The crucial need for green engineering to be upfront
Developed from a standard-plan office design, Solais House has a Grade A Energy Performance Certificate and a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating.
Cal Bailey shares his views and experiences of the importance of planning for sustainability from the outset of a project rather that adding features later.Green engineering is intrinsic to any sustainable development and needs to start from a blank sheet of paper, rather than becoming merely a bolt on at a later stage of a project. Considering green measures at the upfront planning stage is the only way ensure the best use of natural resources in every element of work in order to achieve the lowest possible carbon emissions for that building. The premise of green engineering is utilising energy sources and technologies which are as carbon efficient as possible whilst also being practical for the project in hand, thereby minimising the use of non-renewable resources. This approach should be the starting point for any planning stage if the end product is to be truly sustainable and encompass the entire life-cycle of a building to reduce its environmental impact from beginning to end. One of the key objectives in planning a sustainable build from the early stages is to ensure that the systems, materials and technologies deliver an holistic and integrated end-result, which can be accurately described as a truly green building. NG Bailey has experience first-hand as both the contractor and client that adopting this working practice early on is beneficial for both parties. Solais House, our new Scottish headquarters at Strathclyde Business Park, is the first standard-plan office in the UK to be awarded an Energy Performance Certificate Grade A. It is also has a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating — both due to the efforts from an early stage. A further commercial advantage of ensuring all bases are covered in terms of sustainable measures from the outset is cost. Implementing systems and technologies in the initial designs is far more economical and energy-efficient than adding them in an ad hoc fashion throughout later stages of work. Even more costly and complex than that approach is adding such measures after the development is complete and its status as a sustainable property could receive criticism. Whether working on a sustainable development or a standard build, a number of challenges and constraints often present themselves throughout, which can cause project delays and additional cost. However, in developing a sustainable building, thorough groundwork in the initial stages can minimise or even avoid the need to spend further time and money in the long run. The first, and arguably the most important, principle is defining the objectives of a development in terms of its target level of energy use — enabling the selection of the right materials and technologies to achieve these from the start. In the selection of materials, developers should aim to define high performance and low-impact materials as a priority throughout the project. This would include considering factors such as U values, ease of integration and origin of the materials required and making an effort to utilise those which are sustainably produced, recyclable or multiple-use and, ideally, locally sourced. At the drawing-board stage of any sustainable project, questions should be raised as to how environmentally friendly a particular process is and if an alternative would achieve higher standards of sustainability.
Solar PV was integrated into the glazing of the entrance of Solais House at the design stage.
Equally, the design of processes and systems should incorporate the need for them to be future proof and viable for a commercial after-life. A term that is often applied when considering sustainable systems is ‘biomimicry’, which is based on the idea that systems should reflect biological models . This most relevantly applies in systems where materials can be constantly reused in a continuous closed cycle rather than disposing of them to waste. One example of this is the implementation of a non-consumptive ground-source heat pump. The most desirable outcome, is for all the functions of a building to be truly integrated into one seamless system, by linking the digital and physical elements. Building-management systems can control up to 70% of a building’s energy use, therefore making it more cost effective. However, it can also have a significant and positive bearing on the working experience and, therefore, the productivity of the occupiers. Often overlooked, is the impact of a building on the health and well-being of its occupants, and ensuring the quality of the internal environment such as the indoor air quality is an important consideration and can be controlled by an integrated building-management system. At Solais House, we also considered the contribution of staff to the environmental impact of a building and where possible limited individual consumption. An example of this might be as simple as a car sharing programme or cycle shelters. With a range of principles to consider, investing in the necessary resource and a realistic timescale for a full and thorough planning stage at the beginning of a project, can result in a building that performs effectively and sustainably, providing the owner with a real return on investment. Cal Bailey is business planning and development director at NG Bailey.