Open-access content 4th November 2008
23 October 2008
by David Arminas
The message wasn't lost on the 200 delegates who attended the annual Irish Property and Facility Management Association conference in Dublin's Croke Park. Ireland's banking woes and a major report on the country's worsening environment shared the headline news on many of the nation's newspapers that day. Alongside news reports of the financial meltdown were stories of a major natural environmental report entitled "An Asset under Threat".
The report, the Environment Protection Agency's first such study for four years, scolded the nation for letting its commitments slip, from nitrogen emissions from cars, hazardous waste disposal and river pollution to wasting fish stocks and bio-diversity destruction. But some areas are getting better: recycling, commercial packaging, electrical goods disposal and public transport networks.
It was fitting that the conference chairman was Frank McDonald, also environment editor of the Irish Times, who himself had written an analysis of the EPA report for that day's issue. Conference delegates, including property developers, architects and FMs, were urged throughout the day to not let the sustainability side down. Now more than ever it is important to get involved in helping create a better built environment.
According to a speaker, Patrick Fletcher, an award-winning architect a sustainable design needs exceptional building services engineers and also exceptional FMs who understand the reality of how a building will be used. But too often FMs fail to understand the mechanical nuts and bolts of sustainable building services. These include air currents, stack ventilation, solar gain and thermal mass heating and cooling. The key for sustainable buildings is to let the physics of the building do the main services work. Add mechanical aids such as fans and heating where necessary only to boost natural occurrences Not knowing this lets FMs down when it comes to being part of an integrated design team. It is not that an FM needs to be an engineer, he said. They just need to know enough to understand the "why" of the designs.
Money is getting harder to borrow for major capital projects, a trend likely to continue for some time yet. The current climate means alternative technologies are becoming more a side-show to real energy efficiency measures. So-called 'green bling' - technologies that add to a corporate social responsibility image but offer little energy cost reduction - may be on the way out. FMs should get back to sustainable basics, said Brian Motherway, head of energy efficiency policy within the government's Sustainable Energy Ireland, a support agency for firms looking to improve their energy efficiency.
Motherway still gets calls from factory owners who want to put up a wind turbine to save electricity, yet are operating a large, inefficient 20-year-old lighting system. His advice is to first upgrade the lighting system and then map out total energy use. This type of action will help firms as they approach the 1 January deadline for having a building energy rating (BER), equivalent to the UK's energy performance certificate (EPC).
Investment banks often seek offices located in financial districts to be close to their competitors and major clients. But many buildings have significant historical, cultural and architectural meaning for a nation, region or city. The buildings could be 100 years old or one year old. Many structures are protected by law from alteration that could change their image and they are more likely to be available for rent than for purchase. As a result, there is limited scope for banks that wish to improve sustainable features apart from what is built into the structure, said Michele Facer, a member of the corporate real estate team at the investment banking division of Barclays Group.
Where possible the banking sector can, and does, look for sustainable offices and new-build if possible. The investment division recently built-purpose-built office in Johannesburg, South Africa, that was not in the financial district and so allowed many sustainable elements to be designed in, including solar shading for windows, orientation of the building, solar shading for windows, choices of local material for construction. The building is, as far as she knows, the only commercial building in South Africa to have double-glazing.
Sustainability has never been more important, noted one delegate, an FM for a major Irish bank. But it's getting tougher to sell the idea of sustainability to senior management mainly because of payback time. The sector's current financial pressures make retrofit sustainable systems difficult to sell, even if the payback time is as little as three years.