The green revolution is forcing firms to review their business practices, and that’s a good thing, says Peter Saxby

The appetite for environmentally excellent buildings has never been greater. The chancellor wants zero-carbon non-domestic buildings by 2019, BREEAM director Martin Townsend wants our sector to lead the way in design innovation, clients want top-notch green buildings for zero added cost and we have to keep our businesses turning a tidy profit. The faint-hearted could see this as good reason to avoid green architecture, but in reality it’s good for our businesses as well as good for the planet.

BREEAM is the most comprehensive set of sustainable building standards, based on robust scientific evidence, and provides impressive tools to analyse the impact of the developments we are designing and the materials we are using. It’s well presented and easily accessible. However, with 11 BREEAM assessor manuals (one each for schools, healthcare, retail, offices, etc) and with each manual about 300 pages long, BREEAM cannot just be tacked on to a bid to make it a winning one.

With manufacturers rushing to enter the green market, identifying the products and systems with the best environmental credentials is increasingly time-consuming. And, as it’s still early days, there is a dearth of evidence on the payback of renewables. Will a product be as efficient 10 to 15 years down the line as it is when installed? How does a lay person make a value judgement?

With nearly 20 years’ experience in sales and engineering, I am more than equipped to secure new contracts for my company. But with BREEAM examining buildings for their impact on everything from loss of heritage to ozone depletion, developing bids for environmentally excellent buildings requires me to be a scientist, a humanitarian and a conservationist as well. Given the luxury of time, this is a surmountable (and interesting) challenge, but time is short in the world of tendering.

Navigating the BREEAM toolkits and manuals and dealing with the volume of information required to test the greenness and innovativeness of products and processes is a job in itself. We have not wasted out time in taking on someone who knows their way round BREEAM as well as someone with a manufacturing background who is able to interpret the green claims made by companies to find the most appropriate solution for each project.

Good housekeeping is everything, and firms will benefit from the attention they pay to improving efficiency

The Building Research Establishment introduced its environmental assessment method with the hope of stimulating demand for environmentally friendly buildings and challenging the market to provide innovative solutions that minimise the impact of development. Whether or not BREEAM has contributed directly to the growing appetite for eco-buildings is still a matter for discussion, but it certainly has forced companies to produce more innovative practices, processes and products. I don’t imagine the authorities gave much thought to the cost implication for trade and industry when developing their green policies, and so the bill that industry is picking up for environmental change is anyone’s guess.

The irony is that while we moan and grumble about costs, learning curves and administrative burdens, the government’s policy on green buildings may have inadvertently done businesses like ours a favour.

Responding to the green agenda has forced our hand in a way we least expected it to. The pressure to give clients more for their money – getting a decent BREEAM scoring on top of everything else we’re required to deliver – is compelling companies to review business practices, on everything from the way we operate on site to the materials we select, and from the suppliers we use to our internal processes. Good housekeeping is everything and the forward-thinking businesses will benefit from the attention they pay to improving efficiency.

We’re in an interesting time; a time where businesses have to reform to succeed.

Original print headline - Reform and prosper