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Government must streamline its ‘hopeless mish-mash of conflicting green policies’

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As part of the Bridge the Gap campaign, the AJ brought together a top-flight panel to identify pressure points to unlock change. Hattie Hartman reports.

Building performance should be written into contracts and the government must streamline its myriad green policies, industry experts have advised to bridge the building performance gap. The top-flight panel of sustainability specialists put forward their suggestions at an invited roundtable as part of the AJ Bridge the Gap campaign. The following transcript is a summary of their recommendations.

The panel

  • Sunand Prasad, senior partner, Penoyre & Prasad (chair)
  • Bill Bordass, principal, Usable Buildings Trust
  • Hywel Davies, technical director, CIBSE
  • Katharine Deas, managing director, Low Carbon Workplace
  • Richard Francis, director, The Monomoy Company (Gardiner & Theobold)
  • Irene Gallou, partner, Foster + Partners
  • Hattie Hartman, AJ sustainability editor
  • George Martin, professor, Coventry University (Willmott Dixon)
  • Jenny Pidgeon, director of responsible property development, Henderson Global Investors
  • Andy Stanton, head of sustainable buildings, Transport for London
  • Anna Surgenor, senior technical advisor, UK Green Building Council
  • Ian Taylor, partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Bridge the Gap

Source: Anthony Coleman

The panel in session at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

1. Streamline existing green policies and initiatives

Bill Bordass At present we have a hopeless mish-mash of conflicting policy measures split between different departments and a mayhem of industry measures. Aligning the various requirements isn’t a million-pound job; it is relatively straightforward. If we had 0.002 per cent of the HS2 budget to build some technical infrastructure for building performance, we’d get an awfully long way.

Hywel Davies On the convergence of the regulation, there are four or five existing strands: the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), Energy Performance of Buildings regulations with different methodologies and measurements (doing very similar things to very similar assets as the CRC) and Greenhouse Gas reporting. Now there is a new European requirement for energy audits. If the Department for Energy and Climate Change were to bring the methodology for these together, you could save industry a small fortune. Implementing the energy audit requirement could be a deregulatory measure.

Sunand Prasad The professional institutions could get together and develop a proposal to align all of these initiatives and we could all sign up to it.

2. Enforce existing regulations

Hywel Davies To the average Building Control officer, enforcing Part L is never going to be high on their list of priorities. They are more worried about making sure a building doesn’t burn or fall down. To make life easier for the Building Control officer, professionals ought to be required to sign off that they have commissioned the building to the required standard. This was one of CIBSE’s recommendations in the recent Part L consultation.

Sunand Prasad If you trawl the government buying standards on the Defra website, you will see some fantastic stuff there. If you arrived from Mars and read it, you would say: ‘This country has got it sorted’. According to the standards, the government should only procure things that meet those aims. But they are not quite enshrined in law, so there is plenty of wriggle room. If they were enforced, it would be very, very good.

Andy Stanton I have been involved in new buildings, improvements to existing buildings and managing existing buildings, and we do apply all those procurement rules. We put them in our tenders, in our documentations, in our briefs; we put them in contractually. Where we are let down is in enforcement. Badly enforced or unenforced regulation is more of a burden on business than no regulation.

3. Invest in and promote the use of Display Energy Certificates

Bill Bordass DECs disclose in-use performance and may have done more than anything to expose the performance gap. However, they have been under-supported by government. There has been no government investment in benchmarking before or since the launch, and no extension to private sector buildings.

Anna Surgenor We must roll out voluntary DECs, building on work under way at the UK Green Building Council in collaboration with others.

Richard Francis Putting operational data into the market can be a game changer.  Making performance transparent enables you to identify which are the energy-efficient buildings. Then you can find out very quickly which designers are associated with the good buildings.

4. Develop standard metrics and benchmarks

Richard Francis We don’t have the evidence to know how well the buildings we’ve got are actually doing. Walk into any design team meeting and, when the architect or the engineer starts talking about their low-carbon credentials, ask them: ‘Could you give me one or two buildings that you have worked on that demonstrate that you are beating what we know to be the benchmark?’ It will stop the meeting cold.

There are a lot of benchmarks out there, but they are very confusing

Irene Gallou There are a lot of benchmarks out there, but they are very confusing.

Andy Stanton One of the important things is making data more open-source. CarbonBuzz is an excellent tool. Put the data out there, and let it speak for itself. If we have to wait for new studies and benchmarks, it will never happen.

Katharine Deas Aren’t we a bit too hung up on data? There are a number of reasons why the data doesn’t exist, and some of those are systemic in a way that is never going to change. The lack of data is an easy thing to hide behind.

Jenny Pidgeon The data is there, but it’s the analysis, isn’t it? Like all clients, we put the meters in because it is required, but we don’t actually require the correct information back from it. That is what is missing, not raw data.

Hywel Davies We need a couple of simple metrics: an energy metric and a CO2 metric, and they are not the same.

5. Write building performance into contracts

George Martin If a client wants a DEC A building, put it in the contract. People may walk out the door and say, ‘Sorry, I can’t be responsible for how this building is used’. But somebody will come back through the door and say, ‘How much do you want me to pay for this?’ It is about both process and behaviour. If you give the design and delivery team the responsibility to deliver a DEC A building with bonuses and minuses linked to that, it will happen.

Katharine Deas We work exclusively in commercial offices, and I spend most of my day trying to break existing practices, procedures and contractual arrangements that lead to not getting the kind of performance that we want. I take a people and processes approach, thinking less about the technical ambitions of the building, which people can get quite hung up on. I look at the interaction between people and why this interaction is not working. We have had reasonable success pushing that back into our contractual agreements and changing our ways of working.

6. Make building performance evaluation a mandatory part of architecture and engineering education

Sunand Prasad The real performance of buildings does not feature in architecture courses, and it seems to feature only partially in engineering courses. What probably does not feature in many engineering courses at all is people’s behaviour and the social aspects of what happens.

We must integrate buildings performance into architecture and engineering courses

Anna Surgenor We must integrate buildings performance into architecture and engineering undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

George Martin We did a review of MSc courses of performance of buildings in use. There is a little bit at UCL, a little bit at Loughborough and in October we are launching an MSc at Coventry specifically on the performance of buildings in use.

Bridge the Gap

Source: Anthony Coleman

Hywel Davies, Irene Gallou

Getting into specifics: The panel on…

Architects and building performance

Irene Gallou More and more, we try to separate the design aspects from what the users do, because we want to assess the design. You have to separate out how the building fabric performs. You also have to talk to the occupiers.

It is very interesting for us; we need to know. And we don’t rely on someone else to do it for us. We want to get direct feedback on our buildings, and that is something we have invested in. Hopefully in the future we could sell it as a service. That is where we would like to be.


Katharine Deas Building non-performance is a disaggregated issue across many stakeholders, for whom it has differing levels of interest, engagement and influence. To get the performance we want, every member of our multi-stakeholder industry needs to make small changes to their working practices and lead beyond their own area of accountability. There are too many silos and people just complete their area of the silo.

Bill Bordass The performance gap is about much more than energy. It results from the failure of the building professions and the government to engage with building performance in use. Professionals working across the industry should be obliged through their professional codes to engage with this issue.

The role of occupants

Katharine Deas Most of the bang for your buck in building performance comes from technical people understanding what they’re doing. But the occupants provide a feedback mechanism that helps the technical people get it right. I am looking at apps at the moment that can get the people on the floors recording in real time how they are feeling, because that will provide the feedback mechanism to the building manager.


Hywel Davies Buildings will never work as they are intended to if they are not commissioned properly. Any client should insist on seeing the commissioning records, signed off by a commissioning engineer, and get their senior building engineer taken around the building and shown around all of the systems before they agree to occupy it.


Ian Taylor The CarbonBuzz database is a useful piece of work, which, if it is endorsed and funded by the government, could be enormously beneficial. It allows you to look at the in-use carbon impact compared to the design carbon impact and identify where the differences are. If the government required every public building to input performance data into CarbonBuzz and gave some money to help analyse it, there could be enormous savings of carbon emissions across the country.

Mandating whole-life costing

George Martin We should introduce and preferably mandate whole life costing as the primary decision-making tool in the procurement process. Capital costs should become a secondary consideration.

Soft Landings

Anna Surgenor The Soft Landings process promotes adoption of the whole building process, from procurement to commissioning to in-use.

City Leadership

Sunand Prasad It’s worth acknowledging that city-scale government is the emergent force worldwide. Much of the future lies in their hands.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Streamline existing green policies and initiatives:
    "The professional institutions could get together and develop a proposal to align all of these initiatives and we could all sign up to it".
    Think you need to involve the contractor base for this to work. Certainly B&ES would be willing to contribute to this process

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