When thinking about the function of a particular building it is important to remember sometimes increasing energy use may be beneficial
The need for us to become more productive as a nation seems to align well with the need for energy efficiency. Generally this holds true but there is a tension that is beginning to develop.
The last couple of years have seen a big rise in our awareness and recognition of the issue of health and wellbeing in the workplace and home. Who doesn’t offer its people lunchtime yoga anymore? I recently worked on the group that prepared the UKGBC’s report on health and wellbeing in homes and the WELL standard is now very popular; some buildings are already being built to its standard, despite its American focus, and many more are drawing inspiration from it.
This is for good reason. It is becoming a bit of a cliché and isn’t always true, but the cost of an office will typically be 90% people, 9% rent and 1% energy. Therefore a modest improvement in the health and wellbeing of staff or occupants will translate into large benefits for them and their work and contribute to our national productivity.
The kinds of issues that are relevant vary from the obvious to the obscure:
- Lighting – natural light and artificial light, as well colour temperature, rendering
- Air Quality – NOx, PMs, VOCs, formaldehyde, CO2 levels
- Water quality
- Encouraging healthy activity – cycling, walking, on-site facilities
- Occupant control
Some of the evidence around the impact on performance is very solid and some less so but the fundamental point is valid; better buildings can deliver better outputs. Buildings are built to enable people to do things; whether that is to type reports, manufacture goods, learn, or just to live, and we should be making our buildings as effective as we can for them to do that. We don’t construct buildings just to reduce energy demand, otherwise we might as well just not build them.
In some cases engineers are driven by energy efficiency regulations and cost to engineer buildings and systems that will not deliver the best outcomes for occupants
For consultants advising asset managers and owners of current buildings this is important. Although energy is crucial, partly because it incorporates issues such as air quality and CO2 emissions that do have an importance beyond simple cost, there is a bigger picture. We can improve air quality with high quality filters. We can improve lighting. We can increase ventilation rates. We can increase daylighting and provide more local control for occupants but generally they will use more energy. You get the same issue with new buildings where in some cases engineers are driven by energy efficiency regulations and cost to engineer buildings and systems that will not deliver the best outcomes for occupants.
Up to now energy management professionals have tended to think in metrics such as kWh per m2, lumens per Watt or similar. If we continue to use only these metrics we will remain in tension with what should be the ultimate aim. When we think about efficiency we need to think about it in the round, sometimes increasing energy use may be beneficial when it is increasing productivity. (Perhaps £s earnt per kWh will be a better metric.)
This has implications for asset managers, employers, consultants and even government where there may need to be a change in regulations. For all of us there may need to be a change of mindset.
Barny Evans is environmental associate director for WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff