information Association (BSRIA) and eight years in the health service. Little wonder that he is a recognised specialised authority in building-services maintenance. Among the publications he has produced are the ‘CIBSE guide to owning, operating and maintaining building services’. Rare Presidents of CIBSE tend to be consulting engineers. A few have been contractors, and even fewer have been manufacturers. But a CIBSE president specialising in the operation of buildings, rather than design and construction, is rare — if not unique. In his presidential address last month, John Armstrong argued the case for a better understanding between facilities managers, building operators and those undertaking design. He explained, ‘Facilities managers and building operators have a wealth of experience and knowledge which is not readily sought by designers. It may be that historically, those taking on the role of facilities managers did not have the confidence to meet the services designers as equals, but that must be a thing of the past. ‘To fully complete the circle, we must as a profession be prepared to judge how buildings have performed in practice, acknowledging where there have been significant successes, but also recognise that not all buildings have been perfect and there is considerable room for improvement.’ Influence The objective is, of course, to make a major dent on the 50% of energy used in the UK to provide heating, cooling, lighting and power for buildings. Part of the challenge is to influence the people who occupy, run and operate buildings. John Armstrong says, ‘I contend that CIBSE needs to be part of the understanding process of how behaviour can be influenced to reduce energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions.’ Once a building has been designed and built, he explains, ‘The day-to-day use of these services is the responsibility of the building users, but, though some of them are influenced by energy managers, this is a role and opportunity that could be said to not have achieved its full potential.’ And it is at this point that John Armstrong stresses that facilities managers play an important role in how buildings meet the needs of owners, operators and building occupants. ‘Facilities managers must be regarded as important people in the operation, management and maintenance of our building stock. A growing number of CIBSE members now work in the FM arena.’ Contraction and convergence John Armstrong sees the drive to reduce energy consumption in the UK as not just in response to the Building Regulations and the Government target to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 but the worldwide perspective of contraction and convergence. He explains that the Global Commons Institute defines contraction and convergence as a framework for a smooth transition to a low level of greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity. Contraction means stabilising greenhouse gases at a safe and stable level, with annual reductions towards that target. Convergence defines an equitable distribution of carbon-emission rights among states. — the allocation for each nation and the change that nation must make each year to reach the safe target. ‘For developed countries such as the UK, this means a reduction. Perspective/ ‘To put this into some perspective, in one week this year, average UK householders are responsible for the same amount of carbon emissions as the average person in the world’s poorest countries would produce all year. ‘The World Development Movement suggests that each person should be limited to 1.1 t of carbon dioxide per year. By my calculations, at our present use, that means that by mid-February, we had more than used up our allowance.’ On the role of CIBSE and its members in addressing contraction and convergence, John Armstrong is concerned that CIBSE sees convergence as an economic process that must follow a political agenda. ‘CIBSE does not see itself sitting comfortably in this arena when its role is to be a learned society of an engineering discipline. Yet it is people who occupy, run and operate buildings. I contend that CIBSE needs to be part of the understanding process of how behaviour can be influenced to reduce energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions.’ It is against the backdrop of contraction and convergence that John Armstrong believes that CIBSE and building-services engineers are, whether they like it or not, moving into area of social awareness and influence. ‘It is safe and easy to claim that convergence is an economic and political issue, but it is convergence which will drive the engineering and technology of the future.’ John Armstrong is concerned that engineers will be left out of the debate if they do not modify their stance. ‘We will also deprive the communities in which we live of the unique contribution we can make to solving the problems. ‘Climate change presents CIBSE’s membership with the greatest, most important responsibility this institution has ever faced. We must not shirk that responsibility for fear of getting our hands dirty.’
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