Nigel Howard is a busy but happy man. 'I have the best job I could have,' he says, having just taken over as director of the bre's Centre for Sustainable Construction, following the retirement of Roger Baldwin. He is trained as a chemist, not the most obvious discipline perhaps, but a lot of his work is to do with the embodied energy of products and, he says, 'I find it very useful. I can understand industrial processes and thermodynamics, so I can tell if I am having the wool pulled over my eyes'.
There is still a need for a greater understanding of sustainable construction, Howard believes. 'There is a lot of greenwash,' he says, 'a lot of talking about making things better without understanding how to do it.' Enhancing this understanding is exactly the aim of the Centre for Sustainable Construction. It is carrying out strategic work for government on understanding sustainable construction, developing the breeam assessment process, and working with 28 manufacturers to produce comparable life-cycle profiles of materials.
Creating the ability to compare like with like is one of Howard's major concerns, and he is also developing a design tool, envest, to aid the process. This flows on from work he carried out with his last employer, quantity surveyor Davis Langdon & Everest, making use of its existing skills in an unfamiliar direction. 'I was applying measuring skills to a whole range of different applications - to embodied energy and to co2 production.'
Howard has had an eclectic career, but one that has led inexorably to his current position. He started off working for the then Greater London Council scientific branch, and took his degree part-time. From there he went to British Gas, and then to bre, more specifically to brecsu, where he headed the commercial and public buildings section. And thence to dl&e until he was lured back to bre.
He has worked with many of the leading architects, and is currently involved with Bennetts Associates on its new headquarters for Wessex Water, trying to achieve an exemplary environmental performance. The core work at bre is also broadening out to look at sustainability on the level of estates and towns, and to deal with transport issues.
Howard is also a visiting lecturer at institutions including the Architectural Association and Oxford Brookes University. 'It is very useful to expose your ideas to fresh young faces,' he says. 'You get very good feedback and questions.'