Emma Gardner, a senior sustainability consultant based in Faber Maunsell’s Manchester office, explains why her specialism is set to become increasingly important in the construction industry

How did you become a sustainability consultant?

I qualified as a biologist studying mammals across Europe and America. During my studies I saw the need for a whole-area approach to conservation, bringing together environmental, economic and social issues. I eventually completed a PhD in sustainability within the urban built environment. I worked freelance for a couple of years before joining Faber Maunsell in 2007. Here my job gives me the opportunity to work with such a diverse range of sectors and organisations, creating positive change and truly making a difference.

What does your job entail?

I work on national and international projects implementing sustainability strategies and conducting sustainability assessments alongside the rest of the team – including our modelling and computational fluid dynamic experts. I am also responsible for training.

Why is sustainability such a key issue?

The services and resources which a sound environment provides are being severely affected by human activities, which ultimately has an impact on quality of life and the longevity of society and business. The climate is changing; pressures on natural resources are increasing. Sustainability, alongside associated policies and legislation, is driving change. Until recently, businesses concentrated on the economics of sustainability, often just adding on environmental measures as an afterthought, or when other business goals and priorities had been achieved. However, research suggests business practices are starting to change; more and more companies are accounting for their environmental impacts, implementing more efficient technologies, and adopting sustainability strategies, environmental management systems and best practices.

How is the construction industry responding?

The continuing development of construction regulations and design guidance presents its own challenge. One example is the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) of 2002, which led to the 2006 revisions of the Building Regs as well as energy performance certificates. The bar is being raised further by our own government, with an 80% reduction in carbon emissions superseding the previous 60% commitment. Further reductions will be required, leading towards zero carbon emissions from domestic buildings by 2016 and non-domestic by 2019. This will be accompanied by legislation relating to water efficiency, embodied energy and sustainable urban drainage.

Does the impact of sustainability related policy apply uniformly across the UK?

On top of national regulations, there are regional policies. These cover such things as regional carbon emissions, renewables policy, water efficiency and waste targets. For instance, Manchester’s Supplementary Planning Document and Planning Guidance Guide requires a 25% improvement on Part L of the Building Regs already, alongside water efficiency, drainage and waste management standards.

Will sustainability continue to be an issue?

Yes. Understanding and delivery of sustainability and the associated regulations is on the increase, but there is still more to be done. We need more joined-up thinking, more best practice and more strategic training. Individual companies need to inform engineers how to create affordable, sustainable engineering solutions. A good start for any services engineer is CIBSE’s Guide to Sustainability.