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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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What Makes a Sustainable city?

By Kirsten Henson, 27 January 2015

On Wednesday 14th January I went back to Cambridge University to attend the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment review of their 2014 Sustainable Cities programme. I contributed to the forum last year as an expert witness and was invited to return to hear the panel discuss the... Read more

What Makes City sustainable v1

On Wednesday 14th January I went back to Cambridge University to attend the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment review of their 2014 Sustainable Cities programme. I contributed to the forum last year as an expert witness and was invited to return to hear the panel discuss the outcome of their year-long programme. As one might expect, the sustainable cities discussions threw up more questions than answers and was considered invaluable for directing future PhD and Masters Research within the University.

 

Diverse topics were discussed from design to governance. Of particular interest was the suggestion that we had a lot to learn from developing countries; a degree of elasticity and disorder was deemed critical for resilience. The developed world tends to have more fixed and structured cities and therefore when the barriers are breached, the consequences tend to be catastrophic. It was surmised that the resilient city lies somewhere between the regimented system of the developed world and the organised chaos of cities in developing countries.

The panel warned against a sole focus on climate change. Working in silos and optimising a single element of a city’s challenges is likely to lead to detrimental and often unintended consequences elsewhere. This is an area that I have written about before, following on from an EU Knowledge share programme between East London and Gothenburg in Sweden. A sole focus on the provision of exceptional new services in a deprived area in Gothenburg had no impact on the health and well-being of the local population, largely due to a lack of engagement, employment and social networks throughout the process.

The need for adaptable, flexible design that gives due consideration to the many trade-offs and balances, acceptance of soft-failure and consideration of ‘good enough’ is fundamental to creating sustainable cities. 

Fundamentally we should not be over-engineering our cities, whether from a hard engineering or social governance perspective. We should take pleasure in the murky corners and nurture the informal networks, celebrate the diverse space from formal squares to a forgotten leafy corner with a tired looking bench. We must give due consideration to, but not try to engineer out the social deprivation that lives alongside the shiny new development and ‘regeneration’ projects. These juxtapositions, found across our cities make them vibrant and exciting places to live and provide an element of resilience.

I have been involved in the Olympic Programme since 2006 and during this time my belief of what success would look like for the Olympic regeneration programme has changed somewhat. When I first started I believed that we could only claim success if we created a vast improvement in the social deprivation indices in the host boroughs and changed the very fabric of the surrounding area. 

But, as one Newham councillor told me, the people of Stratford want to shop in the Stratford Mall. They like it. It offers a place of strong social identity and cohesion unlike the polished floors and bright lights of Westfield. It isn’t so much ‘them’ and ‘us’ it is perhaps as simple as people not easily engaging with change, particularly when they feel they have a community on their doorstep. 

So provided the opportunities are there for those that want to take them and the services and facilities are affordable to all let us celebrate the different cultures, lifestyles and environments we find in our city. How foolish of me to think that everyone would aspire to live in a new zero carbon home on the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Park. Inevitably new people will be drawn to this area and the challenge is to ensure that this new London quarter develops its own identity, its own community, and is one that sits well between the already strong identities of Hackney Wick and Stratford.

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Is there Value in a Certified Well-Being Assessment Tool?

By Samantha Connolly, 26 November 2014

Good health is our best asset. Without good health it is hard to maintain a good quality of life. UK Government research connects social inequality to health inequality and identifies the creation of healthy, sustainable places and communities as a way to bridge this inequality. For most employers a happy,... Read more

Good health is our best asset. Without good health it is hard to maintain a good quality of life. UK Government research connects social inequality to health inequality and identifies the creation of healthy, sustainable places and communities as a way to bridge this inequality.

For most employers a happy, healthy workforce is a vital (if sometimes forgotten) component of a long-term productive, successful business. We have consensus that there is a direct linkage between the impact of buildings and the surrounding environment on our health, wellbeing and productivity, so will the use of a metric based tool like the WELL Building Standard® or a standard like the Living Building Challenge™ that looks beyond the familiar ‘green’ requirements, provide a useful framework that will positively encourage the inclusion of Health & Wellbeing principles? Or will we all groan at the thought of having to use yet another prescriptive assessment methodology to measure performance, even if it is complimentary to the ‘green’ standards we are currently using?

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The Workplace

The World Green Building Council (WGBC) 2014 report ‘Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices – the next chapter in green building’ compiles the latest information on the impact of building design on occupant health and productivity and the subsequent economic implications for business. 
Staff are the biggest asset in any business. Staff costs are typically 90% of an organisations expense, far exceeding building costs and energy costs. Many businesses understand that to attract and retain the best talent, the office environment needs to provide a good working environment.

One of KLH Sustainability’s London based clients, BskyB, is redeveloping their campus to include wellness features such as maximised natural light in all new buildings, biophilic design features, integrated artwork, informal external and internal meeting areas, and staff facilities including a gym, outdoor running track and swimming pool. All of this is being delivered without the use of a Wellbeing standard but with a supportive and forward-thinking client.

The Services

A USA study on the impact of biophilia on hospital patient health commented that patients with a view of nature rather than a non-descript wall, are likely to experience 8.5% shorter hospital stay. In the retail world, anecdotal evidence about Tesco’s first ‘green’ store in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire which was constructed from timber and has maximised natural daylighting, has seen an increased footfall to this store even though there is another ‘non-green’ store in close proximity. Retailers have long realised that they sell more merchandise with some strategically placed vegetation.

The Neighbourhood

Childhood obesity in England is increasing, particularly within cities. Again social inequality is linked to obesity; with children living within deprived areas at highest risk of becoming obese. A report into childhood obesity in London reported that one of the three measures that could be used to address obesity was ‘wider prevention activity, particularly focusing on environmental factors such as the built environment, availability of services, and food systems’. 
It is obvious that the buildings and communities in which we live, work, learn and relax are intrinsically linked to our wellbeing. What role do Health & Wellbeing Standards have in improving how we design and operate the built environment?

What are these new Standards?

Health, well-being and productivity is becoming an increasingly discussed and researched topic. Many companies are starting to address this agenda through their corporate social responsibility commitments and desire to be a good employer. Professionals from human resources, finance, health and safety and sustainability all have a role to play. 
The recently launched USA WELL Building Standard® (WELL) has been developed following six years of scientific and medical research. The contributors of WELL state: ‘We always say green buildings are healthier for their inhabitants, but until now, we didn’t have an aggressive system that looked at wellness and the human condition from a completely separate lens’.
WELL has organised its criteria into seven wellness concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. Each concept has a number of features associated with it, with a total of 102 features to assess performance. Each feature of WELL is ascribed to a functional system within our body that is intended to benefit from its implementation, including the Cardiovascular system, Digestive system and Endocrine system. Like many assessment tools, WELL can be adapted for use for different building types and includes a range of pre-requisites to achieve a minimum level of performance.

An alternative standard which has been used in North America since 2006 is the Living Building Challenge™ (LBC). LBC has seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty and twenty associated Imperatives. With only 20 Imperatives compared to the 102 features in the WELL standards and over 130 credits in BREEAM, it is far less prescriptive than these other standards. Some of the Petal Imperatives will be familiar to those of us that have been involved in sustainable design and construction, it is under the Health & Happiness, Equity and Beauty Petals that LBC looks beyond the familiar ‘green’ requirements.

What Does it Mean for Our Clients?

Both the WELL and LBC are North American developed schemes that do not consider themselves as ‘tick-box’ assessment schemes, but as process based frameworks upon which the project team can make decisions that lead to the best outcomes. 
BREEAM and LEED both have credits that respond to health & wellbeing but the use of a standard that assesses well-being in a more robust manner may be beneficial. However, like the challenges we faced and continue to face designing and constructing green buildings, it takes more than a Standard to create a genuine change.

Health & Well-being is associated with a range of complex social and economic factors that are not easy to solve. At KLH Sustainability, we may not apply these new standards directly, especially as reference to North American legislation and standards often creates a barrier to engagement with project teams. Nevertheless we will apply the philosophy and learning from these standards to bring about positive change within our clients organisations and move towards a more holistic sustainability appraisal of the built environment.

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Thought Leadership 1 Mind the gap

Mind the Gap: Tackling the Construction Skills Shortage

By Kirsten Henson and Kristina Arsenievich, 25 July 2014

Construction is a major sector of the UK economy. It generates almost £90 billion annually (6.7% of GDP) and employs in excess of 2.93 million people, the equivalent of about 10% of UK employment (BIS). So why do we not nurture, support and celebrate this sector of the economy? The... Read more

Construction is a major sector of the UK economy. It generates almost £90 billion annually (6.7% of GDP) and employs in excess of 2.93 million people, the equivalent of about 10% of UK employment (BIS). So why do we not nurture, support and celebrate this sector of the economy?

The construction industry shed over 140,000 jobs in the 2008 recession and just scraped through the 2012 dip. However, there is a new challenge on the construction horizon. It is a challenge that seems to have an obvious solution, if only business and the government can invest in the right training and skills.

Over 1,800 people leave the construction industry each year. Many are retiring and this rate looks set to grow as 22% of the construction workforce are over 50, 15% of which are in their 60s. The industry is also losing out to competing sectors where work is more stable and pay is more competitive. With an aging workforce and a poor pipeline of young people, the construction industry looks sure to face a skills crisis in the next decade.

So the problem is two-fold; both the professional and the more practical side of construction is suffering. The industry has reached a turning point. Todate, about one fifth of all vacancies in the wider construction sector are persistent and hard to fill because employers cannot recruit staff with the right skills, qualifications or experience, and the demand is forecast to rise even further. With young people, from school leavers to graduates, reporting depression borne largely out of fear over the prospect of getting a job and earning a living, why are they not fighting to fill these places?

The poor image of construction has a detrimental impact on construction businesses’ ability to recruit and retain people with the right type of skills. CITB data shows that the overall appeal of the construction industry as a career option for young people is low, scoring 4.2 out of 10 among 14 to 19 year olds. It is perceived to be about “being outdoors and getting dirty” and most suited to “young people who do not get into college or university”.

At KLH Sustainability we often hear that parents reinforce these perceptions, pushing bright children to pursue a career in medicine, law or finance. But what about engineering, project management, quantity surveying, town planning and office management? How to design and build adaptable places that will grow and flex with a changing community and climate, in already crowded spaces needs bright ideas and clever thinking.

This is compounded by the fact that only 1% of employers had looked to take on an apprentice or inexperienced staff member for training to ease a shortfall in skilled staff. The government has invested over £1 billion into training and apprenticeship schemes; however the schemes alone do not guarantee jobs. A lower proportion of firms in construction provide training than in other sectors on average, relying on apprenticeship providers to meet a specific client or project target, only to put them back in the training pool once the project is complete. Herein lies a problem, apprentices are paid a pittance and it is not until they are fully qualified that they can earn a living wage. The industry needs to make a commitment to these young people, highlighting a clear pipeline of opportunity and earning potential.

Some clients are making bold statements. One only needs to look to Thames Tideway where contractors are being asked to ensure 1 in 50 places are filled by apprentices (from London and the wider Thames Water region) and 1 in 100 is to be an ex-offender, The London Legacy Development Company, CrossRail and other major clients have similarly high aspirations. Whether these aspirations are manifested remains to be seen.

A clear commitment from government to invest in major construction projects can help businesses plan their work flow and identify skills gaps early enough to ensure suitable trained young people, and the long-term unemployed are available and ready for work when they are needed. Close collaboration between businesses and training colleges can ensure that students are being taught the correct skills to ensure up-coming shortages are addressed. Finally clients need to stop chasing short term ‘value’ for money which often sees the skills gaps plugged by an often better qualified international workforce, simply reinforcing the acute skills shortage in the UK workforce.

At KLH Sustainability we try and do our part. We have supported and facilitated work placements, often paid. We are developing Community Engagement Strategies which extend to Skills and Training for many of our clients. With our growing network of industry contacts and our collaborative approach to developing these strategies, we are able to ensure these strategies are responsive to the needs of the surrounding communities.

So as an industry, we now need to work together to make an effort to appeal to both ends of the spectrum of construction employment. On one side convincing highly skilled professionals that have the privilege of choice to go into construction instead of financial sector for the benefits of working on tangible projects that build a sense of legacy; on the other convincing young unemployed to commit to apprenticeship programs secure in the knowledge that a place will be allocated upon completion, that there is a clear pathway for personal and professional development and a future for them within the industry.

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