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Thought Leadership

KLH Sustainability encourage a different approach to development and construction.  We support the adaption of ideas from other sectors and we champion a better way of working. Here we share some of our thoughts. We would welcome any comments or feedback you may have. 

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The Sustainability Narrative in Post-Brexit UK

By Abby Crisostomo, 16 August 2016

A month and a half after the historic EU referendum, you still can’t get through too many conversations without discussion of the implications of Brexit. The discussion, both hopeful and cynical, ranges from everyday life to national policy to the built environment industry. Staying in the EU or not, the... Read more

A month and a half after the historic EU referendum, you still can’t get through too many conversations without discussion of the implications of Brexit. The discussion, both hopeful and cynical, ranges from everyday life to national policy to the built environment industry. Staying in the EU or not, the UK government still has responsibilities to address climate change, the environment and sustainable development. The question remains how seriously we take that responsibility, particularly without the oversight (or constraint) of the EU. The answer, unfortunately, is not clear.

Brexit

With all the changes in government, delays in triggering Article 50 and lack of strategic vision for a post-EU UK, certainty and commitment are two of the key things needed from the government to reassure the sustainable built environment sector. As expected, the construction industry is feeling a slowdown and anticipating “continued hiatus in private project starts” across sectors. Cities are particularly impacted by the funding and trade implications of Brexit.

 

The post-Brexit changes to government, particularly the dissolution of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and embedding of those activities into the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) remind me of a similar shift in the City of Chicago a few years ago. At the time, the city had a Department of Environment (DOE), but in 2011 it was shut down in favour of a cross-department Chief Sustainability Officer. The stated intent was to integrate environment and sustainability issues into all departments, rather than in a silo. The result was mixed. Some departments, particularly those that received the most staff from the DOE diaspora did quite well—the Department of Transportation’s sustainable strategy became an exemplar program. But many other environmental initiatives that didn't easily fall into the existing remit of other departments, such as waste and recycling, became weaker or fell through the cracks.

 

The shuffling of DECC into BEIS will be similar. Those initiatives that overlap well with existing business narratives and Greg Clark’s priorities, such as energy efficiency initiatives and decarbonising heavy industry, may continue as usual or even get a boost. Other topics potentially seen as conflicting with business growth may not.

 

With DECC out and Andrea Leadsom in to lead Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, climate change and environmental policies may end up at the "bottom of the government's in tray." There are many specific questions about the UK’s role on climate change, particularly in light of the Paris Agreement, that remain unanswered.

 

Evidence from the previous conservative government doesn’t provide a clear signal of their priorities. Recent policies like the Modern Slavery Act and the release of the fifth carbon budget are positive signs of the UK’s commitment to global sustainability. However, the withdrawal of Code for Sustainable Homes and the Zero Carbon standard, the dismantling of the Green Deal and UK poor performance against EU air and water quality targets indicate lack of commitment locally.

 

Out of the EU, there is even more at risk. Access to the EU skilled architecture and construction labour force and sustainable materials such as glulam timber could be more difficult. Long-term funding for research and for major infrastructure projects could slow to a trickle. Policies and projects within the UK already in the pipeline could be halted.

 

Whatever the approach, clear declarations need to be made about the driving forces behind policy change. An elected government comes with a plan and a mandate, but where does the accountability come from for this government? What is their strategy for addressing sustainability and the built environment? With the systematic defunding of Whitehall and local governments, who will be left to do the tedious, but crucial work of filling in the gaps left by removing EU legislation?

 

No strategy is a bad strategy

 

Indecision on whether to keep or change policy can lead to more risk and cost, stifling forward movement, shifting resources and creating confusion. The built environment, inherently risk-averse, ends up planning in parallel for stricter policy when direction is unclear. Withdrawal of policy without suitable replacement leaves outdated standards and conflicting requirements.

 

The industry needs a firm commitment as to the direction the EU disentanglement will go. Good or bad, it will allow the industry to focus our attention. In the meantime, the government should commit to hold all existing legislation and EU policies until suitable replacements have been evidenced, as they’ve started by guaranteeing EU funding that extends beyond the UK’s exit.

 

There is the potential for the UK to be a global leader in climate change and sustainability. Within the industry, though, we can’t be naïve and wait for it all to fall into place or remain the same. We have the opportunity to retain the best of EU policies and to improve on the rest. It could be an opportunity to radically change the way the UK does business and create a more progressive, sustainable, resilient, smart, economically viable and equitable place.

 

Until there is more leadership, we will have to fight battles on multiple fronts. We can’t only envision our dream scenarios, we simultaneously need to identify and lobby for what needs protecting. Frustratingly, this could mean less money, time and attention for innovation, new research and collaboration.

 

We need to be nimble enough to frame sustainability and the built environment within the narrative that dismissed experts. We need to pick our heads up out of our projects and engage with politicians, civil servants and perhaps most importantly local communities. Without the EU to oversee, we all have a responsibility to keep the UK on the right track.

 

 

 

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The Art and the Science of Sustainable Development

By Abby Crisostomo, 30 September 2015

  "numerical benchmarks are not themselves the goals, but the indicators for whether goals are being achieved” Development is a complicated business. Almost all projects arrive on the desks at KLH with a complex web of performance indicators, planning requirements and profit margins. It is an interesting challenge to make sure the... Read more

The Art and the Science of Sustainable Development title

 

"numerical benchmarks are not themselves the goals, but the indicators for whether goals are being achieved”

Development is a complicated business. Almost all projects arrive on the desks at KLH with a complex web of performance indicators, planning requirements and profit margins. It is an interesting challenge to make sure the many moving pieces stay on track to meet targets, while ensuring there is space for creativity, knowledge advancement, capacity building and innovation. Though these things are never mutually exclusive, in the name of certainty and simplicity, it can be easier to reduce sustainability to tick boxes and nice-to-haves, missing the big picture and the real opportunity for improvement.

 

In recent weeks, the media has been abuzz with news of the downfall of Volkswagenafter they admitted to creating technology in their diesel cars to dupe emissions tests in the U.S. No one knows for sure their reasons for cheating as opposed to investing in research that could actually make their cars less harmful to the environment and society as a whole. They ran the numbers and somehow decided that covering up their failure was better for business than actually improving their cars. We can learn from Volkswagen; business myopia which leads to poor decision-making and rewards immediate profit over long-term value, will always back-fire…often sooner than expected.

 

Like corporations, new developments have many competing priorities to balance: regulatory compliance, engineering, saleability, creative design, placemaking, buildability, liability, sustainability, safety, public perception, technology, profitability, the list goes on. Each of those issues is complex on its own, but what often happens in the name of manageability, ease of implementation and certainty is that they are translated as budget line items.

 

Sustainability gets reduced to products, technology and accreditation schemes. In this way, they can be compared and assessed as apples to apples, which in turn can make it easier to make decisions and track progress, but also to miss nuances and lead to unintended consequences or failures of implementation.

 

What might this reliance on simplified definitions look like?

 

It might be sustainable homes that only ‘eco-warriors’ want to live in. Or the installation of grey water reuse technologies that reduce potable water use, but increase life-cycle energy consumption  and financial cost. It can be found in the post occupancy performance gap, or in the application of technologywithout considering the role of people, politics and society in gaining value from the technology.

 

In the case of Victoria, Australia, they rolled out smart meters claiming people would get energy savings, but didn’t communicate and work with residents to actually achieve those monetary or environmental benefits. When it comes to setting and reporting against performance requirements, it is easier to say “x number of smart meters were installed,” quietly ignoring whether the outcomes were as intended. This can lead to mistrust in both the technology and the implementer and can set back progress on innovation.

 

That is not to say breaking complex things into simple deliverables is the wrong thing to do.

 

Architects, engineers and developers need to progress with clarity, balancing priorities while making places that people will want to live and work. And they must do so in the face of all the uncertainty of the regulatory environment, future technology changes, price volatility and the ambiguity of working with and marketing to fickle and often unpredictable human beings.

 

But too much certainty may mean stifling innovation or processes that have not been tested or are too difficult to count or monetise, such as capacity and relationship-building. Like the smart meters in Victoria, many of the gains to be made in sustainability have as much to do with management and mentality as with technology. But it is harder to pin a number down on paper and put it out to bid on that alone, so we put a lot of effort and emphasis in technology, engineering solutions and countable things that can be easily pitched to investors, depicted in infographics, held up as benchmarks and subcontracted down into tiny parts.

 

Of course, we cannot throw out all the technologies and metrics and leave everyone to run experiments. It is not a matter of either/or. We can keep our risk management systems, but build in more contingencies and buffers to allow for flexibility or trial innovation. We can remember there are rarely simple solutions to anything and ask hard questions of anything that claims a cure all. We can value communication, includingqualitative information that can add context to simple dashboards. We can make time to teach everyone from design to construction to sales how their efforts fit into the bigger picture of sustainability, rather than having them rely on a separate expert. And we can keep sight of goals and individual motives, remembering that numerical benchmarks are not themselves the goals, but the indicators for whether goals are being achieved.

 

As with most things, the trick is finding the balance between getting it right and getting it done.

 

Part of why we simplify things is to make it easier to act on, but we need to balance this with making sure that what is done is still worthwhile. Something is not always better than nothing. Doing it the right way is usually harder than ticking off boxes. We are keenly aware of this at KLH, so we approach each project with a strategy bespoke to the needs of that project and the people working on it. We pair number crunching with discussion, data analysis with data gathering, all in an attempt to continually work to reconcile certainty and simplicity with flexibility and complexity.

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6 Steps to Making Your Tender Shine

By Chloe Souque, 26 March 2015

Over the past months, I have sat in numerous tender interviews and scored tender responses. The contrast between the glossy corporate websites and the actual understanding of sustainability issues in commercial teams is stark. I have heard countless uninspiring presentations and reviewed the same bland responses.   I have rounded some tips... Read more

Oshutterstock 97604120ver the past months, I have sat in numerous tender interviews and scored tender responses. The contrast between the glossy corporate websites and the actual understanding of sustainability issues in commercial teams is stark. I have heard countless uninspiring presentations and reviewed the same bland responses.

 

I have rounded some tips you may want to follow to make your tender stand out next time:

 

1- This will sound obvious but make sure you have understood the requirements of the client or at the very least have taken the trouble to read them.

 

2 - Demonstrate current performance against your organisation’s targets. It will provide confidence your company is proactively monitoring sustainability issues.  If performance is not great, don’t try to gloss over it. Share your challenges honestly to demonstrate how your company is striving for continuous improvement. Embedding sustainability is challenging; anyone painting too much of a rosy picture is either not aware of the full spectrum of the impacts or resting on their laurels. If your organisation does not have any targets, have a well-articulated explanation up your sleeve so you don’t look like a fish out of the water when challenged on this front.

 

3- Select a few concrete sustainability best practices or innovation to illustrate how your company can contribute to your “future” client’s objectives. This will bring your tender to life and make it more tangible. Remember it is not a contest on how many synonyms of “sustainable” you can blurt and you definitely won’t get brownie points even if you manage to say “green”, “responsible sourcing”, “low impact” and “recycling” in the same sentence…

 

4- Don’t copy-paste your environment policy as a response to a question. Failing to articulate a concise and pertinent response will suggest that your company lack the required knowledge on the matter.

 

5- Highlight the work undertaken with your supply chain to improve its performance. A number of organisations (conveniently) like to claim they do not have any influence outside their “gates”. The reality is where there are monetary transactions there is leverage. So start identifying key suppliers that will help you deliver your and your clients’ sustainability objectives.

 

6- Last but not least, involve your sustainability team at the start of the tender process.  Ask them to input in the tender and to brief you properly. On certain high-profile tenders it is always a good idea to bring a sustainability professional along.

 

If a potential future client has included sustainability requirements as part of a scope of works, or asked specific questions in the PQQ and/or ITT, make sure you allocate sufficient time and resources to provide a suitable response. Even if the sustainability section “only” accounts for 5-15% of the overarching mark, more often than not it will be just enough to differentiate you from your competitors.

 

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