1.What are the differences between the green building markets in the UK compared to Italy?
UK and Italy are both very active in green building initiatives and markets. When talking about compliance, both are of course guided by the same European directives and regulations. However, European standards come in the first place from research and real life experiments.
In Italy, the Casaclima energy rating method has been one of the systems which inspired Energy Performance certificates as we know them today. Extensive and pioneering research on Life Cycle Assessment (which I am proud to have been a part of) has contributed to the general knowledge on embodied energy impacts in construction.
On the other hand, in the UK there has been a wide success of sustainability assessment checklists, such as BREEAM and Code for Sustainable Homes, which are almost everywhere a mandatory requirement for planning, therefore promoting sustainable solutions as standard practice.
In Italy, LEED is gaining more and more importance since the establishment of the Italian Green Building Council, and incentives for renewable and eco-refurbishments are most generous.
Between lesson learnt, experiments in different climates and cooperation in European funded projects, I see European countries as a ‘team’ with different skills and points of view which is continuing to enrich and inform us with innovative strategic and technical solutions for sustainable construction.
2.How can companies adopt the best environmental practice?
This depends on the type of company. If we are talking about architectural practices, it is recommended that they integrate passive design strategies, good daylight values, efficient mechanical systems and low or zero carbon technologies into their schemes. Sustainability Checklists such as BREEAM and LEED provide a good base to improve the sustainability levels above the regulatory standards. For interior design, there are tools such as SKA Rating to help with the offices’ interiors.
For construction companies, it is recommended to look at involving consultants early in the projects, adopt best practice in terms of site impacts (water, dust, energy, transport etc) and focus on the resource efficiency, through reclaimed recycled materials and minimisation of site waste. There are programmes available for site materials exchange that could be used and make sense economically. It is also highly recommended that contractors source their products and materials from certified suppliers/producers.
Suppliers of materials and products have recognised labelling systems to prove and enhance their sustainability levels. I would recommend a bespoke Green Guide Rating (from the BRE-Building Research Establishment), the responsible sourcing certificate BES 6001, still from the BRE and environmental labelling according to the ISO 14000 series called EPD-Environmental Product Declaration, just to name a few.
Any company, even running offices and businesses can look at progressively lower their environmental impacts through the EMS - Environmental Management System certification, in compliance with the ISO 14001 standard.
3.Are green building plans and operations more complex to carry out?
Designing a highly sustainable building involves, without any doubt, more effort and more specialised skills in design, construction and operation in comparison to a ‘standard’ building.
The key to a successful green design to me is efficiency and integration of different disciplines. We must ensure that the appropriate consultants are involved and tools/softwares are applied at the appropriate stage of the project; also costs and strategic studies should be undertaken in a phase still open to options and broad decision-making.
Operation is also a fundamental element. Buildings need to be run by informed staff and building occupants, but they will not necessarily be technically expert. This has to be factored in when designing a building.
4.What happens if the green building is not operated properly? Will this result in a recertification?
When a building is designed to achieve high performances, this assumes that the future occupants will run the mechanical systems and use ventilation, shading devices, water fittings and all the relevant systems appropriately.
Unfortunately it is not possible to foresee what the users’ behaviour will be. However, it is highly recommended that all possible efforts are made by the designers and clients to make systems as simply operable as possible, providing user guides or even actual training to building and facility managers.
This is not only a building performance issue. In fact, in designing green buildings, we want to make sure that the levels of comfort (thermal, visual, acoustic and air quality) are actually as they have been envisaged, and the occupants are happy.
Normally, no further certifications are required as a consequence of poor operation. However this is a sensitive subject and that is why working on Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is becoming more and more important.
Findings from customers’ interviews and metering actual energy and water usage give important data that will inform future designs.
5.How do you work sustainability not only into your projects but everyday day life as well?
Working in sustainability for buildings or masterplan design often means having not much of a focus on day-to-day ‘green’ living, from sorting the recycling to using thermostatic valves on the radiators at home.
This is why I have undertaken personal research for very practical everyday issues; this has brought me to modify my lifestyle in terms of monitoring energy, installing strips for draught proofing to my windows, aerated taps etc.
I do not believe in imposing life style choices to others, but I often give extensive advice to friends and family if they are interested in the subject. It is all about giving smart tips that make people’s life easier and at the same time save money in bills and give them satisfaction for being one step forward in their environmental friendly lifestyle.