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On leading the UK - GBC

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Paul King took the reins of the UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) in June 2007, five months after it was founded. He talks to Hattie Hartman about the trials of the first year, working with bigwigs, and his plans for the organisation

What might be the impact of the government’s various new sustainability policies?

I think we need to see more action in terms of delivery of the zero-carbon goals. We need a programme that looks at buildings, products, skills and training, energy supply, and public awareness agendas all in concert.

The 2016 goal [for all new homes to be zero-carbon] is do-able, but it’s tight and happening at a time when the government is asking for much bigger housing delivery numbers as well. There’s a lot of pressure on getting this right.

How will this affect architects?

Volume housebuilders are realising that the way to do this is to fundamentally rethink how homes need to be designed. I’m seeing more opportunities for architects to get involved in mainstream housing. Developers like Crest Nicholson and Barratt are working with architects and engineers to figure out what houses built to the Code for Sustainable Homes might look like.

One of the things that the code needs is support from the planning system. We need policies that focus people on carbon reduction and what should be happening at a local level that can compliment national standards.

We believe the forthcoming Public Policy Statement on climate change should urge local authorities to be much more proactive in developing lower carbon strategies with developers. I hope we can build on things like the Merton Rule (see page 43) to encourage the growth of a decent renewables industry.

And what about the contribution of nondomestic buildings?

Since the 2016 goal was announced, the UK-GBC has been thinking about a timetable of similar targets for nondomestic buildings. Non-domestic poses additional challenges when it comes to meeting energy needs through renewables – particularly in buildings with high energy use which are located in built-up areas, where you only have so much roof and facade.

We’ve established a UK-GBC task group to think about the implications of zero-carbon homes for mixed-use and non-domestic buildings. Having produced a significant amount of evidence from our members, we are beginning to discuss time frame and costs. The draft report was reviewed on 12 November, and will be finalised in the next few weeks. Then we’ll figure out where to go in terms of implementation.

What are your thoughts on the BRE?

Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) vs the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) debate and the way forward in the UK? I think you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. We have ended up asking our members what they think of BREEAM – especially given how the LEED rating system has developed and grown. The important thing is transparency, and confidence from the industry that BREEAM is the right methodology. The US Green Building Council was established at the right time, though there is still a gap between the number of projects registered for LEED and those assessed. That is something the UK-GBC is looking at now.

The other issue is compulsion. We’re starting to get some forward-looking clients like Marks and Spencer who are saying we have to specify these standards. BREEAM has been around for a long time, but it has only been in the last couple of years that market demands have really kicked in. If you look at a graph on the take-up of BREEAM now, it is a fairly steep trajectory. A lot of anecdotal feedback suggests that LEED sets levels lower than BREEAM, therefore it’s easier to achieve higher levels. But then you have a whole debate about whether it’s better to have broader take-up of a lower standard or to have a lower take-up of a high standard.

Do you have specific objectives for the UKGBC’s one-year mark?

When I started I asked colleagues what our success criteria would be. They responded with a wide range: influencing governmental policy, bringing the industry together, and building a broad membership base. We need to raise the bar. It’s kind of a case of, ‘Ask not what the UK-GBC can do for you, but what you can do for the UK-GBC.’ The space between government policy and industry activity has proven to be fertile ground for the US – many parts of the industry are up for a radical agenda.

How should task forces work in this system?

We are working towards a fully transparent constitution by which any member can join governing committees and the board through elections. A lot of the actual work will be done through task groups, which are available to any member. Far and away the most active task force has been non-domestic buildings. In terms of incentives: the low-hanging fruit would be to equalise VAT on new build

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