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IDEAS, RESOURCES, INITIATIVES - SOME TOOLS FOR SUSTAINABILITY

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

In this concluding part of our report on sustainability, our 15 case study practices share information about the tools, resources and initiatives that help them to practise green housekeeping and produce sustainable design. For a full list of the practices and more information see AJ 20.07.06 or visit www. ajplus. co. uk/sustainability PRODUCT AND TECHNOLOGY CHOICE You can split the world of greener product and technology choice very roughly in two - deeper green products and technologies, such as recycled-cotton-fabrics insulation or biomass heating, and green-filtering mainstream products, such as cladding or ceiling systems, for preferred alternatives. As sustainability becomes more mainstream the distinction is diminishing, but it's still there, especially for practices more pioneering in sustainability.

Practices specifying deeper green products often have to put in a lot of legwork tracking them down - identifying them, checking green criteria, establishing buildability, maintainability, price and potential delivery. Often they are helped by information shared with like-minded architects, and by websites such as:

Natural Building Technologies ( www. natural-building. co. uk);

Construction Resources ( www. constructionresources. com);

Association for Energy Conscious Building ( www. aecb. net); and Centre for Alternative Technology ( www. cat. org. uk).

What the pioneers in particular are doing, is helping to develop new markets, with the risks that go with that. Craig White, of White Design, talks of finding that there are only three suppliers for product X in the country, and that one tender price can be twice another. There can be issues of material miles, and many deeper green product manufacturers are small - while they or their suppliers may have a good product idea, they don't necessarily have a good business. They may be un-businesslike, or simply have gone out of business by the time a product is needed on site.

Sue Thornley, of Glasgow-based MAST, highlights one of the few examples where suppliers are beginning to cooperate in a traditional trade-association-like way that supports sustainability.

Others will follow. In this case it is for timber, a material much more widely used in Scotland (and Wales) than in England. The Scottish Forest Industries Cluster ( www. forestryscotland. com), which combines growers, processors and suppliers, allows architects 'to specify Scottish timber with confidence, almost all Forest Stewardship Council accredited', she says. The Scottish Hardwood Sawmillers ( www. ashs. co. uk) are also working together.

When trying to green-filter more mainstream products, the big issue is what criteria you apply. There is no definitive set.

There are books that help, often of a deeper green hue, such as:

Green Building Handbook, by Woolley and Kimmins (Spon);

The Green Guide to Specification, by Anderson, Shiers and Sinclair (Blackwell Publishing); and Handbook of Sustainable Building, by Anink, Boonstra and Morris (James & James).

Other issues which affect choice are set out below, with more detail in the case studies on our website.

RECYCLED COMPONENTS The distinction between reuse and recycling - the latter where some reprocessing is done before reuse - is rarely clear-cut in construction. Even a reused door is likely to need some reprocessing - like blocking-in where ironmongery has been, and redecoration.

So let's call it all recycling.

One issue is how to make recycling part of the procurement route. That's easiest of course if markets are establishing themselves, as they have with architectural salvage, though even there it is likely to be up to the architect to find the products at a suitable price. There is some change here.

Notably, WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme, ( www. wrap. org. uk)) is a national scheme trying to develop markets in recycled products and may have information on schemes local to you. ECD is also developing a scheme, plus how-to-do-it help, with engineer Faber Maunsell ( www. ecoconstruction. org).

Some practices have found promising that markets are emerging, such as Lewes-based BBM Sustainable Design's nearby Brighton and Hove Wood Recycling Project ( www.

woodrecycling. org. uk). The project is paid to collect wood waste from sites at lower cost, they say, than the contractor would pay for a skip. Importantly, the project has developed a grading system, with Grade I being good-sized ready-to-use timber pieces, Grade II being smaller and a bit damaged, and around 80 per cent rated at Grade III, which are offcuts, broken doors, etc. Broadly, Grades I and II can be reused on site; Grade III is seen as the potential basis for a wood-fuel market for biomass boilers and stoves. It is beginning to happen.

John Gilbert Architects wonders how recycling might be properly written into the procurement route of jobs - it is something we should be trying to do. Obviously it is more straightforward if a specific supplier exists, as in Brighton and Hove. But in one project for a housing association, looking round the association's 'estate' of housing schemes, Gilbert managed to pick up and recycle railings, setts, paving slabs, oorboards, two complete bathroom suites, insulation and bricks (previously laid in lime mortar).

As with Brighton and Hove, an important issue for recycling components can be their compliance with whichever mainstream standards are applicable. (One of the important things WRAP is doing is standards-development. ) John Gilbert has found that he can only use crushed demolition material as hardcore, and not as aggregate, which needs to meet tighter standards. And he cannot recycle roof tiles as he couldn't commit to how long they would last.

In another case, White Design managed to use 30 recycled doors in a refurbishment project, but after a lot of effort making the case to Building Control about their fire performance. As Craig White says, 'it's enjoyable but takes time and effort. You often do the hard work of finding and justifying materials and, happily, can find it's cheaper'.

ENGAGING WITH THE SUPPLY CHAIN In last week's article we noted that contractors were often seen as the most intransigent organisations, ones that will only change if forced by legislation. The contractor's own preferred product sourcing and efforts at product substitution often show that the project's sustainability principles have not been taken on board.

Such pessimism is not universal though. Developing the use of recycled components, noted above, is one example of a broader trend. Several, mainly smaller, practices are increasingly involved with the supply chain in a very hands-on way as a general strategy for delivering a greener architecture. Reform by direct action.

For White Design this includes going to the woodland to see what coppicing produces, or to the sawmill to see logs cut and then to change the design to make better use of available sizes. It all takes time, and there are the risks of being an early adopter. As Craig White says, it takes 'self confidence and bloody-mindedness'.

Jon Broome provides a very apposite, broad definition of specification in this context: 'The ability to tap the effectiveness of subcontractors and suppliers.' As a self-builder he knows that specification entails more than words on paper. Delivering a project can involve understanding the manufacturing process and supply chain, finding the right people and getting on with them, knowing what happens on site and when it is appropriate to intervene. As Broome says, 'if you don't understand the way the industry is organised you are not going to get very far'.

Often making a difference is just a matter of small steps.

There are always new things on site anyway and something greener often just needs explaining - the how and why - to avoid the specification remaining unread by site staff and their defaulting to their 'normal building practice'. For example explaining that foam insulation won't be crushed by a concrete slab or what a breather membrane does, as Mansel Architects was doing recently, and following through of course, to check that a polythene membrane had not been used as the breather membrane. Mansel's George Jones says he 'doesn't have problems finding contractors'.

KEEPING IT LOCAL Sourcing locally should, of course, save embodied energy in the form of material-miles. Sourcing does need to be checked, to ensure that all materials in any particular component (such as timbers in staircases) or assembly (such as kitchen units), are local too.

Another reason practices (including MAST, Mansel Architects and Architype) gave for local specification was that it encourages local employment, which in turn will help sustain the local community.

BUILDER OF THE MONTH One practice remaining positive about contractors is White Design, with its introduction of a Builder of the Month award. Would it work? After initial hesitation, it has. The site agent nominates one or more of the site staff for green actions or ideas - in one case suggesting using the site huts to sort site waste. The presentation and prize crate of beer cost the practice £50/month/site and garner much goodwill, according to Craig White.

HARDER FOR BIGGER PROJECTS Architects' opportunities to get hands-on in delivering projects become fewer as projects get larger and more formally structured, and/or because the procurement route is design and build. This was the experience of most of those practices less enamoured of contractors. Other procurement routes worked better than design and build, however: Atkins, Atelier Ten and White Design spoke positively of partnering contracts. Harder work, certainly, but much more of a joint commitment to the project objectives.

Some also detect a change among contractors - not across the board, but significant. PRP's recent seminar on sustainability included project partner Nick Shattock of Taylor Woodrow among the speakers. Wilmott Dixon gets a few mentions too, and is part of a joint schools venture with White Design.

As Patrick Bellew of Atelier Ten notes, there's a lot of talk about setting project agendas with clients, but less so with contractors. John Christophers of Associated Architects says 'things are changing - [contractors] are more receptive than say five years ago'. Some are 'really good', offering suggestions themselves.

And if you think delivering green projects is hard, conservation is harder, suggests Peter Holden of Acanthus Holden.

A UK GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL If the supply chain is problematic, one step is industry reform, part of which could come from the formation of a UK Green Building Council (GBC). Atelier Ten has observed the US and its GBC ( www. usgbc. org) running LEED (the US BREEAM). US GBC is commercially successful ($24 million (£13 million)/year turnover) though has only accredited 1,500 buildings since 1995, a similar total to BREEAM. One attractive aspect is that the US GBC focuses on the whole supply chain. Contractors and suppliers are among its 6,500 members, offering more potential than BREEAM for working to common objectives. A UK GBC is now starting up ( www. ukgbc. co. uk).

HOUSEKEEPING All of the case study practices are working at greening their own housekeeping. Here are the main categories from the case studies:

Environmental audits - Feilden Clegg Bradley (FCB) has commissioned external audits of its practice. Others have done their own, especially establishing their carbon footpints. John Gilbert Architects, for example, knows that computer and lighting emissions are 10 tonnes/year; transport, 7 tonnes. Atkins tried turning off computers and checking the changed meter readings.

Associated Architects found lights consumed more than computers.

Such numbers help in prioritising action.

Premises - the practice office affects client perceptions and staff morale. Architype's new office is an essay in timber (and it checked the practice's new transport carbon footprint following the move).

ECD has a newly refurbished office, including a ventilation-air labyrinth below the oor. White Design is sited at the back of a warehouse of recycled art materials, not a location chosen to impress 'suits'. Acanthus Holden takes pride in (and attracts staff with) its rural location. And Mansel and Jon Broome are working from home.

Transport - congestion makes London the home of green travellers; the easiest place to use public transport and bikes.

Rural practices need cars most. Biofuel has been looked at by a few practices but reliable, widespread supply is missing today.

There's car pooling at Atkins and Architype. PRP and FCB use the Cycle to Work scheme to provide subsidised cycle purchase for staff (see box above). Bikes lined up in the FCB London lobby are a message to visitors and staff. Some pay cycle miles expenses for work use; White Design pays at the same rate as car miles as an incentive for cycle use. Some practices are looking at video conferencing and other technology to cut travelling to meetings.

Carbon offset - a few practices have joined carbon offset schemes, such as tree planting, to compensate for their fuel-use carbon emissions. Atelier Ten includes travel carbon offset costs on its invoices to clients - some pay (see box opposite).

Green tariff electricity - a few practices pay a bit more for electricity generated from renewables (see box opposite).

Recycling - you name it, someone recycles it - paper, cardboard, polywraps, plastics (particularly tricky), cans, toners, IT kit (some given to charities), mobile phones, etc. Food waste may be composted at home, or on the White Design allotment. Success is often limited by the local collection schemes - it can take a lot of legwork to carry through thoroughly.

Consumables - again, many opportunities - double-sided printing/copying, green cleaning products, Fair Trade food, recycled paper for stationery, small prints of drawings. Jestico + Whiles internet-shops to cut food delivery miles to the practice.

Flag carriers - we won't mention anyone by name because they will all deny it in a fit of modesty and egalitarianism. But quite clearly several practices have had an individual or group which has been the practice sustainability ag carrier, often for a number of years when few of their clients, and sometimes fellow architects, were interested in sustainability. Their role is often shifting now, more toward management, to making sustainability the norm across all projects and staff.

Looking for sustainability inspiration? Visit the 'Inspiration' section on www. ajplus. co. uk/sustainability

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