Energy legislation to bite

I ran into a very well-connected acquaintance at a recent industry event last week and asked him about the ‘state of the nation’. “BIM is up but sustainability is down,” he said, reflecting the views of his clients.

Sobering, considering that interest  in all things green (although not necessarily action) has held up well during the recession. Could it be that, just as the green shoots of recovery are showing, commitment to sustainability is wavering?

If so, there’s legislation coming down the track that will focus minds again.

As part of Green Sky Thinking Week (28 April – 2 May) lawyers CMS Cameron McKenna hosted a British Council for Offices event on Improving the Environmental Performance of Offices. The BCO recently published a report with that title (you can download it here).

CMS Cameron McKenna partner Olivia Quaid set the scene with an overview of legislation and regulation. The EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive supports the target of a 20% increase in energy efficiency by 2020, compared with 2007. The Directive must be transposed into national law by the 5th June this year. Article 8 of the Directive requires mandatory energy audits for non-SMEs by December 2015, repeated every four years.

At the end of last month the UK Government published a National Energy Efficiency Action Plan setting out how the EU Directive would be implemented, including the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) to comply with Article 8. ESOS will place a new legal requirement on large enterprises to conduct energy audits.  The Government estimates it will affect around 7,300 organisations.

Looking further ahead, April 2018 is the deadline for buildings to be brought up to minimum energy efficiency standards (an ‘E’ rated EPC is proposed) or landlords may not be able to let them. This radical measure is softened by the caveat that if not at least E rated then the landlord must have carried out the maximum package of measures that can be funded under the Green Deal.

The first speaker, Arup’s David Richards, returned to a common theme: “Part L of the Building Regulations, BREEAM scores and EPCs are all good benchmarks but they don’t represent the reality of how buildings perform.”

Richards said there didn’t seem much willingness to make Display Energy Certificates (DECs) mandatory and according to the BCO most commercial offices will have an F or G rating. You have to wonder how much use all this benchmarking and certification is when the gap between design performance and in-use energy consumption can be so wide. For Richards the real issue is peak use of power. London’s electricity demand  will come within 4% of peak supply next year he asserted.

Tamsin Tweddell of building services engineers Max Fordham offered some practical guidance, advising the audience to start simple and build up detail over time. Analyse utility bills, commission a DEC, install sub-meters and run automated data collection. She suggested a couple of tools that can help: the Real Estate Environmental Benchmark initiative from JLL and Better Buildings Partnership and Landlord’s Energy Statement/Tenant’s Energy Review from the British Property Federation.

Jonathan Ward, also of Arup, continued the practical theme with some advice on understanding users’ experience of buildings. This certainly makes sense as user behaviour can be a major contributor to energy reduction.

His primary recommendation? Start at the top. “I’ve seen too many organisations start work only to abandon the project because they don’t have senior buy-in,” he said. Beyond that, there are three key issues: building systems to give you the data; willing facilities management and a grasp of the HR issues related to customer feedback.

All three speakers contributed to the BCO report which covers more than energy and is particularly forward thinking in its coverage of occupant satisfaction as a factor in both productivity and performance.

In his foreword to the report, the chairman of the BCO’s Environmental Sustainability Group and director of Environment & Sustainability at Gardiner & Theobald, Richard Francis says: “As an industry we are becoming information rich. As that happens, we are less trusting of the sustainability standards and labels that have traditionally conferred status. We want proof. The options are clear: performance or obsolescence.”

Cathy Hayward