The building services sector has eagerly embraced sustainability as a powerful weapon in the battle to conquer climate change. But, asks Mike Jenkins, how many people understand what sustainable development really means and appreciate its full commercial potential?
Designing, developing and installing sustainable building services solutions can lead to a positive double whammy.
First, it helps the heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) sector reduce the potentially devastating impact of climate change.
Second, it allows businesses to gain commercial advantage by being recognised as experts in integrated energy systems and low-carbon solutions.
Before we are in a position to take advantage of these benefits, however, we need to agree what sustainability actually means — and it is here that we hit a problem. People have widely differing understandings of the definition of sustainable development.
Google ‘sustainable development definition’, and you are confronted by almost 3.5 million results.
Even dictionaries offer subtly different interpretations of its meaning. Depending on the source you consult, it is ‘capable of being continued at a certain level’, ‘a method of using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged’, ‘able to be sustained for an indefinite period without damaging the environment, or without depleting a resource’, ‘maintaining a delicate balance between the human need to improve lifestyles and feeling of well-being on one hand, and preserving natural resources and ecosystems, on which we and future generations depend’… the list goes on and on.
For me, the neatest definition was formulated in the late 1980s by the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations, an organisation created to address growing concerns about the accelerating deterioration of the environment and its consequences for economic and social development.
The commission came up with this beautifully simple definition: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’
This definition is a potent call to action, and our sector is well-placed to respond to it positively because we specify, supply and fit the renewable technologies — solar thermal and photo-voltaic systems, heat pumps, biomass boilers, wind turbines, and so on — that can make it happen.
But this will only be possible if we get to grips with the perplexing range of schemes aimed at encouraging sustainability. So, for example, we need to understand the renewable heat incentive, feed-in tariffs, the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, the Code for Sustainable Homes, the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the Energy-Related Products Directive etc.
This begs a fundamental question: ‘Where can we go for help and education about this confusing array of initiatives, programmes, policies and regulations?’
One answer is M&E Sustainability, which promotes members of the Heating & Ventilating Contractors' Association (HVCA) as experts in ‘integrated energy systems’ who can take an holistic approach to satisfying clients’ growing needs for sustainable building-services solutions.
You can follow the links to this organisation’s website from the ‘advice and guidance’ section of HVCA Business Plus (www.hvcabusinessplus.co.uk), a central repository of all HVCA group companies.
HVCA Business Plus helps large and small businesses in the HVACR industries boost their efficiency and profitability by offering suggestions and assistance on a range of specialist services.
We can, I think, all agree that there is a pressing need for the building-services sector to adjust to a fast-changing M&E landscape. Over the coming decade, the business environment and skills we will require will be transformed beyond all recognition.
This will be good or bad news for your company, depending on its attitude to change. There are huge opportunities in the design, specification, installation and maintenance of sustainable technologies. Conversely, those who are not properly skilled in these areas and who are unaware of the issues surrounding them will be left behind and are unlikely to survive in a ferociously competitive business environment.
Mike Jenkins is business-development manager of Welplan and group co-ordinator of HVCA Business Plus.